Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Fricassee

In an age in which it's possible to be connected to countless people across the globe almost simultaneously, we are, I think, as disconnected as ever.

Twitter's a great example.  I've got close to 4000 followers, which, on the surface, can certainly make a person feel pretty stinkin' connected.  Or even "popular".  Yet when I tweet something (which occurs several times daily, because it's so easy and quick and I LOVE WORDS), I almost never get responses from people.


If I do get responses, they are few.  As in, one or two.  Maybe three.  Usually, they're from folks whom I'd term "the always-responders".  These are people who make an effort to connect (through response) because it's important to them.  Or because they simply prefer a two-way conversation over a one-way one.

And anyway, there's no such thing as a one-way conversation.  There's no "conversing" going on.

Of course, not every tweet warrants a response.  Sometimes it's just a link to the day's blog post (sharing info--no response needed).  Sometimes it's some other sort of basic info-sharing.  Or a quick vent.

But sometimes my heart is full and I'll tweet a thankful tweet.  Or I'll ask a question (Twitter is a wealth of information, if only folks would take the time to answer).  Or I'll share happy news.  Or I'll say something funny.  (Well, okay.  Maybe I only think it's funny.)

And often I get no--or very little--response.  Almost 4000 people potentially see the tweet, but it's just one more blip in all the noise.

(Cue Grinch:  "All the noise, noise, noise, NOISE!")

Which I think is indicative of our tendency to allow ourselves to be inundated by the noise to the point at which it washes over us like silent waves, crashing down on our senses and rendering us unresponsive.  We click, we scroll, we read a little, we move on.  We don't CONNECT.  We don't even THINK very hard about what we're reading.

It's all just words on the screen.  Images.  Music.  Blip. Blip. Blip.

For someone who lives to express herself through the written word (I don't just mean stories--I mean EVERYTHING), this is disconcerting.  I don't want to be part of the noise.  I don't want to be a blip.  My words are imbued with my heart--my passion--my moment of crazy--whatever it is that makes me ME at the moment.  I want empathy, I want solidarity, I want laughter, I want some sort of visceral or emotional or SOME KIND OF HUMAN response.

I'm sure I'm not alone in this.

And yet, how can we remedy it without pulling away, ceasing to contribute to the noise?  Which will, of course, mean that we'll miss out on the potential to connect, no matter how low that potential may be.

A conundrum.

This blog is different, in that there is so much more interaction.  True connection.  Some of the thoughtful responses that show up in comment boxes blow me away.  Folks take time to share hearts and dreams and all sorts of grittily-human stuff here.  I love it.  THRIVE on it.

But even with all the wonderful we-are-family that goes on here, there's still a lot of clicking-scrolling-reading-moving-on that occurs.  The ratio of my daily hits to number of comments is way lopsided.  There are too many blogs, too many web sites, too many things for us to dabble in and nibble on.  Like a long buffet table and a small plate.  We can only fit so much on it (and we don't have time to go back for seconds--life beckons!).

Which means only one thing.  Connection--real, honest-to-goodness, person-to-person connection takes place face to face.  Real life.  (No, really.  It's that thing where you're in the same room with another person.)

Still.  I marvel at the ability of the internet to offer true connection.  Despite the noise factor, that ability still exists.  I wouldn't have met Jodi if it weren't for Twitter.  Or Holly or Julie or Adam or Christine or any of the other REALLY SPECIAL PEOPLE in my life.

So do yourself a favor.  Don't use social media to pass idle time or medicate or lurk incessantly.  Use it to CONNECT.  I'm pretty sure that's what the SOCIAL part means.

And that's my Friday rant.  You're welcome.

(Also?  In the spirit of being transparent online: if you haven't read this post by CJ Redwine, you're missing out.  I laughed so hard that I'm pretty sure I scared away the wildlife in my yard.  Seriously.  Only the cicadas remained, and that's because they were up so high in the trees.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Baker's Dozen Blitz Winners

As promised (albeit slightly late--I've been completely immersed in obsessive revisions), here are the winners from our Baker's Dozen Blitz:



Chris Bailey


Jennifer Kay


Ilene Goldman

Congratulations, winners!  Logline critiques are offered by authors Tara Dairman, Leah Petersen, Karen Akins, and Helene Dunbar.   Winners, please email me at facelesswords(at) and I will hook you up with your critter.


Amanda Helms

Congratulations, Amanda!  Please send me the email address to which you'd like me to send your gift card.

Huge thanks to EVERYONE who participated in the Blitz--I so appreciate your help in spreading the word.  The official invitation email to agents just went out this morning, and I'm already receiving enthusiastic YESES.

It's going to be another fantastic auction!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Our 3rd Critique Partner Dating Service -- Guidelines

We're ready to roll!  Guidelines are as follow:
  1.  If you see an entry that looks like it might be a good fit, send an email to introduce yourself (this is not the time to send materials).
  2. If you are interested in an email-less entry, leave a comment requesting the email address.
  3. If you're not sure you want to send an email, leave a comment asking further questions.
  5. This is a public list.  I am no longer the "middle man."  Please do not come to me with your dating woes.  (If you have a legitimate technical difficulty, I will always help you with that.)
  6. For security purposes, I will remove these entries from the blog one week from today.
Please post your questions below!  I will check the comments regularly and try to stay up to date with public questions.

Also:  I have not gone through every entry to check for formatting--mostly because the first 20 or so that I went through were absolutely fine.  If your entry looks wonky or is in any way unreadable, or if you've forgotten to include your email address or name or anything else, PLEASE EMAIL ME.  I am always happy to fix things.

Happy dating!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Fricassee

Hooray!  Friday!

I'm a tad excited because I've cleared my morning so that I can spend it writing.  This isn't the norm, so I'm a bit giddy.  If I had my druthers (that must be a real word, since spellchecker thinks so), I would always write in the morning.  From 6:30 straight until lunch.  That, right there, is my dream life.

At any rate, submissions for the Critique Partner Dating Service are open until noon EDT today, and the entries (and dating service rules) will post on Tuesday morning.  I'm hopeful that some more good pairings will happen!  If, when you see your post, there's an error or omission (such as a missing email), please let me know.  I will make all necessary changes.

And finally, without belaboring the point--I was admittedly taken aback by the flurry of defensive, oh-but-you're-so-wrong responses to Wednesday's post, both here and at other places on the web.  Honestly?  When someone shares her dream and her personal reasons for pursuing it, that's not the time to proselytize your own point of view (at least, not here; you can say anything you want in your own communities).  I didn't disparage anyone else's decision or point out what was wrong with someone else's experience or viewpoint.

What I did say was this:  Really, it's all good.  The most important thing is for each of us to understand what we want and why we want it.  And then to grab it with both hands and hang on for dear life.

I do appreciate the two or three thoughtful responses from Indie writers, though, and naturally those are the ones I'll keep in mind.

Really, folks.  You're allowed to be passionate about what you do, and you're allowed to think that someone else's idea or approach or opinion doesn't smell so great.  But when someone says, "This is what I want and this is why I want it," that's not your cue to jump all over her and spout all the reasons why she's wrong.

Dreams aren't wrong, dear ones.  (And I know that you, my regular and beloved readers, already know this.)

At any rate, I'm off to begin my Happy Morning.  (Afternoons are for naps.  Why can't it work out that way?)  As always, thanks for who you are--and have a delightful weekend!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Our 3rd Critique Partner Dating Service

It's a little overdue (I originally meant to run this in July), but here it is once again--an opportunity for you to connect with new critique partners.


Here's the disclaimer:  Finding good critique partners really is like finding good life partners.  Just because you both write fantasy or you've both been writing for exactly three years or your first names both begin with "N" doesn't mean you're going to be a good fit.  Relationship is a huge part of this, in addition to artistic vision and the ability to "get" each other's work.

So keep in mind that, as you seek people to swap work with, things may or may not work out, and that's okay.  What I'm offering you here is a springboard; a chance to get your name and your needs out there in the hope that you may click with someone.

  • Starting at NOON EDT TODAY, the bot will accept your Dating Service Entry.  The submission window will remain open for 24 hours.
  • Submit your entry HERE.
  • Up to 100 entries will be accepted.  Even if we only get 2 entries, though, I will still post them.
  • Please format your entry EXACTLY as outlined below, for ease of browsing.  Please note that the word count for these entries will be limited to 100.  
TITLE: (Put your screen name OR your first name here; NOT a title. Full name NOT NECESSARY)
GENRE: (list ALL genres that you write)

Then, in the body of the submission:

EMAIL: (PLEASE use (at) instead of "@"!! Like this: Authoress(at)

I'm working on my {1st/2nd/47th} novel.

{And here's your "pitch about me" -- a sentence or two that will express who you are and what your goals/dreams are.}
  • All entries will post on Tuesday, August 27.  You may browse the entries and contact anyone who seems like a potential match.
  • YOU ARE NOT OBLIGATED TO CRITIQUE THE WORK OF SOMEBODY WHO CONTACTS YOU.  NEITHER IS ANYONE OBLIGATED TO CRITIQUE YOUR WORK SIMPLY BECAUSE YOU CONTACTED HIM.  This is simply a jumpstart to creating new friendships that could potentially become critique partnerships.
  • I will remove the entries after one week.  Simply because I don't think it's wise to keep this information up for longer than that.
To clarify the above, here is a sample entry:

TITLE: Authoress

EMAIL: Authoressmail(at)

I am working on my eighth novel.

I'm agented by the fabulous Josh Getzler and I'm addicted to Twitter.  I'm a grammar nazi and my critiquing strengths lie in sentence structure, clarity, and dialogue. 

(You can write whatever you want about yourself.  Not to "sell" yourself, but to give a glimpse of who you are and where you're at in your journey.)

Please ask your questions below!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why I'm Not Self-publishing (right now)

Seriously.  I've got a great platform, lots of potential readers.  Self-publishing (at the very least e-publishing) seems like a potential fit.

But for me, right now, it's not.

Long-time MSFV readers probably already know that, long ago and far away, I did self-publish a book.  Not full-blown "self", mind you--I used a reputable POD publisher who gave all rights to the authors (which is what I wanted).  It was heady at first, because this particular publisher rejected over 90 percent of the manuscripts sent to them for consideration.  (This was their way of elevating themselves above the dime-a-dozen vanity presses out there.  It worked.)

My book was non-fiction for a strong niche market.  At the time, I ran an online community for this particular niche (surprise, surprise), so I had a very-small-but-loyal base for book sales.  It could have been a great launchpad for a successful sales run.

It wasn't.  Because I knew absolutely nothing about marketing, and I didn't have the time (or money) necessary to peddle my wares the way I really needed to.  The book piddled along and, despite its glowing Amazon reviews, faded into the nether regions.

(One day, when I reveal myself, you can all skip over and look at it.  I let my POD contract expire several years ago, so it's no longer available to purchase new, but it's still sitting on its Amazon page, smiling sadly.)

Aside from the marketing difficulty, though, I've got other reasons for choosing to stick with traditional publishing right now.  (And anyway, all authors need to market their books, so that's a moot point.)  Namely:

Lack of distribution.  When my little book finally flew into the world, my poor dad could not understand why he couldn't walk into the local bookstore and find it on the shelves.  My book was distributed by Ingram, so it was actually available in any bookstore across the nation--but you had to order it.  Because, yanno, I didn't have the means to whip up a regional bus tour (a la Patrick Carman) or hard sell my itty-bitty-book-among-millions to all the big scary booksellers out there.  And this is important to me.

Inability to produce the book RIGHT.  If one wants to truly self-publish, that means doing everything...well, yourself.  Page formatting, cover art, sales, everything.  And I don't have the money to do that sort of thing right.  Good cover art is expensive.  Bookbinding is expensive.  And even from an e-book standpoint, the thing needs to LOOK GOOD and BE DONE RIGHT.  And, frankly, I don't want to spend my time formatting a document for a Kindle, and I don't want to spend my money paying someone else to do it.

When I self-pubbed my non-fiction, I hired a graphic artist to produce the cover (it was whimsical and quite perfect for the book, but it wasn't the sort of thing I'd use now), and I paid an English major friend $500 to copyedit for me.  So, yes, I took the whole thing seriously.  But my standards have evolved, and it would take a lot more money (a lot) to produce a book the way I'd like to produce it today.  And I'm simply don't have the means to do it.  Not even close.

I write fiction now.  This isn't to say you can't self-publish fiction--you absolutely can.  I have colleagues who have successfully done so.  But my personal take on self-publishing is that it's an especially effective way to get a non-fiction book out there.  Especially when you've got a strong niche audience.  If I were to write another non-fiction (and I've actually got one up my sleeve), I would absolutely consider self-publishing over traditional.  Especially today, with the exponential growth of e-books and e-readers and e-everything.  I wouldn't hesitate to self-publish another non-fiction.

But for me, fiction is a different animal.  (I've written both, so, yeah, I can say this.)  I don't want to spend 50 or 75 percent of my work time on all the non-writing aspects of getting (and keeping) a book out there.  I want to write.  And while going with a traditional publisher means I don't own the rights to my book, and I don't have final say over the cover, and a dozen other "I don'ts", to me it's worth it because I will be able to spend my time writing while someone else does all that stuff.  Someone qualified.

Marketing, of course, is still my responsibility.  Any author, whether self- or traditionally-published, is going to have to also become a marketer.  That's just the way the game goes.  And I'm okay with that.

I love my agent.  This goes without saying.  And it's not actually a reason for choosing traditional publishing.  But Josh makes it possible for me to concentrate on my writing while he does other hard stuff (because writing is hard, too).  He's actually quite progressive, and we've discussed less-than-traditional approaches to publishing as well as the Big Six route.  It's one of the things I like about him--he's growing and changing along with the industry.  Always open to new possibilities.

But ultimately, my relationship with him allows me to be the writer I want to be, working hard to break into the traditional market without having to worry about the how.  That's Josh's job.  My job is to write good stories.

In a way, it's dichotomous; I'm a fiercely independent person who likes to do things her own way.  Self-publishing, in this light, seems like a perfect fit.  But it's not.  Not for me, not for now.

That's just me.  You may be different.  Or you may be the same, but change your mind six months or a year from now.  Really, it's all good.  The most important thing is for each of us to understand what we want and why we want it.  And then to grab it with both hands and hang on for dear life.

Good dreams die hard.  So keep dreaming, and keep working hard.  Really, really hard.  Because that's what it will take, regardless of what your path to publication ultimately looks like.

We're all in this together.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Baker's Dozen Blitz

Still trying to wrap my brain around the fact that it's time to get things rolling for this year's Baker's Dozen Agent Auction!

For the uninitiated, here is last year's DESCRIPTION AND SCHEDULE of the contest.

This year's Baker's Dozen dates are as follow:

October 29 and 31 -- Adult fiction (all genres except erotica and erotic romance)

November 5 and 7 -- Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction (all genres)


(Please note: Some of you have asked me about the inclusion of NA.  I will not know this until after I have my final list of participating agents.  NA will be included only if at least 3 of the participating agents represent this genre.  If it is included, NA will be grouped with the adult category.)

Very soon, I'll be contacting agents and getting everything set up behind the scenes.  In order to help spread the hoopla this year, I'm asking for your help.  Except, we're going to turn it into a little bit of a contest--because that's more fun.

I give you--The 2013 BAKER'S DOZEN BLITZ!

  • The goal:  Spread the word about this year's contest, both for those who might wish to enter and for those who would like to participate by critiquing or simply watching the fun.
  • The means:  Share THIS LINK in one (or all) of 3 places:  1. Your BLOG or WEB SITE; 2. TWITTER; 3. FACEBOOK, following the instructions below.  Once you've shared, you will be eligible to win one of 4 LOGLINE CRITIQUES from participating MSFV Success Story Authors.

To participate on your BLOG OR WEBSITE, post the above link, plus your own blurb/thoughts/personal experience relating to the Baker's Dozen.  Then, COME HERE under THIS COMMENT BOX and post the link to your blog post.  TWO logline critique winners will be chosen from this list.

To participate on FACEBOOK, post the above link on your timeline.  Then, LEAVE A COMMENT ON MY FACEBOOK POST in order to be eligible to win one of 4 LOGLINE CRITIQUES from participating MSFV Success Story Authors.

To participate on TWITTER, make sure you're following me (@authoressanon).  Then, TWEET the above link to your followers, using the hashtag #BakersDozen2013 in order to be eligible to win one of 4 LOGLINE CRITIQUES from participating MSFV Success Story Authors.  IMPORTANT:  Don't forget to use the hashtag!  It's the only way I will see your tweet in order to include it in the random drawing.

IN ADDITION, I will choose ONE winner from among all 3 venues to receive a $25 B&N gift card.

Yes, you may participate in all 3 places if you'd like.  This will give you 4 chances to win a critique (2 winners will be chosen from the comment box here) and 3 chances to win the $25 B&N gift card.  

The Blitz will run ALL WEEK LONG.  I will count all entries up to 11:59 pm on Friday, and will announce the winners next Monday.  

IMPORTANT:  Remember to share THIS LINK, and not simply the link to MSFV (which would probably overwhelm anyone who's never been here before).

On your mark, get set, go!  (And please post your questions below.)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Fricassee

Oh, the pressure of being informative or entertaining or witty or somewhat interesting when I only have a few, precious minutes to write this!

Here you go:

1.  Next week, we are having a Baker's Dozen Blitz.  Reason?  Spread the word, drum up enthusiasm, get our collective butts in gear (are you working on your logline? is your manuscript agent-ready?).  Everyone who has a blog, website, Twitter account, or Facebook account can join in.  At the end, there will be a prize or two.  Details on Monday.

2.  Other than the blitz, the blog will be light next week (no crits or anything).  I need a window to dig into the Baker's Dozen prep work (which is copious).

3.  May I just say I'M SO EXCITED!  I'm experiencing a convergent of critique wonderfulness from my CPs, and it's really helping me to formulate a clear vision for the next draft.  I love when things time this way (you can't plan this sort of thing).  And to add fun and terror to the mix, Jodi has been sending me her notes piecemeal; so it's almost like watching her read my story.

Okay, just thinking about that makes my stomach curl in on itself.

Anyway, the icing on all this is that my darling Mr. A is reading, too (at the same time as everyone else--who knew it was possible!), and he has promised to be finished by Sunday.  All this to say: I'm in full whip-this-baby-into-shape mode, so if I'm less than visible over the next couple of weeks, that is why.  (I promised Josh I'd deliver it in September.  I always keep my promises.)

That's it!  And I'm off.  Have a glorious weekend!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Refreshed, Returned, Reengaged

Sometimes vacations leave us feeling more tired than we were before we left.  Sometimes we come home utterly unready to face real life again, because we never completely unplugged while we were away.

And sometimes a vacation leaves us so refreshed that, days after our arrival home, we're still completely chill.

That last example?  That's me.  Unbelievable but true.

A perfect mixture of hanging-with-parents time, visits with special friends, and a Perfectly Romantic Getaway With My Awesome Husband has been the big gift of my summer, leaving me feeling more human and less stressed.

And of course, there's the ocean, for which I pine endlessly if I don't get a taste of it each year.  (And I don't; not every year.)  Curling my toes into the wet sand at the edge of the Atlantic was what my brain, my heart, my soul needed.

The decision to leave a day early in order to beat some heavy rain left us the added pleasure of having time to visit my dear Jodi Meadows, after all.  Fortunately, I had a moment of Utter Clever and remembered to throw my copy of Asunder into my bag so that Jodi could sign it.

Yes, that's me--the white blob.  (Sigh.)  Jodi sported the I-bought-you-this-Batman-tee-shirt-even-though-I-hate-Batman shirt because she loves me.  Or because she loves Batman.  Probably both.  And she signed the book with a wonderful, sparkly-gold gel pen.

As always, I'm proud of her.  And so thankful I got to eat pizza with her.  (She stole the check while we weren't looking and paid for the meal. I am still plotting my pay-back.)

After some long-overdue time with my (beloved, irreplaceable, live-too-far-away) parents, Mr. A and I headed to Our Favorite Place and spent 3 nights in the most incredible Bed and Breakfast we've yet experienced.  Glorious food, ocean, lots of walking, ocean, daily wine and cheese at the B&B, ocean, precious time with my husband, ocean.  

Yes.  Ocean.  I should probably live beside it.

It's funny; I didn't ask Mr. A to take an "Authoress picture".  He just snapped this photo, and when I saw it I realized it was a perfect Authoress-in-a-hat picture.  So there you have it.

Did I mention the food?  We mostly go easy (plus breakfast is included at the B&B), but we did have one special night out to celebrate our anniversary.  I am an unabashed foodie--one of my if-I'm-ever-independently-wealthy dreams is to hire a personal chef.  (Forget expensive cars and world travel--I want someone to COOK AMAZING FOOD FOR ME.)

(That's fresh mozzerella, tomatoes, and roasted pepper, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic and garnished with basil.  In case you were wondering.)

So, yes, I unplugged.  So completely, in fact, that I neither wrote nor thought about writing.  I brought a planning notebook, just in case--it stayed in my bag.  I received edits from one of my readers--I ignored them.  

And now it's time to BE A WRITER AGAIN.  I've already dug into the notes from my My Most Ferocious Critique Partner (you know who you are!) and am in the middle of two editing projects (yes, dear clients, the queue is moving forward once again).  I'm ramping up for Baker's Dozen prep, and I'm bracing myself for all the craziness that will ensue.  (It's all good!)

In short, I'm glad to be back.

We'll have two more Secret Agent contests before the end of the year (September and October), but mostly we'll be working on loglines and doing all the Things for the Baker's Dozen.  I'm going to be asking you to officially spread the word about the auction, and there will be a prize.  So keep polishing your work and keep your eye out for the advent of crazy.

Questions about the Baker's Dozen?  About anything?  Post below!'s great to see you again.  Truly!

Monday, August 12, 2013

This Month's Winners

Here are our Secret Agent's favorites:


#32  Call of the Crow


Ms. Drayton would like to see your first 20 pages, which she promises to read!


#41 Crossing the Divide
#49 Grace and the Guardian

(Because she loved them both so much she couldn't choose between them.)


Ms. Drayton would like to see your query letter and the first 50 pages, and she will provide a critique.

Congratulations!  Winners, please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific submission instructions.

Secret Agent Unveiled: Catherine Drayton

Many thanks to this week's illustrious Secret Agent, Catherine Drayton of Inkwell Management.

Catherine's Bio:

Catherine Drayton , a graduate of the University of Sydney Law School, began her working life as a litigation lawyer specializing in copyright and libel law at a major international law firm based in Australia. But her first love was always literature and in 1998, after a brief stint as a literary scout, she joined Richard Pine at Arthur Pine Associates which subsequently became InkWell. Over the past fourteen years, she has represented critically acclaimed and bestselling authors of books for children, young adults and women readers. Her clients include Markus Zusak, Beth Hoffman, Becca Fitzpatrick, John Flanagan, Cath Crowley, Joshua Cohen, Andrew Fukuda, Katy Longshore, Craig Silvey, Tara Hudson, Nathan Bransford and Karen Foxlee.

What she's looking for right now:

"I’m always looking for stunning realistic fiction with a memorable voice especially in the zone between adult and young adult which has always been a sweet spot for me. Also I’d like to find a great popular fantasy with relatable characters, a strong visual element and the potential to develop into a successful series."

Winners forthcoming!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August Secret Agent #50

TITLE: The Guardian of Sudner
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

Jaden Andreist stalled at lunch as long as he could. It was time for battle class. There was no getting out of it… at least none he’d thought of. Reluctantly, he put his elements book away and walked out the door. He’d been practicing for months with Klevi, one of the top battle students, in exchange for tutoring him in runes. A week ago he felt confident. He’d been sparing better than ever. He’d even beaten Klevi twice. But, today was different. The knots in his stomach gave him doubt.

The other boys in his class loved sparring. It was the best part of turning twelve. No longer were they trapped doing nothing but endless boring drills in battle training. Now they got to show off their skill going head to head in real duels. For the other boys it was a dream come true. For Jaden, however, it felt more like a nightmare. He preferred books to battles. If you made a mistake with a book, no one died.

By the time he reached the practice field, most of the other boys were already suited up.

“I didn’t think you’d have the guts to show up today, Jaden,” Berach said as he pushed past him and grabbed some chain mail. “Couldn’t think of an excuse to stay with Daddy?”

The rest of the group sniggered as they filed out onto the field. His face grew warm as he grabbed his gear and a practice sword, hurrying out behind them.

August Secret Agent #49

TITLE: Grace and the Guardian
GENRE: Young Adult

When Grace Cartwright walked into the debutante luncheon at the Varangian hotel’s ballroom, she didn’t just see a room filled with pretty and popular sixteen-year-old girls, she saw the natural order of a wealthy suburban species.

“If this were a room full of zebras,” Grace said, scanning the crowd of her so-called peers, “I’d be the one attacked by the lion.”

“Grace!” Her mother, Sybil, scolded. “What kind of talk is that?”

“Lions,” Grace continued, her gaze ferocious, “kill the weak, the sick, and the lame.”

“You’re not -” Sybil began, but then clamped her mouth shut.

Grace wasn’t weak or sick, but she was a gimp, and there was nothing her mother could say about it. Crippled by cerebral palsy, every step was a limp, every word she spoke sounded like a strangled duck.

“Good thing you’re not a zebra,” Hope, Grace’s perfect sister, chirped.

“Yes.” Sybil’s stiff smile matched her posture. “And good thing there aren’t any lions.”

Grace wasn’t so sure. Some of the debutantes’ mothers looked carnivorous.

Grace wanted to quit. She also wanted to be normal, to have a boyfriend, to kiss a boy. She was used to disappointment.


A husky, male voice whispered her name. Grace looked around, but the herd was all female. No men in sight.

“Grace, I’m watching you.”

The strange, sexy whisper was in her head but it sounded so real.

“You’re not alone.”

A tiny thrill twirled up her crooked spine like a flowering vine.

August Secret Agent #48

TITLE: On the Bly
GENRE: MG Contemporary

I turned in my seat to the window of the school bus and did a quick calculation, using my finger like a pencil on the glass. The window was fogged from the morning mist of a hot Illinois September day. Twelve math assignments, zeros on nine of them. That’s 25%. Even with an almost perfect test score last week, I was doomed - F city. I shuddered and put my head between my knees. How could seventh grade be so hard?

But I had an excuse. My homework was sitting on the chair in my room, done. I’d remembered to do it right after Dad tucked me in last night. I turned the light on, scribbled down the answers, and left it on the chair for the morning. Its just… when I remembered again, I was sitting on the bus putting on my cherry lip-gloss. Which reminded me of the cherry stain I got on my favorite pink pants Monday morning from sitting on a cherry my little brother, Mike, had dropped on the kitchen stool.

Mom said I needed to keep my eyes opened. My eyes were opened. They were on my geography book. I had a test that day and hadn’t read the chapter yet. I’d had to change pants and almost missed the bus. The chapter never got finished. I’d left the book on the floor of my room by the pink pants. and ran downstairs so I’d have time to eat before school.

August Secret Agent #47

TITLE: I'm Not Sharing My Horse!
GENRE: Middle Grade

Mountain laurels and pine trees lined the trail, filling the air with sweet scents. The best smell of all, of course, was the smell of a horse. I leaned forward in the saddle and buried my face in Sparkle’s brown neck.

Sparkle flicked an ear back at me. The steady thud of his hooves on the dirt didn’t change rhythm. But he knew I wasn’t paying attention and grabbed some leaves off an overhanging branch. He munched happily as we continued down the trail.

“Bad boy," I said, sitting up. "You'd better finish eating before Aunt Margaret and the twins catch up." Aunt Margaret would know right away that I hadn't been paying attention. “But I love being on the trail and leaving all my troubles behind.”

I especially loved leaving my bossy new stepsister behind. Charlotte was thirteen, two years older than me. For two weeks now she’d followed me around the house, telling me what to do. “You need to brush your hair.” “Do your math problems like this.” “You can’t wear that shirt to school!”

The only time I was safe from her bossiness was when I was here at Aunt Margaret’s barn. She never followed me here. Probably afraid she’d get dirt on her designer jeans.

“Lucy, here we come!” The twins trotted toward me, bumping unsteadily in their saddles.

I turned Sparkle to block the path so their ponies didn’t try to run away.

August Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Operation Witches
GENRE: MG, Contemporary

I knew Shannyn was going to lie before she opened her mouth. It was the hesitation, then the fake, toothpaste commercial smile—a look she’d perfected in the last two months since we started middle school.

“I can’t come over Friday.” She glanced back at the boys climbing off the bus. “I promised my sister I’d help at the pep club bake sale.”

My belly clenched. “We’ve been planning this night for ages.”

“We could watch India next weekend or the weekend after that.”

Unbelievable! Shannyn of all people knew that India Rodriguez couldn’t be put off.

I hurried to catch up as she started the short walk home. “Remember when Wall of Flame left the theaters? You said we’d stay up all night watching it the day the DVD was released.”

“That was last year.”

“So?” I held my breath as I jogged alongside her. She had to say “yes.” She had to come over and have a blast like we used to. Then things would go back to the way they were before middle school—when Shannyn was Shannon with an “o,” not a “y,” and we were best friends forever.

“Listen, Beth. I forgot. That’s all. Why can’t we do it another night?”

My super psychic lie detector went off again. She didn’t forget! She was trying to get out of spending the night with me. Or maybe . . . My heart did a belly flop right down to my knees. “No way! You’re going to Katelyn’s party, aren’t you?”

August Secret Agent #45

TITLE: The Company of Old Ladies
GENRE: Women's Upmarket

The two old ladies sit in the Panera Bakery Café near downtown Denver. Tall and bony Esther, strung together loosely as a starved cat, drinks a soy milk latte. Hyacinth sips a small, Equal-sweetened, hazelnut decaf to battle her life-long plumpness. She makes a face and adds two packets of sugar, then resumes the women’s customary discussion, a courteous—if heated—dialogue over the benefits and burdens of advanced age.

At sixty-eight, Hyacinth struggles to accept her deteriorating exterior while her interior still feels about thirty-five. “I think old people are completely indifferent to society’s restrictions. They simply don’t care about what’s proper or improper. If they want to be blunt and opinionated, they are. They’re willing to take risks, appear foolish. A big bonus that compensates for any physical discomfort, even conditions like the hemorrhoids plaguing me.” She shifts on the hard chair to search for respite.

Clamp! Instead of arguing, Esther squeezes Hyacinth's arm, halting her mid-thought.

Hyacinth knows she must freeze in obedience to Esther’s nonverbal command, that Esther, the elder by fifteen years, likes to take the lead in pointing out items of interest, perhaps an especially dirty homeless man, or a newspaper headline blazing panic over a new environmental danger. Hyacinth slowly sweeps the room with her gaze, never moving her head. Then she nods to indicate she’s seen the curiosity.

And there it is. By the cashier. Something truly strange and wonderful. Whether male or female neither Esther nor Hyacinth can tell.

August Secret Agent #44

GENRE: Women's Fiction

Kira blew out the tapered candles immersing herself in darkness before her fingers found the dining room dimmer switch. As she returned the unused dinnerware to the china cabinet, she decided to hang onto one of the wineglasses. Kira turned back to the kitchen to fill it with the Pinot Noir she’d selected on her way home from work.

Standing alone in the custom colonial, removed from the city she knew, Kira took a nibble from the now cold asparagus and mushroom risotto she’d prepared. Kira had hoped for a romantic night in with her husband Jeremy. They were still technically in the honeymoon phase of their marriage, but had not yet taken their official honeymoon to Paris. After the ceremony, they settled for a night’s stay at a B&B in Nantucket. In the spring, when they cleared their busy schedules, they’d visit the city of light. Kira held onto the promise of the postponed honeymoon in a couple months to make up for Jeremy’s recent absence.

Grabbing a wedge of the lemon tart she’d bought for dessert, along with the wineglass, she slouched upstairs to her bedroom.

Kira unpinned her long chocolate brown hair and sat on the end of the bed with the wine in one hand and the TV remote control in the other. She hesitated, catching sight of her stack of home décor and fashion magazines, her usual fodder on a night in, but wanting to allay her disappointment at another night spent alone, she opted for the television.

August Secret Agent #43

TITLE: Finding Obeno

Samuel watched the faded football arch high into the hot Ugandan sky before dropping in the midst of a group of smiling children, who leapt into the air to meet it. It bounced off the forehead of the tallest, a skinny teenage boy, who sent it soaring across the hard dirt field to the waiting chest of a teammate. The huddle of children squealed with delight and scrambled after the ball, kicking up clouds of red dust with their bare feet.

Sitting in the shade of a low porch that stretched along the front of the Friends of Orphans Center in Pader, Northern Uganda, Samuel reached down and picked at the discolored bandage wound snuggly around his thigh. The doctors said the medicine was working, but his skin was tight with swelling and tender to the touch. A rust colored stain tinged the bone white bandage above the bullet wound, where the infection had taken hold.

Samuel understood infection. In his eleven years, he had seen it burrow deep into the bodies of other children. Their feet. Their legs. Their chests. Their arms. Spreading like brush fire until it consumed them. Biting down on his bottom lip, Samuel pressed hard on his wound with two trembling fingers until he could no longer endure the pain. Letting go, he squeezed his eyes shut until the inferno receded to its normal slow burn. Pain was good. It meant he could still feel. It meant he was alive.

August Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Becoming Hero
GENRE: High-Concept YA

Comic-book Universe: Issue 339

Rain trickles across a fading green dumpster in a narrow alleyway. A dark shadow, a superhero gone bad, stalks the rooftops above, heaving a giant gun off his back as he readies it for his prey.

Skye ignored the stench of the banana peels and burger wrappers crushed against his face and forced himself to breathe steady. He clenched his fingers tighter around the bleeding wound in his shoulder, trying not to think about the infection he'd get from hiding in the dumpster. Just breathe. In, out. In, out. Any change in that pace, and his hunter might hear him. Hunter--that's how he had to think of his best friend now.

The thought crunched in Skye's chest like another punch. Dammit. He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth against the hot tears. How could he--

"I suppose you're wondering how I could do this to you," said a soft voice just above him. Skye heard light footsteps on the dumpster lid, but didn't reply. Mark had walked past his hiding places before.

"You can hear me, right? I know you're nearby. Please just show yourself. Just end this."

Skye heard Mark's feet crunch against the pavement. He heard the rustle of plastic bags being kicked; a nearby window smashed.

"None of this would have hurt if you'd just let me take you out the first time. I didn't want your parents to die. Come on, Skye, you think I wanted Jackie to die for you?"

August Secret Agent #41

GENRE: YA Fantasy

I get plants, they have guidelines. Sun or shade. Wet soil or dry. Prune them often or leave them alone.

My boss, Frankie, gestures at me from her office window, pointing and waving her arms and basically making it look like she’s lost it.

People are harder.

I adjust my floppy hat to keep the scorching July sun out of my eyes and make for her office. The sweet scent of jasmine embraces me as I pass under a trellis and I inhale deeply. Annuals are nice but I prefer perennials. They have staying power.

“The truck is late,” Frankie says as she slams the phone down. “And the Sveitches will be here any minute.”

As if on cue Mr. Sveitch’s deep voice echoes through the wall, asking for Frankie. He leans against the front counter while a bored-looking Mrs. Sveitch looks down her nose at us when we enter.

I linger in the doorway while Frankie explains.

“I thought the truck would be here by noon,” Mr. Sveitch says. “It’s always here by noon.”

“I know and I’m very sorry. There was a bad accident on the highway and he’s running a few hours late.”

Mrs. Sveitch leans over the counter. “That’s very inconvenient. You could’ve called to let us know. We have obligations too.” She narrows her gaze at Frankie. Her eyes are almost auburn, the same shade as her hair.

“Now, now, Gwen. I’m sure Frankie would have but she’s obviously been very busy today. Right?” He doesn’t wait for an answer.

August Secret Agent #40


I scooped a fistful of mud from the ditch next to the track and patted it into a ball. “Is she looking?”

Next to me, Ryan mixed sand into our mud patch so our ammunition wouldn't fall apart as soon as it left our hands. On the other side of the track, tufts of bright yellow and brown hair moved through the overgrown grass at the edge of the school yard as the girls peeked out from their base. There were five or six Harpies this time. They outnumbered us. We needed to press the attack soon, or they would have way more mud balls than we did.

"She just moved for the swing set." Paul stood on my other side, scanning for Mrs. Hammish, the recess monitor. He had been smart enough to wear his bright orange raincoat today. I should have thought of that. It made him look like a traffic cone, but it would keep him safe from the mud carnage about to go down. My own clothes were going to get demolished.

"Her back's turned," Paul hissed, grabbing my shoulder and shaking. "We're good. Go go go!"

"I AM IRON MAN!" Ryan's battle cry rattled my brain. He exploded out of the ditch and hurled the first shot across the track. The dirt clod soared like an eagle and smashed into enemy territory, sending a rain of brown goo smattering across the girls' heads. A flurry of high-pitched shrieks rose to the sky.

That was why we called them Harpies.

August Secret Agent #39

TITLE: The Seed
GENRE: YA Fantasy

"I see it! I just have to go a little higher! Hold on!" Raina shifted her grip a few inches to the left and tapped one of the ropey branches with her toe to test its strength. The dead wood was becoming flaky and brittle, but weaker boughs had held her weight before. With a firm grip on the tree's trunk, she chanced the shift. The crumbling tree swayed and shed a rainfall of dead leaves, but the branch held.

"Don't go any higher! I don't think you should go any higher!" Ibli's worried voice called from below. Raina ignored her little sister and hauled herself a few feet closer to her prize.

"I'm fine, Ibli. Relax! It's right there. I just need to have a look." She shook a mist of wood shards out of her curly brown hair and glanced up. Dozens of branches had all grown together into a knot, roping over, then under, then over again to form what looked like a nest big enough for a person. Raina had seen the living trees deeper in the woods grow together like this, but never so many in such a thick pattern. The weave was just so regular and intricate. It looked crafted.

"Are you sure you won't fall? This is a very dead tree." Ibli sounded skeptical, and Raina couldn't really blame her. She was stronger and more agile than her ten-year-old sister, but this tree was coming apart in her hands.

August Secret Agent #38

TITLE: The Girl From Everywhere
GENRE: YA Historical Fantasy

It was summer in Calcutta and the year was 1774, although only for a few more hours, and we had just loaded a pair of Bengal tigers into the hold of The Temptation when I realized we might be in trouble.

I could say the trouble started in the market, when Kashmir, moving too quickly to be careful, bumped into a British Company officer, causing the man to drop the mail he’d been carrying. After picking up his letters, the Englishman checked his pockets. When he found his gold watch missing, he grabbed the constable who’d been standing close by and set off after us. Hearing their shouts, Kashmir dropped his mangoes and ran. What could I do but follow?

Perhaps the trouble started earlier, though, with the tigers, although I’m not trying to blame them for it. Indeed, I was rather proud of them, as acquiring them had been my idea -- and my responsibility. I had negotiated with a local soldier-turned-hunter for two magnificent specimens -- the likes of which can no longer be found after centuries of poaching -- to be delivered alive. Unfortunately, I hadn’t been as clear regarding the rest of the details of the delivery; they were dumped on the dock in flimsy wooden cages heavily drugged, although not heavily enough. They were twitching their tails as we wrestled them onboard with the help of several men hired from the dockside. The sun was panting in the sky, and Kashmir and I were sweating beside the locals.

August Secret Agent #37

TITLE: Catch Me When I Fall
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

Invisible, I leaned against the wall at the back of Eva’s bedroom, waiting for her to fall asleep and for the Nightmares to arrive. The crows feet around Eva’s eyes crinkled as she smiled and shut the book she’d been reading before smoothing her blankets out around her.

“Being a Dreamcatcher isn’t as bad as you make it out to be, Daniel. While most people die, you get to continue to live. You should be more grateful,” my partner, Marlene, said.

I ignored her. As Protectors of the Night, we were both sworn to guard humans for the rest of eternity. I was spending nearly every day of it in battle, and I would never get to see the Heavens. When I died – for good this time; I was already dead – I would just cease to exist. Lost in a black void. Not much of an eternity, if you ask me.

Marlene rolled her eyes. “Just be on alert, okay?”

When wasn’t I? I closed my eyes to avoid glaring at her and leaned against the wall, crossing my arms over my chest, and felt Marlene step away from me to do her job but kept my eyes closed.

While I was a Dreamcatcher who fought off the Nightmares that wanted to feed on Eva’s fears, Marlene was a Dreamweaver. She created the dreams that Eva saw every night in her sleep.

August Secret Agent #36

TITLE: Hour of Mischief
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The gears of my hand whirred softly as I fastened my last knife around my right thigh. Pre-robbery nerves always made buckling things difficult, even with a limb constructed out of circuits and steel. The promise of the soon-to-come adrenaline rush made my every nerve sing with excitement.

Seated in our usual place in the abandoned clock tower, my team made last minute additions to their outfits. Sid stored a pair of silver lined revolvers in his jacket. Next to his hulking figure, Parker looked even smaller than normal. He was slipping a few more explosives into his bag. Low grade only, of course. Murder wasn’t in our agenda and I’d never paid much tribute to the Goddess of Death. I hadn’t met her personally, but based on the stories I imagined her as a dreary and unlikeable individual.

Only Sylvia wasn’t checking her weapons. She had prepared all of her equipment last night in the midst of a pre-heist anxiety attack. Now, she busied herself twirling a loose thread from her vest around her finger.

“Hey, Sid, what do you think?” Parker asked, holding up two different types of bombs. One was a pocket watch altered to create a smoke screen at the touch of a button. It was great for quick escapes. The other was a bug-like machine meant to pursue moving targets until it exploded. Parker called them Chaser Beetles.

Sid just shrugged.

“The pocket watch,” I answered, since Sid wasn’t one for audible feedback.

Parker frowned. “I wasn’t asking you, Janet.”

August Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Keeping You
GENRE: Women's Fiction

He left me in the middle of winter.

Freezing, I wrapped the quilt more tightly around me, stood on the sidewalk waiting.

He came in his truck, smiled when he got out. But his eyes held nothing happy. He reached out to touch me, already more reserved.

"Am I allowed to kiss a missionary?" I said lightly.

He tried to laugh. “I’m going to miss you so much."

"Don't say that," I said, the lump in my throat growing. My heart was beating quickly, my fingers wanting to grasp him tightly, make him stay with me. Slowly, he leaned down and kissed me softly, as if a kiss could actually fill him for a very long time.

“I have something for you,” he whispered, close to my mouth. He pulled out a small gold chain from his pocket. On the chain dangled two charms; one a star, the other a shoe.

I laughed. "A shoe?"

"Remember when I first saw you?" he asked. "You were running and had this look on your face." He smiled. "Keep running. Run hard even when you think you're going to die, because you won't die – you'll just get stronger." He stepped back. It was time to go.

"Thank you," I whispered, dangling the necklace. "I wish I had gotten something…"

He shook his head. "You gave me everything, Lindsey."

I gave him a brave smile. His hair was shorter now, more clean-cut missionary style. He was going to be a great missionary.

August Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Keepers of the Flame
GENRE: YA Political Thriller

Freedom. Sweet, sweet freedom, was only one public speech and a walk across stage away.

Essie shut her eyes to reality, picturing the moment. It couldn’t come fast enough. If it were possible, she’d gladly give the entire family fortune for a one way ticket in a time machine.


Her eyes flew open.

Across the aisle, her brother clutched his gut with silent laughter.

“Real mature, Ethan,” she hissed, peeling the soggy wad of paper from her cheek. She straightened her graduation stole, and reread her note cards, trying to ignore the thousands of eyes ogling her.

Especially the token blot of orange. Bouncing up and down in the ocean of rich and powerful, identical in black suits, skirts and sunglasses. She felt her cheeks redden. Her mom didn’t make it easy.

As if the orange blouse and wild black curls weren’t enough, her mom waved an enormous hand-painted banner.


Her dad shot her a sympathetic look and nudged her younger sister, Ella, pointing at the stage. Ella grinned, giving Essie a wiggly fingered wave. Their encouragement wasn’t helping anything.

Essie felt her stomach roll. Any minute she might puke. Or trip. Or puke then trip. Trip into the puke.

Her stomach pitched in response. She buried her head in her hands. Good grades should be awarded with a high-school-graduation-ceremony hall pass. Not a trip to the public speaking gallows.

“And with that, I’ll turn the time over to the lovely, Vanessa Hall, Kingston Academy’s Salutatorian.”

August Secret Agent #33

GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Darkness crept slowly into the snickelway, the narrow pathway leading from somewhere to somewhere else throughout the back alleys of Victorian London. Faint light from lamps high overhead filtered past parts of the shadow, casting an eerie glow onto the heavily cobbled surface that lay between the two old, tumbledown brick buildings rising up around it.

Two large, glowing red eyes moved smoothly through the darkness nearly eight feet off the ground. Paws padded across the cold, wet cobbles in an impatient pacing, waiting and watching, looking for the opportunity to strike . . . breath curling up from a snarling mouth and dispersing through the frigid, damp air.

Fourteen-year-old Coyne Loxley raced down the steps of the Tower Museum. She was frantic. Once again she had let the hours slip away from her, and the time she had promised to be home had quickly come and gone. She thought about using her magic, but she had assured her mother she wouldn’t . . . and that was at least one promise she wasn’t willing to break.

From the moment she set foot on the cobbles, her senses were heightened. Low deep, guttural growls crawled out of the darkness. A scent, deep and purely animal, filled the air around her, trying to crawl into her lungs . . . cutting off her breath.

As she turned, she could see the outline of the beast looming in the shadows. She wanted to scream, but all she could manage was a muffled cry as she felt the warmth of its breath sidle up to her.

August Secret Agent #32

GENRE: Middle Grade magical realism

Josh Albright sat at a worn wooden table in his clubhouse surrounded by nails, a tin box of craft supplies, and a slightly chewed pencil. The smell of fresh cut pine filled the room. He wiped excess glue onto the crumpled directions for a do-it-yourself birdhouse.

Light came from overhead where a lit model of the solar system spun around a fiery sun. Josh stuck the last piece of the birdhouse into place and admired his work. Transforming one thing into another was a kind of magic.

“There.” He spun his project around so his visitor could see it. Outside an open window, a crow stood in the backyard’s only tree. The bird’s sleek feathers gleamed against the reddened sky of a Utah sunset.

“Ready to move in?” Josh brought the new home closer to the familiar crow, but it didn’t move from its low hanging tree branch.

“Fine. I’ll paint it. Will that make you happy?”

The bird tilted his head. Its deep black eyes looked like a tunnel to some far away place.

Josh’s best friend Steven squeezed in the narrow door of the clubhouse with his arms full of supplies for a sleepover. Josh lightened the load by taking the food.

“I can’t believe you made a house for the symbol of death,” Steven said. “Besides, they stalk us from nests. Not birdhouses.”

“Stop that, will you? Crows don’t mean death.”

“Then why do they always show up in movies, right before someone gets it?”

August Secret Agent #31

TITLE: Bluebird

I’ve never had coherent dreams. It’s odd that this one is so clear. And by "clear,” I mean I can tell that this thing (whatever it is) standing before me is blue. Pretty good, for me.

I can also tell it’s saying my name.

“Caitlin…” the thing repeats in a voice like a timpani. I can’t make out what else it’s saying. I strain to hear, but to no avail.

Then my palms start to burn like hell and glow a bright blue. Oh god, it hurts. I try to scream, but I can’t so much as squeak. The blue stuff blazes through the rest of my body. I feel like I’m turning to ash. There’s a fiery haze around my eyes now. I can’t see!-

It’s gone.

The blue figure jumps. It takes my head in its hands and - oh god, what’s happening? –

My eyes pop open.

The sun is streaming through my sheer curtains. The leaves on the sycamore outside our apartment are waving, dappling everything in my miniscule room. An oriole is chirping.

There’s no blue thing in sight.

Phew. I lift a hand and brush my frizzy hair out of my face – wait. What is that on my palm?

It’s some sort of symbol, three smooth intertwining loops. And it’s scratched into my hand.

“Ow,” I say with some surprise as it starts stinging. My other palm follows suit, and I flip my hand over to see an identical symbol carved into it.

What the hell?

August Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Amadine
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Amadine crouched on the bank of a small stream. Loud crashing came from somewhere behind her. She held her small knife and peered through the branches. If men made the noise, Amadine would hide and let them pass. If it were trolls, she would scamper up the nearest tree. Trolls could not look up into trees. They could, however, smell you if you crouched in the bushes.

“I’ve caught up to you, Larkin!” Two men burst into her hiding place. She slipped on a stone and fell into the water. A sword passed just above her head. The fight ended before she could regain her feet.

A man clad in red floated in the water. The other man lay on the shore. Blood stained his dark green jacket. Amadine stood knee-deep in the cold, clear water. The wounded man groaned.

“Done in by a no-account Red-leg.” The sorrow in his voice stirred something in Amadine’s soul.

“You’ve done for him as well, sir.” She stepped toward him.

“What? Who’s there?” The man shifted, then gasped and lay back.

“Don’t worry, sir.” She inched closer. “Your enemy lies dead in the water.”

“Well, that’s something at least.” He coughed.

“What are you, lass? Are you a spirit come to take me from this world?”

“I’m Amadine. I live here.” The man looked at Amadine for the first time. His pale face turned whiter.

“You look just like her.” He tried to smile through his pain. “Amadine, I’ve found you after all.”

August Secret Agent #29

TITLE: Forecast Today, Mostly Deadly
GENRE: mystery

People in unfamiliar circumstance almost always go with what they know and with what they’re familiar. Take the plot of King Kong for example.

A bunch of guys find themselves unexpectedly exploring a dangerous, uncharted, and mysterious island, and find to their amazement, honest to Gawd dinosaurs and a big monkey.

So what’d they bring back to civilization?

The monkey!

Everyone’s seen a monkey, nobody’s ever seen a dinosaur, so what did they do?

They went with what they were familiar.

Look, I don’t argue it makes sense or that’s its reasonable, I only argue that people go with what they know, even if it’s a big monkey.

Undoubtedly, the big monkey in this story is me.

Eight days ago I arrived late morning at my storefront to find a guy pressing his face against the glass and looking in. In contrast to what looked to be his million dollar designer suit, I was wearing my eight dollar designer coveralls and carrying a can of paint.

We don’t need to go off now on a visit of why I needed some paint, but when I saw him, I said, “Help you?”

He responded, looking a little guilty, like I might’ve assumed he was looking in the window for something that looked worthwhile to steal, of which there wasn’t. “Mr. Katz, Roscoe Katz?”

I nodded, and trying to lighten-up the awkward moment, smiled and said, “I am if you’re a guy looking to give me some money.”

August Secret Agent #28

TITLE: Snowpocalypse
GENRE: YA Thriller

I should never have come. I should have known the sun was saying more than good riddance to the day as it hid behind the looming mountain ridge. What’s that saying? Oh yeah, no good dead goes unpunished. That’s what I should have remembered.

I shivered. It was freezing up here even out of ski season. The gondolas groaned like robotic zombies moaning in agreement. That was about as close to zombies as I was likely to get this weekend. So much for my ragged nail extensions, exquisitely blood clotted hair, and the bite wound that took over three hours to paint on my left ankle, muscles, tissues, bone, all that detail for nothing. I wasn’t at the first zombie-con ever. I was here in the middle of nowhere, with no chance of escape.

“Come on Lottie, cheer up.” Neil, the stepdad came out to join me on the cabin’s back deck. “It’s not the end of the world. They’ll be other parties.”

“Not like this one.” I leaned my elbows on the wooden railings, looking over the darkening horizon.

“Lottie, I know it’s hard to imagine, but by next year you’ll be into vampires or something.”

“As if!”

He put his hand on my shoulder, “I, we, really do appreciate you doing this. We’ll make it up to you. I promise.”

I sighed, “I’ll get over it. One-year anniversaries don’t happen that often. You deserve a break, you deserve each other.” That came out sounding totally wrong.

August Secret Agent #27

GENRE: Ya Fantasy

Trapped. There’s no going back now, Christopher thought as he eyed the room with mounting unease. Frilly, poofed dresses and ornate hairdos filled the space as far as the eye could see.

“Oh, isn’t it wonderful!” Christine tugged on his arm, beside herself with joy. “I’m so glad we came. Papa, aren’t you glad we came?”

“Mph.” Richard, Christine’s father, shrugged his stocky shoulders.

“Mph is right,” Christopher said with a roll of his eyes.

So many girls. Everything in his being wanted to flee, but manners dictated he smile warmly at all who passed.

“Don’t be such a grump. We’re here to have fun.” She pinched his arm. “You included! You’re such a scaredy cat.”

“I’m not afraid.” Christopher drew up to his full height and lifted his chin, his smile broadening as he glanced down at Christine. “A woman is not a thing to be feared.”

“Says the man who avoids them like the plague. Did you forget that I’m a woman?”

“You’re thirteen.”

“Only four years younger than you.” She smiled, her dark eyes alight. “Please try to have fun tonight. Don’t just stand in the corner. Dance with someone. You can dance with Vanessa!”

“Vanessa is just as bad as…” Something caught his eye. A cat sat on a nearby windowsill watching him intently.

“As bad as what?” Christine asked, but Christopher hardly heard her, his eyes fixed on the cat.

One corner of the feline’s mouth twisted up.

Do cats smile?

It winked.

August Secret Agent #26

GENRE: MG Contemporary Fantasy

“You need me, Gideon. Become a friend of the shadows and they will gladly embrace you.” From his hiding place somewhere in the second story balcony, the evil sorcerer laughed. “I will embrace you as a friend.”

Gideon Hardy stood on the stage of a large opera house. Rows of empty wooden benches stared back at him. Thick velvet curtains hung from the flyloft, the hems nailed to the floor by rusted railroad ties, closing off any possible retreat.

Lightning shot across the domed ceiling, nearly missing the enormous chandelier. Thunder boomed with no delay between sight and sound. Impossible from inside a building, but then this was a dream. Gideon knew that much.

It didn’t matter.

Beneath him, the orchestra pit glowed with amber light, as if a thousand fireflies hid below the lip of the stage. Gold and grand, the opera house made Gideon feel undersized.

The sorcerer cackled, still out of sight.

“Perhaps you need more demonstration of my power?”

Another hiss of lightning. This time the ceiling chandelier shattered. Glass shards drummed the wood floor.

Gideon widened his stance, squaring his shoulders. Warrior pose, like his mother taught him. In his right hand, he held an oak wand. He’d never used a magical wand before, but it somehow felt natural in his grasp. Familiar.

Gideon scanned the house, looking for movement. The brim of a pointed hat. A wisp of black cape. Anything.

Again, he saw a flash of lightning and heard the boom of thunder.

August Secret Agent #25

TITLE: The Haunting of Elle Castle
GENRE: MG Mystery

My soggy cereal looked more like paper mache paste after I’d stirred it about three billion times, trying to figure out how Grandmere, my beloved and funny Grandmere, could be in a coma.

“I’m going to book a flight to Paris, right now,” Mom said, pouring more coffee into her white mug. “I hate being so far away when she’s sick like this.”

We live in Washington State, which might as well be planet Neptune; we’re that far away from Grandmere. She lives in a tiny village in the south of France where our family vineyard has produced grapes for five generations. I go to visit every summer.

“Don’t the doctors know why Grandmere is sick?” I rubbed my eyes with my hands trying to wake them up after the worst night of no sleep.Mom stopped mid-sip. “What were those noises in your room last night?”

I took my bowl to the sink. This was definitely not the time to tell mom about my strange new talent.

“I have to see Grandmere, I said.”

“Elle, you’ve got school and what about the talent show you’re so excited about?”

“Talent show, smellent-show. I don’t have anything to do in the show, anyway.”

“You could read a poem,” Mom said. “And stay with the Winston’s while I’m gone. It’s not going to be like our summer trips to France, Elle.”

“I know that. And nobody reads poem’s anymore, Mom.”

“Sure they do. Don’t they? Well, I do.”

August Secret Agent #24

TITLE: Late Night Reflections on the Zombie Apocalypse
GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary Romance

While I waited for the counselor to finish flipping through pages in the off white folder labeled, Walker, Julia, I read a flyer from the cluttered bulletin board behind her desk. Grease was Washington High’s musical this year, and it would be held on… Mrs. Jorgenson cleared her throat.

“How are you?” She snapped my file shut and settled in. No taller than five foot, her monstrous leather chair looked like it was going to eat her. Her bun barely reached the top of the back.

“Fine.” I glanced down at my hand and scratched my palm.

“A lot has happened in your life.” She pressed her fingers together to form the sort of teepee shrinks are fond of and waited for me to talk.

I stayed quiet and focused on the high pitched whir of the ancient air conditioner held in place by a window frame painted white so many times the top layer was forced to try to run away.

“Sometimes discussing a problem helps,” she said.

Maybe, but my memories and feelings were private, and I wanted to keep them that way, thank you very much. Besides, talking hurt. I swallowed instead.

“Is anything bothering you?” Her eyes stretched wide open.

A lot bothered me. Getting up early and my two annoying brothers bothered me. She meant what really hurt. An image of my mother forced me to take a deep breath. The Grand Canyon didn’t begin to describe the size of the crater in my heart.

August Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Oliver and the Underlings
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Oliver Bradshaw stared out the window of the rental car as his mother pulled into a parking lot next to a faded red Colonial house. The top floor overshot the bottom floor in the front, making the building look like it had an overbite. A sign reading "Fred's Variety" dangled like a loose tooth from the overhang.

"Why are we here?" Oliver asked.

"To see about an apartment."

Oliver looked up at the second floor again.

"I was afraid you were going to say that."

"Fully furnished apartments are hard to comeby."

His mother had a point. They really didn't have any furniture. How could they when they'd moved three times in the last five years?

The landlord, a tall, wiry man with silver hair growing in a half circle around the back of his head, met them under the sign. He handed Oliver's mother a stack of papers. The name on the top page was "Joseph Shoute". In his head, Oliver called him "Mr. Shout", but the man said, "My name is Mr. Shoute," pronouncing it "shoot" instead. "I'm the landlord."

"Excuse me Mr. Shout," Oliver said, "I mean, Shoute, but the sign says Fred's Variety. Where's Fred?"

Mr. Shoute's blue eyes narrowed. Oliver noticed they were the same murky color as the ocean water he and his mother had passed as they drove up the coast of Connecticut and into Rhode Island. "Fred's dead. If there are no more questions, I can show you the apartment upstairs."

August Secret Agent #22

TITLE: Phenonmena, Nebraska
GENRE: Magical Realism MG

"Winifred O'Neil! Winifred O'Neil!" barked the camp director with his southern drawl in full effect.

Winifred began shaking her head back and forth even before turning around to see what Hale MacDougal's shouts of her name were all about. And all the while shaking her head in denial, she tried to maintain the full concentration necessary to launch the arrow straight into the center of the colored target that lay 70 feet ahead of her. Slowly retracting her right elbow and closing one of her eyes for better focus, she just about -

"Win-i-fred O-Neilllll," came Hale's amplified call from behind a bullhorn. And with that, Winifred knew she'd rather forfeit than try for a shot which was now sullied by her summoning. Archery hadn't been her first choice in sport, or even her third, but nevertheless not only had she taken to the practice, but she embraced the solitary sport for exactly that very reason. Far way from the city of Seattle, hidden at a camp deep in the Ozark mountain range in Arkansas, Winifred had finally escaped. Or so she had thought, because with every yelp of her name, it became clear that she hadn't. She knew why Hale was so insistent even before she turned around to face him to see the phone he held in his hand yards away. She knew who was on the other end of the line. Her parents always had to ruin everything.

August Secret Agent #21

TITLE: Thunderstruck
GENRE: MG adventure

Chinook forced herself to hold her tongue as she stormed away from the tribal council. She ducked into the cool darkness of the tunnel and steadied herself.

Ten years since the Wakiya had left the valley.

Ten full cycles of seasons since rain had fallen beyond the ridge that rimmed the lake.

Chinook raced down the spiral tunnel and out onto the cove. She splashed into the water and sank.

Humans would not survive without rain.

Yet her people refused to leave.

Lewis, Clark, Columbus. Hunter was in good company—the last of the great explorers. And with all those maps in his collection, there had to be a great unknown somewhere. He just hadn’t expected it to be in the kitchen. He hadn’t expected to crawl around looking for his birthday present, either. But everyone had to start somewhere.

He rifled through drawers, trying not to let the utensils clatter. He didn’t want to wake Mom and Dad or get Brody barking. There was plenty in there, all of it bent, scratched and mismatched. Nothing resembling a present, though. He slammed the drawer harder than he meant to and froze, listening for footsteps.

When no one came down, he started on the cupboards. If they’d gotten him something big, they might have put it in the cabinet with the water tank. He yanked open the door, peering into the spaces around it. Nothing there but—

The gauge stopped him cold. It barely rose above empty. They’d be cutting back, again.

August Secret Agent #20

TITLE: Diablerie!
GENRE: Young Adult Contemporary

I realized my life was a mess the day I received my first college mailer. It came from Lowell’s Career Tech Academy in Aberdeen, Washington. I flipped through the brochure and noticed a coupon on the back that said if I acted now, I would receive 20% off my tuition. In tiny fine print, there was the disclaimer that “the college’s accreditation is under review.”

I was about to recycle the brochure when I noticed the mailing label had my reversed my name. Instead of Lawrence Collins, it read Collin Lawrence. The college had sent this to the wrong person. I wasn’t even good enough for a two-year technical school that allowed its students to double major in Dental Hygenistry and Cable Installation.

This letter was the equivalent of a polar ice cap melting. OK, maybe equating my college admissions chances with the demise of our planet is a bit exaggerated, but I did get the distinct feeling that, just like many of our coastal communities, I would be underwater unless I drastically changed my lifestyle. So starting this school year, I gave up pot and alcohol and devoted myself to cleaner living.

My friends don’t understand what’s happened to me and keep asking if my feet hurt in those goody two shoes. They’re a riot, those guys. They miss the old Lawrence Collins – the one who got high before 5th period Biology and lit his hair on fire with a bunsen burner.

August Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Perfect Enemies
GENRE: YA Mystery

Amy Brooks, the best-loved senior at Hollywood Arts Academy, lay face down beside the porcelain throne, strands of wavy red hair glued to the vomit beneath her waxen cheek.

Someone shrieked right beside my ear, startling me so much I jumped and banged my knee into the stall frame.

“What’s wrong with her? Oh, Ivy, is she dead?” Shayna Roberts moaned.

Shayna was the second most popular girl in our class. Not so loved.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just came in here.” I edged closer to Amy’s spread-eagled body, resisting the impulse to pull her denim mini down over her tanned tushie. Should I check her pulse? The one green eye I could see was kind of bloodshot and staring.

“I think she’s gone,” I said, my stomach contracting with horror. How could that be? In Mr. Morton’s screenwriting class two periods ago, she’d been fine, entertaining us as usual with her trademark friendly sass. A wave of dizziness hit me and I bent over, resting my hands on my knees and trying to breathe.

Shayna shrieked again, shaking her butterscotch blonde ringlets and stamping her Jimmy Choo suede ankle boot hard on the tile floor. “How could she do this?” She covered her face and began to sob.

Wow. I didn’t know she even liked Amy.

Her sobs came to a shuddering halt and she pouted, full pink lips trembling. One perfect crystal tear rolled down her cheek. “How could she ruin my big party?”

August Secret Agent #18

GENRE:   Young Adult Humorous

The school office at my new school is not hard to find and when I arrive, I see a middle-aged woman behind the counter filling in the missing letters to a crossword puzzle. I let out a polite cough announcing my arrival to no avail, she is trying to find a ten-letter word meaning: to wish good health. “Gesundheit,” I say hoping to speed things along.

“Well bless your little pea picking heart,” the receptionist says as she fills in the letters to the word ‘Gesundheit’ in the squares of her crossword puzzle. “How may I help you?” She asks in a pleasant voice.

“I am new here, my name is Maurice Almighty.” Her smile quickly turns to a frown.

“We have been expecting you.” She says in a rude manner, which indicates to me that my permanent record has already beaten me here.

The woman looks at me, lifts off her horned rimmed glasses and stares at me with the naked eye to see what a real monster looks like. “Mr. Allen, He is here,” the receptionist says into the intercom. She does not say my name, just He with a capital H and that says it all.

After being sternly told to have a seat, I wiggle on the wooden bench, which is uncomfortably making my left butt cheek go numb. The receptionist does not take her eyes off me for a second and does not attempt to conceal her distrust of me.

August Secret Agent #17


Choosing what to have for breakfast won’t change my life, but I’ve never been good at making decisions. I drum my fingers on the kitchen counter, staring at the fridge covered in family photos. Waffles or cereal? My stomach growls. Waffles. With strawberries. You only live once. I open the freezer as Drew honks outside. Damn. I don’t have time. Granola bar then.

I shut the freezer and my head swims for a moment, blurring the last photo of Grandma in her garden to a blob of blue and green. I blink and shake it off, then grab the box of NatureOne bars from the cluttered pantry.

The toaster oven dings. What in the… I go to check. Two toasted waffles sit on the metal rack.

Mom and Dad are both gone before seven on Tuesdays, and Elliot’s still upstairs. Did I put those in when I first came down? I must be losing my mind. Or I’m still half asleep. Whatever, they look delicious. Drew can wait. I text him that I’ll be a minute and grab a plate.

I slather the waffles with butter and slice up strawberries. I’m just lifting my fork when my ten-year-old brother walks into the room. His sun-bleached hair sticks up in the back and he’s wearing his standard outfit of baggy soccer shorts and a random player’s jersey.

“Mmm, waffles. Are there more?” Elliot asks.

I shift my eyes. “In the freezer.”

He glances at the microwave clock, then groans and reaches for the cereal.

August Secret Agent #16

TITLE: Abby's Turn

Like you, I was born. The similarities end there.

I’m unique.

And I hate that.

It’s not an ego thing; seriously, I wish we were more alike. To be precise, I wish I was more like you and everyone else. And less like… Duh. If I had a comparison I wouldn't be writing this.

Hold on. Stop right there. I’m writing this note so that when you find it, you’ll know what happened. EXCUSE ME for interrupting your objections!

You’re hardly the first to observe that we both eat, drink, sleep, fart, and whatever else you want to think about. So do seals and starfish and every other earthly creature. I readily concede my body is subject to biochemistry and physics just like everyone else’s.

That’s just another way of saying I was born.

And, as I pointed out, the similarities end there.

Wait a minute, you say (interrupting again). We’re both girls, we both have brown hair, and we both think the same boys are leeches and the same boys are not too bad.

Fine. But that’s a shared illusion. How many times do I have to explain this? It’s merely biochemistry, and I just conceded that!

We’re different because you belong here on Earth. You fit in, like the seals and the starfish.

Not me. I’m on the wrong planet.

It took a while, but I finally realized this two years and seventeen days ago. I remember that day distinctly because it was the last time I wanted to live.

August Secret Agent #15

GENRE: YA Contemporary

The condom must’ve broke.

Her words, not mine.

Her being Mckinley, or Mick as I’ve called her for as long as I can remember. We’ve been the best of friends since the two of us were the same pudgy height and tromped around in dirty diapers, which practically makes us sisters. And together, we were always known by the masses as Mick and Mack, because of my last name being McIntyre and her first name being, well, Mckinley.

Scratch that. Mick was my best friend, up until five minutes ago.

Which brings us to now.

Me clutching my stomach, about ready to hurl at what she’s just told me. And Mick, clutching her stomach for an entirely different reason, but no doubt, also wanting to hurl. You see, with words like ‘ the condom must’ve broke’ it doesn’t leave much to the imagination. Especially when the said condom was used with my boyfriend.

A million different thoughts, curse words, insults, and questions race through my mind and threaten to spew from my lips, which I'm sure isn't helping my urge to vomit. But I only stand there - like always - as if lacking the ability to speak.

“Mack, please say something." By her tone alone, I can tell she’s on the verge of begging. And I’ve already realized I can't even look at her, without this foul, metallic-bitter taste coursing through my mouth. Instead, I stare at her shifting feet that hop back and forth as if the ground is too hot to stay in one place.

August Secret Agent #14

TITLE: Through a Glass Darkly
GENRE: YA Contemporary Fantasy

My bedroom mirror had too much room for monsters in it. I dragged it to my window and tilted it upward, watching it fill with stars and darkness. I pretended that if I filled it with other things, the monsters couldn’t get in.

The stars became frozen fireflies, trapped in the rectangular jar of the wood-framed mirror. The dark oak grated against itself as I shifted the mirror to set them free. Now, with the mirror facing me, I was the one trapped in the jar, caged and flightless.

And then the monsters came, the mirror churning with shadows the way it always did before they appeared. I touched it lightly with my fingertips, holding in a flinch as their massive, reptilian heads butted against the glass. You don’t scare me anymore, I thought at them. But I knew it was a lie.

I liked to think I was brave, that standing here every night in front of a mirror I could have hidden or destroyed actually meant something. But with graduation on the horizon, it was past time to admit the truth. All it meant was that I’d been fooling myself for nearly seventeen years.

As if they could hear my thoughts, the creatures clawed more frantically at the barrier between us. Their scaly hides glistened in the strange half-light of their shadowed world, rippling with the churning power of their heavily-muscled frames. One of them smashed a triple-clawed hand against the barrier, its nostrils flared, its fang-studded mouth snapping silently.

August Secret Agent #13

GENRE: YA Science Fiction

Being a good guest is a lot easier when the host isn’t around. There’s no small talk or awkward pauses and no one feels obligated to observe social niceties. You can eat spaghetti and meatballs on a cream sofa, feet on the coffee table, Dr. Pepper in hand, without someone fidgeting beside you on the armchair. Not that I do that or anything. I am an excellent houseguest. I place every pot, remote, and throw pillow exactly where I found it. It’s not so hard; I have a pretty good memory where these things are concerned. Other things, not so much.

Every surface and door handle gets a good wipe down. I even go grocery shopping, replacing what I used. It’s more than leaving the space how I found it. It’s about erasing all evidence of my stay. The trick is not being seen or heard by the neighbors—or having the owner walk in on you ducking in through a window. Like Charlie did.

I spit a wad of toothpaste into the sink and open the faucet wide to blast away the suds.

Something gives them away like a thought too loud to conceal. This time: two pairs of footsteps, wheels on a tile floor, whispers. I cut the water off and freeze.

“Please, keep walking. Keep walking,” I chant as if the words have any power to keep the couple from entering my temporary living quarters. Their home. Deep in the apartment I wait, motionless, straining to follow the sounds emanating from the hall.

August Secret Agent #12

TITLE: The Pit

Carbonado Currier: October 24, 1889

Explosion Reaps Death and Mystery
The bodies of four miners were recovered from the gloomy depths of Carbon Hill Mine after Monday's deadly explosion, the most disastrous in the mine's forty year history. They were raised to the surface through a ventilation shaft near the accident site.

Mine spokesman, James Lear said, “The calamitous event was likely caused by a pocket of methane gas ignited by the open flame of a miner’s headlamp. Efforts to recover four more members of the unfortunate crew are continuing. The deceased will be buried at company expense.”

A member of the rescue team, who wishes to remain anonymous, reports the blast not only brought down much of the tunnel, but also opened an entrance to a cluster of natural caverns heretofore unknown. He claims there is no sign of the bodies of the missing. “I don't understand,” he said. “We found helmets, headlamps, and picks but no bodies. Not a trace.”

Carbon Hill Coal has refused further comment.

* * *

March, 1983

From the white-pillared entrance of Carbonado School, the flight of red-painted stairs stuck out like a tongue, and I pictured it slurping up students in the morning and spitting them out in the afternoon. Despite being the end of spring break, it was my first day in this building, and with each upward step, the knot in my stomach pulled tighter.

I hesitated at the door and gulped down some air. No turning back.