Friday, May 30, 2014

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday!

So here's something I'd love to hear your thoughts on today:

In a first draft of my current WIP, I killed off one of the main supporting characters.  I actually cried when I did it, because it was painful.  That's a good sign, really--if it made ME cry, then it should impact readers. Right?

Except, it feels wrong to have him dead.  And I think that, because he is a main supporting character, it might be more upsetting than moving to have him die.  So right now, as I revise, I'm seeing if I can make this work without his death.  There's still a very hard choice involved, and still lots of tension (especially the not-knowing whether he's going to make it or not), but in the end, I think I will feel more peaceful if he lives.

Others die, so it's not a case of my avoiding killing off characters.  I do that with aplomb, as necessary.  *grin*

So, what do you think?  Is there a RIGHT and a WRONG time to kill off a character?  Have you ever struggled with whether or not to kill someone off?

Please help me through this by sharing your own experiences!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Allow Yourself to be Treated Well

Yes, I care about the journeys of other writers.  Yes, I tend to particularly "mother hen" those of my colleagues with whom I share friendship as well as writership.

As in, if you hurt, I hurt.  If you're angry, I'm angry.  You know how it goes.  You do it, too.

But I want to channel my latest bout of righteous indignation into something productive, and here it is:

Signing with an agent is a wonderful thing.  But if it ends up less than wonderful for any reason, DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

I know that many of you who read my blog are either getting ready to query or have been querying and are firmly entrenched in I-need-to-find-an-agent.  Then there are others of you who are recently or not-so-recently agented, but not yet published.  Like me.

Let me tell you something.  When you sign with an agent, you have not won the lottery.  You have worked hard and made a business connection that will be (hopefully) beneficial to both of you.  Being agented is a STEP along the way.  It is not a mode of being that requires you to stay in a perpetual state of stunned thankfulness.

Don't get me wrong:  I am daily thankful for my agent.  I adore him and he knows it.  And I think he must be at least marginally fond of me, because, let's face it--he's put up with me for quite some time now.  But the bottom line is that Josh treats me well.

Yes, I've been frustrated sometimes (and he knows it--because I've communicated it).  It's almost always because of a lack of communication.  The truth is that I feel "taken care of" when I'm communicated with.  Dark holes of silence?  I don't do well with those.  Not even marginally.  But all relationships, both business and personal, have their ups and downs.  Because nobody is perfect, and forgiveness is key to happiness.  And threaded through the frustrations and miscommunications is a strong sense of being treated well.  Being respected.  And I know--because he's said it--that Josh is in for the long haul.  We are, both of us, imperfect humans.  But I think we've got an undeniable synergy that trumps the hiccups.  Our relationship feels good.

This isn't always the case with agent-client relationships.  Of course, it's not always the agent who's the "bad guy".  Nobody wants to represent an author who is whiny or demanding or full of himself.  Agents are overworked and trying to inhumanly multitask on an almost-daily basis.  If we need respect, then they need it, too.  Respect for their time, their priorities, their private lives (yes, they do have them).


If you feel more angst than satisfaction with your agent, something is wrong.

If you're not feeling supported, encouraged, energized, challenged to be become better, something is wrong.

Mind!  I am absolutely not saying that your agent exists solely to be your cheerleader.  HE DOES NOT.  But cheerleading is part of it.  Letting you know that he's excited about something, or that you've done a good job with the latest round of revisions, is a very decent-human-being sort of thing that needs to happen.

And if you've done something a bit out of line?  Like, maybe you posted something on your blog that's a bit taboo--or maybe you've made an unreasonable demand?  Then your agent needs to communicate this to you professionally and kindly.  If you receive anything less than professional and kind, then that, to me, is a red flag.

(This is assuming that you are also being professional and kind.  Right?)

You need to be treated well.  Not pampered, not coddled, not deferred to on a daily basis.  But simply treated well.

I walked for more than 2 years through a bad agent situation with a colleague who felt unsupported and condescended to by an agent with a reputation for suddenly emailing clients and telling them she no longer wanted to represent them.  This colleague lived in fear that the same thing would happen to her.  When she finally found the courage to "break up" with this agent, she found a new one--and got a book deal fairly quickly.

I've watched colleagues fall apart because their agents decided to call it quits after one try with one novel.  (Which is why it's important to determine up front whether or not the agent you're signing with is a "career agent" or a "let's throw one book at the wall and see if it sticks" agent.  If he's the latter, and you're longing for the former, you're going to end up disappointed.  And you won't feel like you've been treated well.)

And, most recently, I've been privy to one of the most unprofessional communiques from an agent that I've ever seen.  (Not rivaling what I went through my my agent-from-hell all those years ago.  But, truly, there isn't a whole lot that could rival that.)  All because my colleague dared to ask for an update on her submission list.

Here's a disclaimer on that last one:  No one likes a pest.  It's never okay to PESTER your agent.  Weekly emails that say, "Hey! How's it going this week?" are going to drive your agent to the nearest bar before 2 p.m.  But asking for an update after your agent sends you an editor list on the brink of submission and then goes dark is not, in my opinion, "pestering".

You are allowed to ask for updates.  You are allowed to ask questions.  You are even allowed to ask for advice.

You are allowed to be treated well.

You are NOT allowed to be a diva, or to hurl invectives at your agent when he doesn't measure up, or to expect that your project and your needs will always come first.  In short, YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO BE A JERK.

But if you are being a decent, hard-working, non-pesty client, and you aren't being treated well, then it's time to reevaluate your relationship with your agent.

Love yourselves, people.  Love yourselves enough to know when the way someone treats you isn't okay.  Love yourselves enough to trust your instincts when something isn't right.

Love yourselves enough to LEAVE when you are not being treated well.

And that is my mother-henning for the day.  Write well, live well, love yourself so that you can love others well.

Thank you.  I feel better now.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Writing Process Blog Tour

I was tagged in the Writing Process Blog Tour by Holly Bodger, author of 5-to-1 (coming from Knopf in 2015, and an absolutely brilliant YA debut that I'm completely in love with!).

Here are my answers:

What am I currently working on?

I'm actually doing something not-quite-kosher--I'm rewriting a "book 2".  Reason?  I've recently rewritten "book 1" to change the tense and edge-up the writing, and since I'm in the middle of the Submission Desert with another novel (and don't have a fresh story tugging at me), I decided it would be sort of smart to go ahead and revise "book 2" on the tail of the other revision.  I believe strongly in this trilogy, and I'm going to keep polishing until it's blinding.  No, really.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

My on-submission novel, a YA SF, eschews the common-in-YA "love triangle" trope, and instead brings to the forefront what I would like to believe is a character-driven, action-packed plot.  Yes, there's romance (of course!), but it's not every-other-page and this-is-all-about-girl-meets-boy.  And though it falls squarely into the science fiction camp, it's a book that people-who-don't-read-science-fiction can enjoy.  In that sense, I believe it has broader appeal for a YA-loving audience, instead of a narrow genre niche.

Also, one of the supporting characters is mentally challenged (brain damaged).  I fell deeply in love with her as I wrote the story, and I got some pretty strong "I love this character!" from some readers.  She's cast in a positive light, and I feel like she stands out as "different" in the realm of sidekicks.

Why do I write what I write?

If I say "because I am a sci/fi geek", that is only partly true.

While my currently-on-submission novel is straight sci/fi, I mostly write dystopian.  These are the stories that flow most naturally from the deepest part of me.  Why?  I'm passionate about our world and the direction in which we're heading.  I like to look at current events/situations/political landscapes and imagine the trajectory:  Where could this lead us in 50 years?  100 years?  300 years?  (If we even last that long!)  And I want young people to allow their minds to go in the same direction.  "What will happen if this trend continues?"  "What will my world look like when I'm 50?"  "What does it mean to give up my freedoms?"  "How can I change the world?"

I also write what I write--namely, NOT contemporary/realistic stories--because my passion lies in fiction outside of the realms of everyday.  I can get excited about a world that has laser pistols or space transports or holograms or life-sustaining moons.  Cell phones and proms and a job at the local coffee shop?  Not so much.

BUT.  That's not saying I'll never write a story like that.  In fact, now that I've publicly declared my reasons for writing science fiction, I fully expect a YA contemporary to bubble its way into my brain next.

How does my individual writing process work?

I am, for the most part, a one-idea-at-a-time gal.  Once I have the story seed, I world-build until the world feels solid enough to support a story.  (I hate this part.)  Then I use a beat sheet to "beat out" the novel before I begin writing.  (I don't like this part much, either.)  When I'm ready to start the first draft, I give myself 3 months (with a firm "due date") and then write 1000 words a day 6 days a week until I've finished it.  (I supremely hate this part.)

Then I'll wait anywhere from 1 week to a month (not too-too long) before looking at it again.  I'll go through, edit, and then send it to my beloved crit partners.  Once I get their notes, I compile them and FINALLY get to work on the part I LOVE THE MOST:  revising.

I love to revise.  I LIVE to revise.  Revisions are the soul of writing.  For me, it's where the magic happens.  It's what breathes real life into my story, and makes it what it's meant to be.

Once I have what I feel like is a clean draft, I send it to Josh, who is ONE OF THE BEST EDITORIAL VOICES IN MY LIFE.  Sometimes I want to die after I read his notes, but without fail (so far) his suggestions (and those of his assistant Danielle) have been spot-on.  I love the round of revisions that happens after I hear from this dynamic duo.

I am absolutely at my best when I am revising a manuscript.  The only time I'm even BETTER is when I have FINISHED the revision.

I am one of those writers who likes to say, "I have written a novel" instead of "I am writing a novel".


And there you have it!  I am tagging two other authors, who will answer these questions in the next week or so.  Be sure to visit their blogs to see their answers!

Peter Salomon is the author of HENRY FRANKS (Flux, 2012) and ALL THOSE BROKEN ANGELS (Flux, 2014).  He is also one of my critique partners, and manages the Success Stories pages for me.

Julie Butcher writes YA and MG fiction in many genres (though she claims that she writes thrillers no matter what she writes), and is represented by Deirdre Knight of The Knight Agency.  She is also one of my critique partners, and offers freelance editing for full manuscripts.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Friday Fricassee

Here are some random questions for you.  Answer at will.

1.  What's the hardest part of writing for you?  Plot? Character? Grammar?

2.  What comes most easily for you?

3.  Would you rather read a great story with lousy writing, or a meh story with fabulous writing?

4.  Is there such thing as a great story with lousy writing?

5.  What engages you more as a reader--character or plot?

6.  What is the most frustrating part about pursuing your dream to be published?

7.  Is your dream worth spending the rest of your life on? Or do you have an endpoint in mind?

8.  If your house were in flames, what 3 things would you grab on your way out?

9.  As a writer, do you feel supported or unsupported by your family/close circle/spouse?

10.  If you could achieve your dream TOMORROW, what would it look like?

(Answer the ones that strike your fancy; you don't have to answer them all.  Just number your answers so I know what you're answering.)

BONUS QUESTION:  If you knew my real name, would you want to buy the anthology that contains my adult sci-fi short?

(No promises -- I'm just dying of curiosity, is all!)

Have a lovely weekend, beautiful tribe.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Update: The First-Kiss Phone Call

Your responses were so heartfelt--and divided--that I feel the need to let you all know what went down.

(Don't know what I'm talking about?  Read this.)

So he called me.  But I was in the shower, so I missed the call (talk about timing, right?).  I called back--and got his voice mail.  Not an auspicious beginning, right?

But then, minutes later, he called again.  And we talked for an hour.

And it was fine.  Absolutely, positively fine.  Not awkward.  Not weird.  Not angst-y.

He's grown from a confused, egocentric teen into a thoughtful, intelligent man.  (Well, probably he was intelligent back then, too.  But idiocy tends to trump intelligence when one is 17.)  He spoke with great nostalgia and longing of heart about our old circle of friends, and the theatre director who reached out to him when he was so young and lost.  "He changed my life," he said. "I've spent the last four days trying to write a letter to him."

Since I sent him the letter and opened this doorway to his past, he's been on an emotional roller coaster.  He asked me to please pass along his contact information to "anyone and everyone."

In short, it's been amazing.  This wasn't about "old first kisses" at all.  This was about creating a connection for a man who'd lost touch with people who actually meant a lot to him.  And I am honored to have played that role.

That's my happy ending.  Mr. A was completely supportive, and I came downstairs after the phone call and filled him (and my eager parents) in on what Old Kiss and I talked about.  (In fact, I took notes.  Sort of like when I talk with my agent.)

It was all good.

Bottom line?  We were kids.  And now we're not.  And it takes grace to move on and not keep slapping the past with wet noodles.

Thank you all so much for taking a keen interest in my little situation.  All is well, and I absolutely know I made the right choice in speaking with him.  I guess you never know how God is going to use you to bless someone else.

And, yes, he did end the phone call by saying, "If I were there, I'd give you a kiss."  Which was poetic, somehow--and not at all creepy.  In fact, it felt affectionate in an okay sort of way.

(Also?  Yes, we're going to skype him into the party.  We're doing everything we can to get this old cast together, dadgummit!)

Monday, May 19, 2014


Here comes the happy moment!

John Cusick has chosen THREE WINNERS of this month's Secret Agent Contest:


The prize:  Mr. Cusick would like to see the full manuscript for each of these.


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

Congratulations, everyone!

Secret Agent Unveiled: John Cusick

Huge thanks to our helpful Secret Agent with cool glasses, John Cusick of The Greenhouse Literary Agency!

John's Bio:

John M. Cusick is an agent with Greenhouse Literary, representing picture books, middle-grade, and young adult novels. He is also the author of GIRL PARTS and CHERRY MONEY BABY (Candlewick Press), as well as a regular speaker at writers conferences. You can find him online at and on Twitter, @johnmcusick.

What John's looking for right now:

He's particularly keen for contemporary realistic stories, especially middle grade.

Winners forthcoming!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Friday Fricassee

My life is a YA novel today.  No, really.

I've been helping to organize a reunion party for the cast members of GODSPELL from my high school days (potentially scary, right?).  So it's a small cast -- just 10 -- but it's been challenging tracking down the last couple of people.

Our "Jesus" was the most elusive.  I finally came up with a name and address that I thought MIGHT be him.  (Mind you, I'd done extensive stalking.  We're talking old wedding announcements, family members, looking up his middle name in the year book--oh, yeah.  I'm good at this.)

This was a physical mailing address, so I had to, yanno, write a note.  On paper.  With a pen.  And send it in the mail.  With a stamp.

And, of course, I had no idea the whole time if I'd actually gotten the right guy.

This morning, I got an email from him.

Yep.  I FOUND HIM.  (I was going to say I FOUND JESUS, but that felt out of context.)  He seemed delighted that I'd found him, and expressed true regret that he won't be able to come to our reunion.

He also said that he thinks of me from time to time, and that it always brings a smile to his face.

He also said he'd love to chat on the phone.


Right.  He broke my heart eons ago.  And now he wants to chat on the phone.

What should I say?

"So, when you said you loved me, what, exactly, did you mean by that?"

"You probably didn't realize I saw you kissing that other girl in the hallway a few weeks after you'd dropped me like a stone.  Without actually TELLING me you'd dropped me."

"That time you stopped the car so you could sing along with the love song that came on the radio, just for me?  Yeah.  I still think of you when I hear that song.  And it's not a warm fuzzy."

Seriously, I'm being dramatic.  (It's all true.  Really.  It just doesn't bother me anymore.)  I'm just wondering whether I can handle the level of weirdness that will definitely occur during a phone call.  I'm also wondering if Mr. A will want to sit by me while I'm talking to "Jesus".

What would you do?

(Don't you love these totally off-the-cuff, nothing-to-do-with-writing Friday Fricassees?  Just channeling my inner teen this morning.)

(In short: help!)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent Critique Guidelines

Guidelines for Critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 5 other entries.

*I can't possibly read every comment.  If you ever see a comment that is truly snarky, please email me.  I count on your help.

May Secret Agent #50

TITLE: Forgive Me Not
GENRE: YA Suspense

I’m crying. Actually, the me on the screen is crying. I’m pretty sure I’m all out of tears at this point. I’m out of my throat being sore, my mouth being dry, my eyes red lined, and my nose raw with flakes of skin chapping off from wiping it with paper towels since where I am doesn’t have something as basic as tissues. I’m dried out, but Krisola on screen isn’t. She’s a basketcase, sorry, begging, covered in snot and salty tears and augh. I don’t turn away. I watch myself on the screen and don’t move, because they’re watching. I have to be remorseful and I am. I sincerely and truly am but I don’t know how many more times I can say it.

“I wish it were me!” Krisola screams in the video. That hits me but I force myself to keep still. My chin up, not wavering at all. My back ramrod straight. I have to at least appear strong even if I feel like there’s no point. I do wish it were me instead of her. I wish I’d listened. I wish I’d stopped myself. I wish I never met Pascal. I wish…a lot.

Krisola rubs her sleeve across her eyes swelling them up more. She stares at the screen, those big hazel eyes boring into me and I hope those watching. She’s being sincere. She’s not tired, yet. Krisola on screen is clutching her hands together into a ball. I remember that.

May Secret Agent #49

TITLE: The Summer That Saved Me
GENRE: YA Historical

Leaving everything behind that I know and love is the most difficult thing I've ever had to do. It had better be worth it.

I lean forward, elbows pressing into the splintered railing that surrounds the wood plank deck. It creaks and groans as I push on it, like a ghost moaning into the inky black night. The only light comes from the moonlight dancing on the surface of the lake, graceful like a ballerina.

Yawning, I stretch my arms over my head, twisting from side to side, my muscles screaming with every movement. Wincing, I shift my weight until I find a comfortable position.

My favorite Pink Floyd t-shirt is soaked through with sweat from moving the last of my things. I lift it and examine the bruises that dot the right side of my body like someone splattered me with purple paint.

I've never been the type to run away. But this time I had to. If I didn't leave, he might have killed me.

Footsteps clickety clack on the wooden deck. I jump and flip around, searching for the source.

“Will you be ok over here tonight?” My grandmother joins me at the railing.

“Yeah,” I turn back toward the lake and peel a patch of paint off the grey weathered railing, exposing the raw wood underneath. "I think so."

An owl hoots in the distance, the sound bouncing into the trees and darkness. It's going to take me a while to get used to the nighttime noises up here.

May Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Balancing Act
GENRE: YA Contemporary Romance

My ankle always let me know when it was about to rain. It would get stiff, and when I walked it would twinge something awful. Sometimes it even collapsed. At those times, it was best to let the pain win. At those times, I’d have to pull out the brace.

On Monday morning when I went to open my bedroom window to let in the fall air, the familiar weakness spiked through me. I took a step, and fell to one knee. I sighed and ran my fingers through my hair. So it was going to be one of those days. I stood and hopped one-footed to my closet, an air of gloom already surrounding me. I had gone almost two weeks without having to wear the stupid brace.

From the back of the closet, hidden in a jumble of boots and sandals, I pulled the brace. It was an ugly, bulky thing, black with ridiculously long laces and Velcro. I glared at it, as if it were the source of all my trouble.

As I sat down and cinched it around my foot, rain began pattering against the fir tree outside my window. I smiled grimly. My ankle was better than a weatherman.

I hobbled downstairs, my backpack slung over one shoulder and my favorite red suede boots covering the black monstrosity.

“Morning, dear,” my mom said from the kitchen as she poured some store-brand corn flakes into a bowl for my little brother, Michael. We didn’t have name brand food in our house.

May Secret Agent #47

GENRE: YA Thriller

Most people don't know what heat feels like. How it swathes your bones, goes down deep to melt your marrow. I know the feeling all too well.

A drop of water makes an empty sizzle as it falls, evaporating instantly onto hot iron. It feathers in the air as a thin breath of steam, disappearing, vanishing, leaving me alone. Chills spread through my veins as a chair is moved, metal scraping on metal. The warmth from the man I fear lingers on my skin as he hovers over me too closely.

When his movements slow, I sharpen my hearing, tuning my sensories to an overloaded channel. My muscles freeze, my breathing stops. My neck creaks when it moves slightly after remaining so still. A warm finger brushes along my neck, moving my long, black hair to drape down my chest. “Baby girl,” the man behind me says. “November, are you ready to be brave?” I feel his breath hit my newly exposed neck as he speaks, warming my pores. The molten, metal iron is at my skin before I have a chance to respond.

This is when I start to scream.

I stumble down against the bathtub and slam the faucet shut. The rise of fresh steam stops though my memory will not. Fumbling to find an outlet, I trace my fingers along a fan's extension cord to swiftly jam the plug into the wall. Heat is my enemy. The trigger on a loaded gun.

May Secret Agent #46

GENRE: YA Fantasy

My footsteps echoed in my ears as I ran through the deserted parking lot. I was late.

I stopped when a blur of red streaked past me, so out of place in a sea of metal and asphalt. I hesitated and watched the cardinal fly into the trees.

The referee’s whistle and shouts from fans reached me from the stadium, pulling me out of my daze, and I started jogging again.

After a few steps a parking lot light creaked and I looked up, throwing my arms over my head just as it crashed in front of me, a spray of glass. Shards crunched under my boots when I jumped back.

My heart rate slowed to normal after a minute, while I stared at the broken glass sparkling in the fading sun. “Stupid light.”

Our victory song rang out. We must’ve scored. I shook myself out of my trance and started walking toward the stadium entrance, glancing back once at the mess in the parking lot. Had I been a couple of steps ahead that light would’ve crushed me. The cardinal saved me.

At the stadium I climbed the steps, my boots clanging on the metal. My friends had saved me a spot in our usual place.

 I leaned against the rail and let out a whoop. Of course, where I stood I knew my backside would get some attention. Not everyone goes to games for the football.

May Secret Agent #45

TITLE:   Next To Me
GENRE:   YA Historical Fiction

Sixteen-year-old Simone Burrows made a list of all the things that scared her most. Heights, the dark, enclosed spaces, feet excluding her own, ghosts - though she'd never seen one and death. It was therefore ironic, she thought miserably, lying inside the boot of the car with both her hands and feet bound how this horrific situation had forced her to confront most of those fears, in one greedy swoop.

‘Save me’ she whispered hoarsely, her face stained from hours of crying. ‘I can’t die here—not like this! Please, I beg you, help me!’ Simone listened for outside noises but only the sound of her fast breathing greeted her. It was eerily quiet out there. Where was she? Her throat was inflamed from screaming and she had no will left to shout. The man who took her, was he gone? Had he left her there to rot? Would she ever see both her parents and brothers again?

Helpless and terrified, Simone shut her eyes and prayed. It helped her whenever she felt afraid. O Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God's love commits me here, ever this day, be at my side to light and guard and rule and guideAmen. Over and over, Simone repeated the prayer until her lips cracked with dehydration and her throat, parched with thirst could no longer move.

Then by chance or by fluke, a miracle happened.

May Secret Agent #44

TITLE:  The Crimson 5 and the Golden Light Bulb
GENRE:  Middle Grade Contemporary

If wishing with my whole heart could make my wish come true, I’d win the Piedmont Challenge. I’d get my own Golden Light Bulb with my name chiseled on the front. But wishing won’t help me win, and I don’t have a genie to help me either. All I have is my brain with a trillion ideas swirling in it. I hope that’s enough. I need to whip these other kids, like a giant blender.

My sixth grade class has gathered in the amphitheater, outside Crimson Elementary School. All five hundred of us are squished shoulder to shoulder for the Opening Ceremony. These metal bleacher seats are burning my legs. The sun is scorching the back of my neck. My ponytail even feels hot. I’m trying hard to listen to Principal Bermuda’s speech, but he’s taking so long and I’m melting. Besides, pictures of the Golden Light Bulb keep popping into my head. They all say the same thing: Kia Krumpet, in giant, swirly letters.

The first notes of the Piedmont Challenge theme song thunder through the speakers. I bite my pinky nail. The signal should be coming next. Principal Bermuda waves a flag in the shape of the infinity symbol. We stand up and turn on our heels. I’m facing the back of a boy I’ve never talked to before. It doesn’t matter though. The Period of Silence has begun. There is to be no talking or laughing—not until we’ve solved our final task, seven days from today.

May Secret Agent #43

TITLE: Melvin C. Daniels and the Great Ratscapade
GENRE: Contemporary Humorous Middle Grade

At 2:37, on a Thursday in September, Mrs. Waddle marched into our classroom carrying a stiff dead rat by the tail.

I knew the exact time because Ryan had just nudged me and said, “Melvin, check out the clock.” It was covered in spit wads because that’s what happens when you leave a room full of seventh graders alone for five minutes.

I also knew this was not going to be a normal class. Mrs. Waddle was never late, and we weren’t supposed to dissect rats until the end of the year.

Two tables away Maggie Pepper’s long dark hair caught my eye. It rippled like a curtain of dark chocolate when she followed Mrs. Waddle’s progress up the aisle.

I could stare at Maggie all day…but I didn’t because that would be creepy.

Instead, I looked at Mrs. Waddle. Even with a dead rat in her hand, she wasn’t nearly as interesting as Maggie.

“All your work through our entire year should lead to this.” Mrs. Waddle held the rat high so even from the back row I could see its bulging dead eyes and swollen tongue.

“The precise and deliberate dissection of this revolting specimen should be your crowning glory.” Talk about crowning glory! I couldn’t believe my eyes when she dangled that rat straight above her head.

Bad idea.

Thick yellow liquid oozed from the rat’s mouth and formed a drop that hung inches above Mrs. Waddle’s hair.

May Secret Agent #42

GENRE: MG Fantasy Adventure

Princess Cassandra's horse thundered along the green path, easily sidestepping the budding trees in the sparse forest. With a whoop, she glanced over her shoulder. Her friends never could keep up with her. She stopped her horse. "Come on, Kylie, Vance! You're too slow!"

"It's not fair," Vance grumbled. "Our workhorse has to carry two of us." He tsked with his tongue. "Horse thief."

His sister Kylie covered her mouth as she giggled.

"I'm not a thief! I'll bring the horse back like I always do." Cassandra crossed her arms, still holding onto the reins. Since her parents refused to give her a horse due to her running off, she was forced to "steal" from the pages. "Hurry! We don't have all day."

She wished they did. Ever since the three of them had decided to see all of the creatures in her bestiary up close, they had been sneaking out of Sun Haven every chance they could. So far, they hadn't seen any of the unusual creatures from her book.

Flicking her wrist, Cassandra urged her horse forward and weaved through the trees. Abruptly, the forest ended, and she stared down at the Falls, pulling back on the reins. The teal water flowed forward as it churned, wild and desperate. Like her. Obedient with her royal duties—most of the time—yet restless for adventure.

Today was far too glorious a day to be sad. She called over her shoulder, "Let's race to see who can find a magical creature first."

"Yes," Vance shouted.

"Hurry, Vance."

May Secret Agent #41

TITLE:  The Fourth Generation
GENRE:  YA Dystopian

I raced up the stairwell pretty fast for someone infected with the god-awful plague all his life.  My empty backpack bounced airily on my shoulders, my feet landing just in front of the steps’ worn, chipped edges.  Sunlight poured through the windows at the top of each landing, enough to light my way to the decaying apartment building’s eighth floor.

The rest of the Valuable Objects had better still be there. Worth a ton of prestige points, they could be just enough to finally push my faction into the top spot of The Tournament of Prestige this year.  But if somebody else found them while I was gone…

At last I made it to the eighth floor.  My chest heaved as I sucked in breath.

Scat.  The second door on the right—wide open!  Not good.  My heart rate doubled as I crept to the door so quietly a bug a millimeter from my feet wouldn’t have felt the vibration.

I peeked inside the room.  My gut clenched, even though I’d seen it coming.

A boy about my size—taller than average with good-size muscles—stood in front of the old wooden cabinets on the left side of the room.  He had blotchy, dark gray skin, so was about sixteen years old like me.

The inlaid glass cabinet doors let you see inside.  Empty.  Sure enough, the boy started to turn away from them.  I jerked my head back into the hallway, then peered back in. 

May Secret Agent #40

TITLE: Wishlock
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

Dart knew the hour was late. Guttering candles set high up on the walls threw shadows as he scurried along the hallway. Dragon-shaped sconces held the candles, and their birdlike eyes followed him as he neared Boddington’s office.

Pushing open the door, Dart saw Boddington seated at his desk, dressed in his finest suit, blond hair combed into a side part. He didn’t look up, not immediately, but his nostrils flared briefly.

Turning the page in front of him with a spindly finger, Boddington addressed Dart in a clipped voice. “Well?”

“I’m finished,” said Dart.

Boddington sniffed. “All of it?”

“I – um…” Lowering his gaze, Dart took great care to avoid staring at Boddington's neck. It was difficult not to of course. A vivid burn in the shape of a handprint covered most of the exposed skin, as though someone with a hand of fire had grabbed him by the throat.

“I’m waiting!” snapped Boddinton.

“Um…I scrubbed everything…” Dart’s voice faded as he heard the front door of the building swing open. The sound was faint, beyond the reach of normal hearing.

Boddington’s voice began to rise. “Scrubbed?”

Dart kept half an ear on Boddington, while directing his attention back toward the front entrance. He detected the telltale scrape of heels against concrete - the Ruling Witch’s heels. Glancing at the forbidding portrait mounted above Boddington's desk, a chill ran up his tail.

Curly writing at the top of the frame spelled out the Ruling Witch’s name, Aphelion.

May Secret Agent #39

TITLE: The Mother of All Battles
GENRE: Young Adult

She walked like someone who was smoking hot but looked like someone sorely mistaken. Adam knew that wouldn't matter. She'd flashed Byron a warm smile as they passed her in the mall and these days it took little else. Adam grumbed to himself as he realized the damage she'd just inflicted on today's plans. It was spring's first warm day and he wanted to play pickup basketball at the park. The boys were buying the new Skid Row tape from the record store first. But now Adam sensed the gears shifting in Byron's hound dog brain - searching for an excuse to pursue Ms. Warm Smile.

"Hey I'm kind of hungry," he said a few seconds later. "Let's grab something at Mr. Pongs."

But of course thought Adam. "Sure. I'd love some lukwarm chicken and watered down Coke."

If Byron sensed the sarcasm he didn't react.

"Great," he said and charged forward grinning. Adam snuck another glance at today's dream girl before following. She had the plumpness Byron shamelessly relished. He was the only guy Adam knew who preferred the before photos in weight loss infomercials over the skinnier after shots.

Adam walked and muttered but never considered overruling his friend. That's how it worked by Byron. They did stuff for each other. It carried them through seven years of inseparable friendship but now as eighth graders their activities occasionally involved girls to Adam's current dismay.

He liked girls just fine as they said in Georgia but they were a waste of time.

May Secret Agent #38

TITLE: Stories Walker
GENRE: MG Fantasy

A gigantic piece of paper crumpled over and around Thalia. She had been created just a few months ago, and someone had thrown aside the rough draft in which she lived. Ink pooled in silhouettes around her feet mixed with bits of paper.

She pushed them away, staining her palms in the black mush.

“Writer, let me out!”

She kicked the paper and the walls snapped in answer.

“I’m here!” But her writer probably could not hear her. “That’s what I get for being as small as a cap eraser.”

Thalia tried to remember what had happened, but her head hurt as if she had hit it somewhere. The last thing she recalled before her writer tore the page and threw her in a trash can, was the Winter Queen chasing her through the pages of her story.

Something pinched her heart in her chest. She called me a thief. But… I didn’t steal anything. She shook her head and rose her chin up, rebuffing an urge to cry. I was well trained. I mean, I’m his Muse, inspiring content. I know everything about copyright infringement.

Thalia searched her pockets and the folds of her toga. Something caught her eyes. A petal-strewn bracelet sent dull strokes of light across her tanned skin and ricocheted off of the paper around her. Her mood lighted up a bit. Glow in the dark, I love that stuff. It’s great when lost in storylines. The letters on the page blended together wherever the fingers of light brushed.

May Secret Agent #37

TITLE: Operation Magic
GENRE: MG, Contemporary

I could tell 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 first two months of middle school.

“I can’t come over Friday." She twirled a curl around her finger and glanced back at the boys climbing off the bus. "I have to help my sister at the pep club bake sale."

The cold breeze suddenly turned monstrous as it bit through my jacket, and my belly clenched. “We’ve been planning this night forever.” We were going to order take-out from the Golden Dragon and practice magic spells and watch our favorite witch, India Rodriguez, save the world over and over again.

“How about next weekend?" Shannyn asked.

Unbelievable! I pumped my legs, trying to catch up as she started the short walk home from the bus stop. “How about after the sale? We could still watch India Rodriguez two or three times before morning.”

Shannyn didn't look at me. “We made those plans ages ago, Beth.”

“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.

She bit her lip, a kicked-puppy look stealing across her face, like that time she didn't get invited to the tennis club's Future Stars Party.

May Secret Agent #36

GENRE: YA fantasy

Nyada pushed aside a stack of empty apple crates at the rear of the garden shed and eased open the hidden panel. A trio of brown field mice scurried across her sandals into the shadows. She bit back a cry, waited for her heart to stop hammering, and peered into the cellar below. A single lantern hung from the ceiling of the stone chamber, its wick turned low. When her eyes adjusted to the gloom, she crept down rough-hewn stairs toward a row of oak barrels.

Pear-shaped leather costrels rested atop each vat of mead. Nyada held one under the nearest spigot. Her nose wrinkled at the musty odor of fermented honey and water dripping into the pouch. She plugged the top, slid the cord over the dark tunic she wore during nighttime prowls, and slunk back to the stairs.

At the far end of the chamber, another door led to what Nyada supposed was a storeroom for the Order’s jewels. Why else would it be secured with a bronze bolt and carved with symbols of the sea? Though it was folly to linger, tonight she couldn’t resist—for all she knew, she might never have another chance. She drifted toward the thick barrier, hands itching to trace the mermaid chiseled just above the latch.

Her fingers danced across flowing hair and scales. Once, twice, three times. The mermaid moaned. Nyada fled back toward the steps. Gods, what had she done? Halfway up the staircase, she paused, sniffing. Seawater?

May Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Secrets
GENRE: YA Contemporary with Magical Realism

I stare out the window of Chelsea's VW Bug on our way into the school parking lot and wonder what disasters senior year will bring.

Chelsea takes a hard left. "Did you hear what Logan Spenser did yesterday?"

Good thing I have my seat belt on or I'd be on the floor. "No, and I don't care." Oh God, here he comes. Yes, he's past gorgeous, if there is such a thing.

He roars across the pavement, leans out of the window of his convertible, and points his finger at me. "Raz Rinaldi! Thief."

"Thief? You're calling me a thief?" I stare at him and remember the word for what's past gorgeous. It's outrageous.

My face gets hotter while I tick through my actions of the last week and find the worst thing I've done is "forget" to do the dishes my stepmother left in the sink. "What's he talking about?"

Chelsea, AKA Speed Demon of Ash City High, and the closest thing I have to a friend, shrugs and then laughs. "It's destiny. The hottest guy in school knows your name."

I love Chelsea, but she gets everything wrong. "Like I care?"

Chelsea laughs. "You are one boring chick. I can't think of one reason why I like you."

"You like me because I tolerate your crazy driving and your cheerleader—."

Logan blots out my last word with a honk from his horn. Half the drivers pulling in toot theirs because they can't get into a parking spot fast enough

May Secret Agent #34

GENRE: MG - Arthurian retelling with a sci-fi twist

Stale sweat inside the executioner’s mask soured my snotbox, forcing me to breathe through clenched teeth. It stank, and so did my sister Fay for making me wear this hood backwards to keep her precious tunnel secret.

Rats squealed as she maneuvered me through another puddle. They must have recognized Fay, because they scurried ahead faster than a fox leaving a henhouse with takeout. A rumored shortage of rat tails, the key ingredient for casting spells in her also-rumored magic practice, kept Camelot’s rodent community on high alert.

Inspired by blindness and the tunnel’s acoustics, I sang, “Three blind mice . . . see how they—ouch.”

Fay jammed a rat-nosed elbow into my ribs, expressing displeasure toward my dream of becoming a minstrel

“Why drag me along?” I asked.

“To keep the cow slayer from catching me.”

I yanked my makeshift blindfold off. “How? I have no sword.”

“No worries. I can outrun you. Besides, I’d be madder than a bag of ferrets to let you wave a sharp object around in the dark.”

Great. Hoodwinked into missing Saturday Night Juggling to become beast bait. I debated leaving, but my recent chivalry lesson on Damsel in Distress dictated I stay.

We reached a ladder leading to the surface and climbed up into a tree hollow. Outside the gnarly hole, Fay's breath fogged. “We’re here.”

I scratched my head beneath branches besieged with mistletoe, staring at a moonlit meadow ringed with giant rocks. “Where’s here?”


“Road apples! Stonehenge takes three days by horse.”

“Great tunnel, don’t you think?”

May Secret Agent #33

TITLE: Monsters of Wintervast Island
GENRE: YA Magical Realism

Someone from the mainland might have marveled, starry-eyed, at the ethereal horse like it was miracle. But for me, someone who knew the tales of the equinocus, I saw it for what it truly was.

A killer.

I held my breath, shutting out the chill, and absorbed the sight of it standing only twenty yards away. Snow flew in a flurry around me, spreading the metallic scent of my blood into the whitewashed storm. I dropped the knife I’d used to slice open my skin; the knife I’d used to lure out the equinocus.

The Fat Man stood beside me, squinting through his facemask until he saw it, too. He muttered into his earpiece, “Snow pony, ten o’ clock from my position. Move in.”

Two ghost-like puffs of breath escaped the equinocus’s nostrils as it tasted my blood on the howling wind. Its powdery ears, seemingly made of fine snow, twitched toward the sound of the Fat Man’s gruff voice.

“Earn your pay, girl,” he grunted, raising his rifle loaded with lard-filled bullets. He pointed it through the snowstorm at the part-horse, part-apparition. I knew what he wanted, but my legs refused to move. For a moment, we stood at an impasse, none of us breaking the frozen spell.

He jerked the gun barrel toward the equinocus and barked, “Now, Stacie.”

For the money, we need the money, I chanted to myself. The only way I’d get paid was if they caught that creature. To do that, they needed me.

May Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Children of Annwn:The Promise
GENRE: YA romantic fantasy

In twenty-five minutes and thirty-six-seconds Mia Leronde was embarking on the most terrifying quest of her life by becoming human. The Wise Elders agreed, The Promise an ancient ritual could take place in the fragile world of mortals, as long as her magic and memories were suppressed. Ryder her betrothed would bring about the awakening at a set time and providing they fulfilled their promise to keep their love alive, and save mankind from extinction. They would return home. Mia was one of the last of her kind, a Guardian of Annwn, a peace-keeper of her world and the mortals. Only those with the strongest magic were given such a prestigious role. The roar of the ocean as it crashed against the rocks echoed inside her ears, and she stared as the white foam fizzled and dissolved into the sand. Usually, the sheer power of nature revived her, but today there was nothing but despair. Her hands trembled as she raised them pointing out at the sea. Staring at the raging waters, her heart raced alongside the in-coming tide. Breathing in the saltiness of the sea, she focused all her magic to still the rushing water imagining herself as the ferocious waves. The water stopped, and her uneven and irregular heart-beat settled.

It was dawn and the start of a brand new day.

By sun set, Mia would be mortal and her existence easily extinguished like a flame..

May Secret Agent #31

TITLE: This Is It
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I am no modern day Juliet, and yet, here I stand, perched on my balcony, the cold New England air curling around me, caressing me in its cold embrace. Below me stands Romeo - two Romeos, actually. Of course, they aren't my Romeos, though they would make some Juliet very happy. And if they aren't my Romeos, then I am not Juliet, and I'm leaning out my window, not standing on some grand balcony.

Instead, I am just me, their closest female friend, their surrogate little sister, the girl they come to with their problems. I'm fine with this role - I've held it for years - but that isn't to say I wouldn't mind having my very own Romeo standing below my window, waiting for the chance to spend even a moment with me.

“Sadie!” Ethan calls, smiling up at me while Drew bounces around in what I gather is an attempt to stay warm. The rocks in the driveway grate against each other as he jumps, and I find myself glad that my neighbors aren’t home right now so that Drew can’t drive them crazy with the noise.

“What are you two doing? It’s freezing out here,” I whisper, my breath floating out in front of me like a cloud.

“We want to go for a walk downtown and grab some coffee,” Ethan explains, his hand cupped around his mouth like a megaphone. Drew nods, adding a plaintive, “Please hurry before I freeze!”

May Secret Agent #30

TITLE: The Great Woods
GENRE: MG Fantasy

It began with the fireflies, as magic often does. Jenny was out in the field behind her grandparents’ house with her younger brother, chasing fireflies. She spied a good one, low-flying and lackadaisical, and followed it past the shed and into the darkening woods.

“Jen-ny!” Billy called, his voice echoing through the trees. Jenny laughed, but kept running, eyes on that flashing yellow light. Her grandparents were inside watching TV, her parents back home in Chicago. It was Maine in early July and the day had been humid and heavy. It felt so good to run in the cool night air, the ground soft under her feet.

The firefly flashed on her left. She lifted her jar and launched herself toward it, but missed. It flared just beyond a wide oak. She crept toward it. The firefly, though, had vanished.

With a sigh, Jenny tucked the jar into her skirt pocket. She was farther into the woods than she’d thought. She spun to get her bearings and her skirt tore on a low branch. As she bent to inspect it, Jenny heard a low voice, croaky but urgent, coming from the bush to her right. “Aha, you came! Knew you would. Come along, no time to waste.”

Jenny froze. Eyes wide, she looked up to see a person. Sort of. She was small, maybe to Jenny’s waist, though solid and strong. She had messy gray hair that fell in thick ropes past her shoulders and dark clothes that blended in with the branches and leaves.

May Secret Agent #29

GENRE: MG Fantasy

Nara squinted through the murk as her shoes clicked against the familiar marble path towards the royal palace. A mist of darkness surrounded her, even though it was only midday. The absence of daylight still gave Nara the creeps. It had been like this for three weeks.

But she knew how to fix it.

And she would tell her stupid cousin, even though he hardly deserved it. Anything was better than living under a dark cloud all day, every day.

It was strange coming to the palace without her maidens and royal guardsmen, but now that Nara and her mom were no longer palace residents, the entourage was gone.

The guardsman at the palace gate, a man Nara didn’t recognize—this angered Nara more than it probably should have—bowed his head slightly as he pushed open the heavy iron gate, letting Nara inside. “Good day, Lady Nara,” he pronounced.

Nara, with a dismissive flick of her wrist said, “Day? Is that what this is? I can’t tell anymore.”

The oppressive darkness covering the kingdom of Chernadova indeed made it hard to tell day from night. For three weeks, since the death of Nara’s father, it was as if the gods thought it would be a good idea to cover the kingdom with a large, dirty, dishrag. And every day the dishrag grew dirtier.

“Yes, My Lady. It certainly is a strange phenomenon.” The guardsman paused for a moment, shuffling his feet before continuing. “What do you make of this oddity?”

May Secret Agent #28

TITLE: The Unbelievable Misadventures of Avery Mann
GENRE: MG Contemporary Fantasy

Number one on my summer-to-do list was avoid trouble, especially my arch-nemesis Max "The Wild Thing" Lovell and my older brothers (a.k.a. the Sinister Six).

Of course, when bad luck follows you around like a herd of black cats with long claws and sharp teeth, this becomes easier said than done, which is why I'm in the middle of Kensington Park. Its walled garden might not be as remote as Superman's Fortress of Solitude or concealed as the Batcave, but it made the perfect hideout. Neither Max nor my brothers would be caught dead here, which meant I could read comics and practice magic tricks in peace.

Chip! Chip! Chip!


Three baby chipmunks poked their heads out of a rose bush.

"Again?" I tossed them the last few peanuts from my lunch bag.

They dashed out, stuffed their chubby cheeks, and raced back home. Not even a thanks. Oh well, what could I say? I was a sucker for animals.

A breeze blew through the gazebo, bringing with it the scent of white and purple roses. I breathed in. Mmmm. The garden smelled so much better than the bushes behind Ms. Crabtree's compost heap—which had made a great hiding spot last year, but required nose-plugs and deodorant sprays.

I glanced at my watch. It was almost noon on the first full day of summer vacation and nobody had bothered me here. Not my six older brothers. Not Max. Not—


A piece of paper flew into my face.

May Secret Agent #27

GENRE: YA Magical Realism

Grease is the word.

The cast list goes up after first period drama, and I would have the best junior year ever if Mr. Fonda cast me in the role of Sandy. I don’t drink or swear. And, for the love of Fosse, I never rat my hair. It’s always in a tight ponytail, thank you very much. I mean, I probably look more like Patty Simcox than I do Sandy, but that’s why there’s blond hair dye. I spin a circle as I arrive at my locker. I cannot wait to see the cast list!

I'm two swivels into my locker's combination when my brother’s body slams into it. Axl curses and I gasp as Michael Titan shoves him up against his locker. And mine.

“Mess with my girlfriend again, punk, and it’ll be your face in the toilet. Forget your friend.”

“You mess with my friends, I screw yours, a******.” Axl winks at Cassidy French, Michael’s girlfriend of the month (okay, two months and thirteen days—so annoying). “She do that swirly thing with her tongue to you too? God, so hot.” He gestures with his tongue at Cassidy in a most revolting way. She merely files her nails with an invisible emery board. Like anything’s more fascinating than the imminent fight between my brother and my crush of the century.

Michael squares his shoulders. His very broad shoulders. “You can shut your mouth now. Punk.”

“Make me.” Axl blows a spike of hair off his forehead. “Dick.”

May Secret Agent #26

GENRE: YA Contemporary

My second biggest fear is that I'll wake up one morning and realize I've squandered the time away, just sucked up all my youth together and spit it out on one wasted shot.

So far, I'm doing an awful job. I've been sitting here for twenty minutes listening to my neighbor shovel her driveway. Our bathroom window is parallel to her bedroom window, which always makes hiding in here kind of like a covert operation, one where you have to check and see if her car is in the driveway before you come to steal a smoke when you don’t feel like trekking out in the cold.

I drop my cigarette in a cup of water, hearing the sad little sizzle it makes as it goes out, when my phone buzzes on the windowsill.

"No school kick off fest starts now!" Amelia texts.

This is the first night of winter break. I won't be inside Iron Hill High until next year, a weird feeling, since I've spent every other year desperately trying to get out. And now, I just want to hold on.
For the next two weeks, what I do is entirely up to me, though I'll probably spend half the time with Amelia. She has this way of turning everything boring into fun, like the one person you wish would walk into your boring party and breathe life into it for you. Though in the end, you'll always either get into trouble or get hurt.

May Secret Agent #25

TITLE: The Walk of Haly Hypnea
GENRE: MG Fantasy

On the first morning of summer vacation, Grandpa told me that learning to walk was like riding a bike – once you learn you never forget. But I didn't know what a bike was. And I didn't have any legs.

That afternoon, seahorses floated out from the seagrasses and clicked around us. Red algae streamed and danced up from the floor in various shades. And dolphins carried Oceaners of all ages back and forth along the coral reef that couldn't fall asleep. The party felt like a real carnival.

I hung tight to the largest octopus this end of the reef. He wrapped me in one of his bumpy arms and swooped me up, down, around. Not since Kindercoral had I had such a thrill. When my little sister Gelli and I were younger Oceaners, he would swing us to and from the seagrasses while our parents hunted and gathered. We called him Brasfort.

Gelli swam by us at my third swirl around and grabbed onto Brasfort's last free arm. She laughed so hard whipping by me that she couldn't shut her mouth. Excitement shined in her eyes as we swooped past each other and in between our friends, head over tail fluke.

Brasfort slowed his motion as grasps loosened and our slick, grey tails spun away dizzy. Mom and Dad swayed proudly while friends and relatives commented on my good grades. I had succeeded... in Primary Coral.

May Secret Agent #24

TITLE: Perfect Enemies
GENRE: YA Mystery

Attending Hollywood Arts Academy was like living a movie version of high school. We had an elegant mission-style building (the set), gorgeous sons and daughters of movie stars and industry honchos (co-stars), and the potent buzz of seeking a showbiz career (the story). As a new senior, I’m the outsider, the star of a fish-out-of-water tale. But a happy fish.

Friday afternoon, I slid into a seat in Screenwriting 101 just as Mr. Morton said, “Today we’re going to work on ‘save the cat’ scenes.” His raised eyebrow let me know he noticed my late entrance.

I gave him an “I’m sorry” face in response. I loved this class and Mr. Morton, a former screenwriter who was also my advisor.

“Can anyone tell me what a save the cat scene is?” he asked. “Ivy?”

“Um. I’m not sure.” Crap. I knew I should have clicked that link he’d sent in an email last night. I reached into my bag for a notebook and pen, hoping today’s discussion would help me outline my cold case documentary on 1930s film star Alma Arden.

That project could launch me as a filmmaker. Right now it was kicking my butt. Despite what people think, writing a script is not easy. There are visuals, sound, and production to consider, so it’s not simply a matter of typing the perfect words on properly margined paper. Pathetically, my output so far was, “FADE IN.” Worse, a full synopsis was due in two weeks, a situation pushing me to the edge of panic.

May Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index
GENRE: Contemporary YA

I check my phone again. Nothing.

“It’s the pants, the way they cling to him. Bulge in all the right places. His legs—”

“They’re like chick en.”

“—slender, sinewy thighs I could just—”

Oh my CHRIST. In the two and a half minutes we’ve been standing here, the women in front of me (at least twice my age, and probably a decade more) have gone from caressing their Hawk merchandise to cannibalizing it. Like it wasn’t bad enough finding half the school supplies plastered with Rush Hollister’s face—the key chains, the backpacks, the “I ♥ HAWK” pencil sharpeners—now my ears and helpless inner eye must bleed with this traumatic fanporn?

“—knife and fork and carve that glorious—”

I bury myself in my phone, willing reply texts to appear. I’m 98% sure that they won’t, but if I concentrate I can almost pretend I don’t hear words like “tender” and “cheek set” being slobbered in front of me.

When no new messages fly to my rescue, I thumb to the one I sent my supposed besties this morning instead:

Shopping at WA Square today. Want to grab coffee or cheesecake or something?

A simple invitation. No blame, no questions, no emotional outpour; just coffee. And/or dessert. But I review the words for the seventeenth time today and wonder if sending them was a mistake. Am I just making things worse?

May Secret Agent #22

TITLE: The Sleepers
GENRE: MG Fantasy

My heart pounded so hard I could hear its murmured beat inside my head. A dark tunnel stretched before and behind me, dirt and rock held from collapsing by thick wooden beams. A musty chill covered my arms with goose bumps and filled my heart with dread. Suddenly I was moving so fast that the flickering drops of light in the tunnel became streaks in my peripheral vision. I knew I was not normally this fast; I looked down and it seemed as though my feet weren’t even touching the rocky ground. I turned my head back to see what I was escaping from and was shocked to see my own family. My father, his arms stretched out to me, reaching for me. My younger sister and brother, weeping and sobbing uncontrollably. I wanted to go to them, but was unable to change my course of direction. Hot tears streaked sideways on my face and I was going faster, faster. A bright light at the end of the tunnel was growing bigger and bigger until I saw that the tunnel opened into sunlight. I unwillingly flew towards it and as I reached the end of the tunnel, my body was expelled into the light.

I look at my text-reader on the floor as I gasp for breath. That’s weird, I think. It was just in my hand a second ago. How did it get on the floor? Even more puzzling is how I was in the strange tunnel one moment and back here the next.

May Secret Agent #21

TITLE: Mind Freaks

An orderly enters the ward, his footsteps echoing in the silence. I lay back on my bed, praying for the orderly to be one that didn’t have a personal vendetta against me. I don't have time for petty vendettas today.

The thin sheet scratches against my arms as I wait. I’ve had the sheet set since I got here, nearly ten years ago. You’d think the institution would have given me a new set by now but I’m really clean so it’s not like they look infected. I’d debated messing them up so the orderlies would get scared that I would give them a disease of the mind and burn the sheets but I can’t stand the thought of the time it would take between having a disgusting bedspread and getting a new one.

Please God forgive me. Please God forgive me. Please God forgive me. Please God forgive me. Please God forgive me. Please God forgive me. Please God forgive me. Please God forgive me.

I shake myself out of the ritual. I needed to concentrate and I would not get sucked into repeating that phrase fifty times before I could move on. Ignoring the compulsion is difficult. The feeling of dread from not going on weighs on my chest, taking my breath, but I have more important things to do.

The door at the end of the hall shuts and the lock slams home as the orderly leaves the ward without even a pause at my door. Good. My rounds could now begin.

May Secret Agent #20

TITLE: The Unfortunates
GENRE: YA paranormal

            In middle school, my brain promoted its prefrontal cortex to head honcho. It now walks up and down its corridors shouting bouts of unnecessary questions and hasn’t once taken a break.

            Tonight, sitting in a mall parking lot with a boyfriend blowing snot into his polo, was no different.

            “Wait, Vanessa, can we just talk?” Eric said.

            My gaze remained plastered to the passenger’s side window of his car. My hand at the door handle.

            “What is there to talk about?” I said.

            His looked to the ceiling. “I don’t know, what happened maybe? Tell me what you’re thinking.”

            He didn’t want to know. Neither did any of the other mall goers walking to their cars tonight. I’m sure they could hear everything through his broken back window.

            “I’m numb,” I said.

He sighed and shook his head, but it was the truth. I didn’t think it would feel like this. Mom always said to do it with someone you loved. I’d loved Eric for three years.

            I focused on a boy in the parking lot looking into a car a row away. He twirled his hair in nervous ticks.

            “I did my best,” Eric said.

            “You didn’t even attempt the other bases,” I said.

            I squeezed my legs together to ebb the new discomfort. When he didn’t respond, I took my eyes off the boy in the parking lot and focused on Eric. He looked like someone had mauled him with the truth.

            "Don't worry about it," I said.

May Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Labyrinth Rats
GENRE: YA Sci-fi adventure

If not for the hot skin of Mom’s hand, I would have thought she was dead. She was so still. I couldn’t even see the rise and fall of her chest underneath the hospital sheet.

I clung to her hand. She was alive.

For now.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the nurse glance at me. I wiped my eyes on the back of my glove.

The nurse’s protective gown scritch-scratched against her scrubs as she walked to the other occupied bed. I refused to look at my little brother, but I couldn’t escape the memory of his blank face. I swallowed hard and clenched my teeth.

The doctors were wrong. I squeezed Mom’s hand tighter. This just looked like the pyretos virus. In a few days, we’d laugh about how scared we’d been, and they’d be fine. They had to be fine. Please, God, let them be fine.

The sliding door hissed open, and the clamor that burst into the room felt like a physical slap. Three people wheeled in a shaking man on a stretcher. Everyone was shouting, but it was just noise once I saw the man’s face.

“Dad?” I breathed. I launched myself to him and grabbed his arm. His muscles were tense, his neck turned at an odd angle, and his eyes rolled back in his head. “Daddy!”

“Move back!” An arm swept me out of the way. “Keep her back.”

Different hands grabbed me. I fought, but the petite nurse was surprisingly strong.

May Secret Agent #18

GENRE: YA Fantasy

No one was very happy when Clarissa Euler was born. That should have been her first clue: it would all be downhill from here. But she was too busy crying and hollering to pay any sort of attention.

She didn’t notice the midwives exchange an exasperated look that said, “Great – another spoiled green-band in the world.” She didn’t know that her mother had given birth to six children already, or that she’d buried just as many. She didn’t hear her father’s first words at the sight of her (“Oh, for God’s sake!”) or see him fling a wine glass across the room.

In his defense, Henry Euler had been hoping for a son for a very long time. Fifteen years he’d been waiting now. Fifteen years of false alarms and miscarriages and sickly male babies who’d shriveled away before their first birthdays. Fifteen years, and what did he have to show for it?

“A girl,” confirmed one of the midwives, presenting Clarissa with a brave attempt at a smile. “And a healthy one, by the look of it – would you listen to the lungs on her?”

The woman’s smile faded at the sight of Henry’s face. No need to tell him it was healthy. He had seen quite enough unhealthy babies to recognize a healthy one. Look at it, with its even, pink skin, its fists tightly clenched, its pudgy legs already kicking. This was a baby that would survive its childhood. But what use was a healthy baby girl?

May Secret Agent #17


Only two months into sixth grade, Elena Estela Eugenia De la Cruz Gonzalez could see her hopes for the best year ever going down the drain.

Or, more accurately, the toilet.

It was Sunday night. Elena and her best friend, Rosalie, were in the bathroom, changing the dirty water in Hecke and Jeckle - the class turtles' - bowl.

Heckle and Jeckle were the official turtles of Sister Leo's sixth grade class at St. Simon's School. Every Friday afternoon, Sister Leo held a class election (secret ballot) to see who could take the turtles home and babysit them for the weekend.

To Elena, it seemed that the winner was usually the person who had done the most to help around the classroom that week, like pass mission boxes to collect for needy kids in Africa, or help Sister Leo clean up after art projects. To Elena, it also seemed like the winner was never her, despite the contract that she and Rosalie had, to vote for Elena every week, no matter what.

You see, Elena wanted to bring those turtles home more than anything in the world. It wasn't because she was an admirer of turtles. It was only because she liked nothing more than winning.

And so, when Sister Leo announced, "Ellie Gonzalez, it's your turn to take good care of the turtls until Monday!" for once in her life, Elena was speechless.

Ellie was Elena's "school" name. Her whole Spanish name, Elena Estela Eugenia de la Cruz Gonzalez, was way too long, In Elena's opinion.

May Secret Agent #16


Fear of the impure battled the thrill of walking among them until a man brushed my arm. Fear won. I sucked in a breath and jerked away from the deep blue glow of his suit as if impurity were contagious. Maybe it was.

My palms stuck to the silky material hugging my hips as I ran my hands down my sides. The familiar motion usually calmed my nerves, but with my soul suit disconnected, my heart raced and I couldn’t manage a deep breath.

“We should go,” I said. My gaze wandered over charred buildings, cracked electronic billboards, and angry furrows where light rail tracks had been dug out and used to support the crude shacks lining the square’s perimeter. The impure had destroyed the old city.

At home, soul suits were mandatory, but here I wasn’t the only one without my soul image on display. Most people wore loose, scratchy-looking shirts and pants that revealed nothing about who they were, or what they were capable of. They could be anything: pure or impure, harmless or deadly. I ran my upper lip through my teeth and tasted salt. The unknown twisted my imagination and filled my mind with sick possibilities.

Ryan caught my elbow and I forced my attention onto his worried face. “You go ahead,” he said. “I’ll meet you back at the bikes.”

My attention slid toward the flicker of a soul suit in the crowded square where a man offered dried meat in exchange for purified water.

May Secret Agent #15

TITLE: Nigel and Duncan: Not Quite Extinct
GENRE: Middle-Grade Fiction

Duncan flipped the page of his ParameciMan comic book with growing excitement. He shifted his tail and dug his toe claws into the sofa, snagging the embroidered slipcover. The latest issue of ParameciMan had arrived by the early post and it was a good one. AmoebaReba was planning her worst assault ever on ParameciMan. Would he discover her evil plot in time?

“Duncan!” Nigel said, looking up from his spool knitting. “You’re wrecking the furniture! Do you need a scratching post?”

“I’m not a cat.” Duncan scowled. Duncan was a citizen, a contributing member of society. True, he was a dinosaur and therefore not human, strictly speaking, but he was most certainly not a pet.

Duncan took a sugar cube to comfort himself.

“Duncan! You’ll rot your teeth and make yourself sick. I’m telling Nanny Bea.”

Duncan looked over his shoulder quickly, but Nanny Bea was in the kitchen.

“I only eat brown cubes,” said Duncan virtuously. “They’re healthy.” He added under his breath, “ Fink.”

Nigel glanced at the dictionary he kept open beside him on the side table. “You just helped me pick the perfect word of the day. Duncan, you’re puerile.”

Duncan flicked his tail in annoyance. “Nigel, what do you call a Pectosaurus that nags and nags and nags?”


“A Dino-bore!”

It was Nigel’s turn to scowl. Duncan giggled. Dino-score! Joke of the day beat word of the day, any day. He grabbed the bowl of peanuts from the coffee table. Winning made him hungry.

May Secret Agent #14

GENRE: MG Fantasy

The old man, dressed from head to toe in purple, stood in front of the hat store window and Cornelius Mathers couldn’t help but stare. With only one road in and one road out of Knolls Hollow, it wasn’t too often that a stranger made it past the prying eyes of the locals.

Cornelius, forgetting all his manners, inspected the stranger’s long purple robe and tall pointed hat, the crest of which crumpled to the side in defeat.

Cornelius pulled his gym bag tighter and glanced uncomfortably over his shoulder at the empty street. Except for the odd car that could be heard in the distance, the sleepy town was silent.

The man, short and bent over, stared into the darkened window. His long nose almost touched his chin that seemed to curl up at the end and heavy wrinkles snaked along the old man’s cheeks. Cornelius had thought that it was impossible to have more lines on your face than Mrs Pratt who lived down the street.

Cornelius forced himself to look away, wondering how one old man could make him so nervous. A styrofoam cup rolled in front of him and he jumped in surprise, before laughing awkwardly at his own skittishness.

The boy heard his father’s loud footsteps as he approached the corner and feeling suddenly brave, dared to look back at the stranger one last time.

Right then the old man raised a trembling hand and with a quick snap of his fingers, disappeared in a cloud of black smoke.

May Secret Agent #13

TITLE: Flame
GENRE: Young Adult/Mystery

October 1977

From the first moment I saw him, I wanted Denny Beech. Tall and lean, his wheat-colored hair curled over the collar of his blue shirt, while a spiral of smoke drifted from the side of his mouth. I pictured those lips pressed against mine and shivered, despite the heat.

Not quite 9 p.m., the patio thermostat read 78 degrees. At least the Santa Ana winds had softened. A film of ash from the brush fire east of town coated the walkway and the air smelled of wood smoke. Andie and I paused to inspect our reflections in the sliding glass door. I centered my necklace between my breasts and Andie fluffed her hair. Kim Bellman's parents traveled a lot and she hosted most of the parties. We all wished the Bellmans would adopt us.

A quick crowd scan told me I knew everybody in the backyard -- except for one. Most of us had grown up together. A few people joined our bunch when we entered high school, but by junior year our set didn't welcome many new faces. This face demanded welcome. Not a pretty boy, age had already burned away the puppy fat to show off high cheekbones and a strong jaw.

I pulled a cigarette from my purse and nodded toward the newcomer. "Who's that?"

"Nice to know someone can still catch your eye." Andie flicked her lighter.

Having singed my hair on more than one occasion, I pulled back my waist-length mane before bending to the flame.

May Secret Agent #12

TITLE: Her Only Escape
GENRE: YA Suspense

I walk past the career counseling entrance with my head down. Technically you need an appointment, but early spring makes this a dead zone. The last place a senior wants to be cooped up. But I like the quiet. I like the college posters filled with happy faces. The stacks of possibilities filed in the cabinets. Even the obsolete typewriter. But most of all, I like hearing the tick, tick, tick, for each second on the clock.

I’m almost undetected in the far corner, hunched over a desk, waiting for dance practice. I grab a granola bar, ignoring the “no food” sign, and wrap my feet around the legs of the chair. My hair cloaks over my face, and I let my glasses dangle on the tip of my fingers. The sound of the repetitive ticking lulls me to sleep. And then I drift. Like a string pulling my lids lightly. Softly.

My legs flutter above ground, whipping high in the sky. I land. Move my feet sharp like scissors to complete an arabesque, dangerously close to the edge of the stage. With my feet perfectly on pointe, I arch my back, keeping the length of my arms straight. I’m dancing like my life is on the line—taking reckless risks. Maybe it’s because I know he’s watching me from the back corner. I dance faster so he doesn’t disappear, but my body is tiring. Everything fades. He is gone.

May Secret Agent #11

TITLE: Portrait of a Teenage Military Brat
GENRE: Edgy Y/A Contemporary

At 0600 my bedroom door almost flies off its hinges from Dad’s forceful blow.

“Get out of that bed. Now. If you are not downstairs in five minutes, consider it your coffin.”

For almost three years, since Mom died, this has been my wake up call. What a way to start the day, right?

With a grumble, I kick off the sheet and my journal lands on the floor with a loud thud.

A good thing Dad didn’t see this. He’d freak.

Writing is not a career option according to him. It’s all about life in the Corps.

I pick up the journal and flip to the last written page, skimming it to the end.

Terryn opens the utensil draw and lifts out a meat cleaver. She runs a delicate finger across the edge…

“There’s no use hiding,” she calls out with a fiendish grin, trailing to each corner of her mouth.

“Hmm. Not bad.” I close the dog-eared cover and place it under the mattress.

***t. Dad’s waiting.

I reach for my crumpled t-shirt and jeans hanging off the edge of the chair. Three minutes and forty-five seconds later, I jump and land at the base of the stairs. My best time yet.

I head to the kitchen, and for a split second consider going straight to school, hoping to avoid another lecture.

Too late.

Dad raises his coal-like eyes from the newspaper and nails me in place with his stare.

May Secret Agent #10

TITLE: His Game, Her Rules
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Our neighbor was possessed. I had no other explanation for his behavior as I stood barefoot before him in my front yard. Mr. Faulkner's cheeks were stained red, his lips were curled in an evil snarl. The faint smell of roses lingered on his skin in the open breeze. Patches of dirt, grass, sweat and pink petals were smeared in the crevasse on his hands.

Obviously the man also had a death wish.

“You stupid son of a—” My dad flew forward from my right, hands outstretched and ready to swing. Panicking, I reached for his shirt, and shoved him behind me, wincing as he stepped on my bare toes.


I sure as heck wished there was a manual for these types of situation. If there was, then it should’ve been called: How to Deal with Your Father When He Goes Crazy on His Arch Enemy.

Mr. Faulkner threw up his hands, taking a step back—a disgusting smirk plastered on his lips. “What? I told you both before that the next time you let you damn dog crap in my lawn I was going to cut those rose bushes out. And according to the shit currently stuck to the bottom of my shoe—” He lifted his foot, pointing out the evidence. “—those things had no chance at survival today.”

I sucked in a breath, staring wide eyed at my father’s profile. The super huge vein in his neck pulsed beneath his skin, threatening to burst from anger.


May Secret Agent #9

TITLE: The Silver Sphere
GENRE: MG Fantasy

The sky above the pine trees turned pink and orange with the setting sun, and Cecilia still couldn’t find her sister. Their foster parents would worry if she and Maya didn’t return home soon. Cecilia had overheard them talking about adoption last night and didn’t want to risk anything changing their minds.

She knew she shouldn’t have agreed to a game of Evil Queen Versus the Princess so close to dark, but Maya had begged, and Cecilia couldn’t say no to those pleading blue eyes.

Now she traipsed through the woods behind their house in Middleburg, Florida with minutes to spare before the Sanchezes expected them home. The scents of pine and dirt surrounded her as twigs cracked beneath her feet.

She tripped into a perfect circle of palm-sized stones. A candle still smoked in its center, and the scent of sandalwood floated on the breeze. Cecilia glanced around, wondering who created the formation. She heard running footsteps to her right and stepped toward them.

“Maya?” Cecilia called through the trees.

Maya jumped from a pine tree behind her with a loud shout, brandishing a long stick.

“You will torment my people no longer, Evil Queen!”

Cecilia smiled and held her own stick in front of her, prepared to make this duel quick.

But then Maya lowered her weapon, staring at a place over Cecilia’s left shoulder. Cecilia turned and saw a hovering silver sphere about the size of a tennis ball a few feet behind her.

May Secret Agent #8

TITLE: The Secret at Seachase
GENRE: MG Mystery

I don’t need a giggling bunch of high-school girls in mix-and-match bikinis to tell me I look silly.

They think we’re dumb kids. They don’t even know that this long-handled duster-looking thing I’m pointing at the Gulf is a special microphone that blocks the howling wind noise. We’re using professional stuff, and going for a three-thousand dollar prize, and that’s worth a whole bunch of weird stares.

Megan shoos them away from our movie set.

Alyssa pretends not to notice. She keeps her dad’s camera focused on her big brother, who’s floating on his long board just past the breakers.

The perfect wave builds, lifting Justin and his board. He catches the surge and pops to his feet, riding ahead of the white crest, all the way to the froth.

“What’s next?” I ask.

Director Alyssa squints at the sun, then shouts to Justin, “One more.” To me and Megan, she says, “We have to be sure we’ve got it. In My America, everything has to be perfect.”

That’s when I realize what’s wrong. “Where’d Madog go?”

Alyssa shrugs.

Megan glances toward the village. “Don’t worry, Ellie. He’ll come back.”

“If he were a grown up dog, maybe.” I toss the fake-fur covered microphone at Megan and take off before she can say anything.

I run as hard as I can, but my legs are zingy. I have to find my puppy before something bad happens.




Even a barrier island like Maydock can be dangerous.

May Secret Agent #7

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 he 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, her father shrugged, frowning.

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

So many girls. Everything in him wanted to flee, but manners dictated he smile warmly at all who passed. If he’d only succeeded at sneaking his book out of the house, but Christine had snatched it away at first sight.

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

“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 fifteen.”

“Only two years younger than you.” She smiled, her dark eyes alight as Christopher snorted. “Please try to have fun tonight. Don’t just stand in the corner. Dance with someone. 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?”

One corner of the feline’s mouth twisted up.

Do cats smile?

May Secret Agent #6

TITLE: Bound To The Ground

Why am I awake? My body told me it was too early, my mind said, “You’ve still got time, go back to sleep.” Midnight enveloped me in its thick, velvety darkness and there was nothing but a strip of light, sneaking in from the hallway to guide my eyes. I yawned, rolling back to my side to settle in for the rest of the night when the most disgusting odor weaseled its way to me. It filled my nose with its strange putrescence, clogging my sinus cavities with the scent of burning garbage and wet skunk. My mind flopped numbly, what is making that terrible smell?! It wasn’t a fire. So, relieved that my house wasn’t burning down, I figured it was safe for me to go back to sleep. If in the morning it continued to smell like this, I might burn it down myself.

With my fears quieted and my blanket tightly secured around my face, I drifted off. In the hazy moments between sleeping and waking, I thought I heard a rustling noise coming from the living room but it could have just been my imagination playing tricks on me. I ticked the seconds off in my head one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi style while I waited for the phenomenon to happen again but all was quiet. After ten seconds with no interruptions, I felt safe again, assured that I could finally sleep. But no one could have been more surprised than me when that sound came again.

May Secret Agent #5


Death. It’s been a theme in my life. At this point, though, I don’t realize it’s going to be a continuous one. Standing in a well-lit hallway at a DoDDS (Department of Defense Dependents) school, waiting for class to begin, it’s the furthest thing from my mind. I’m just waiting.

Fellow students hustle by. A trail of sweat lingers in the air behind a group of guys who obviously didn't feel the need for hygiene after gym class. Soon there’s just the usual slackers bringing up the rear and my crowd searching is coming to an end.

“Dude, Christian, she’s not going to show and Mr. Punitive Damages is going to pound you if you’re late again.”
“She’ll come.” I don’t even know this guy. He doesn’t know what’s at stake here. Why does he care if I wait? Okay, so he’s the best friend I have. Even though you can’t really get too close to people at DoDDS or any DDESS school as a military brat. As soon as you do, they leave. Or you leave. It kinda bites.

She doesn’t ever show, btw. I clutch my copy of DRUIDS AND PHILOSOPHERS, bend the soft binding in irritation, slam my locker door shut and head for class. The only thing that gets me through school these days is to sneak a peek at its pages. I’m not normally a history buff, but there’s something about learning how Druids conducted mortal sacrifices that makes my life seem less suckier.

May Secret Agent #4


Everything changed the day I spotted that letter in the recycling. I was shoving an empty milk jug into the bin when my name stuck out.

Ana, it said on the damp, sticky envelope.

No one called me Ana, my name in Spanish. Mom's name was below mine and stained in a circle of olive oil. Care of Ellen Berger. Apparently, someone had cared enough to tear off the return address, so I couldn’t see who’d sent the letter to me.

Even before Mom’s fiancé walked into the kitchen, I smelled him. It was an earthy odor, like someone had lit a match to a pile of leaves.

“Hey Big A,” he said. “What’s up?” Every time Craig called me Big A, I heard, You’re fat. Which I wasn’t.

“Just recycling.” I held up an empty can, hoping he believed me. “Gotta take care of Mother Earth.”

Craig's head poked into the fridge. I bet it was him. He’d thrown my letter away.

I dug deeper into the recycling, under flattened cardboard boxes and empty cans. Wait till I told Mom.

There was another scrap, buried under the soy yogurt. R.J. Blanco, it said. Blanco was my father’s last name—and one of the few things I knew about my dead father. I shoved the piece into the front pocket of my jeans.

“I didn’t hear you come home.” Craig’s grape-colored yoga shorts matched his sweatshirt. “I was meditating. I must’ve gone into another world.”

Craig was always in another world.

May Secret Agent #3

GENRE: MG Science Fiction/Adventure

Mike sat on the park bleachers, glancing from his math book to the soccer field. Still clear.

According to The List of Chumps to be Pounded After School, today was hang-Mike-like-a-piñata-Wednesday. The List belonged to Brutus, the biggest kid in sixth grade. Failing to call the bully by his self-chosen nickname broke Chump Rule #1. Mike blew that the first day of school. On the second, he sat in Brutus’s swing. His name topped The List ever since.


Little League batting practice. Mike gritted his teeth and hoped no one saw his panic. He would not hide in his house like a friendless dork. His plan to escape The List had to work.

Step one: attend Space Camp Academy section two years ahead of his age group. Step two: become the youngest astronaut—

“C’mon Mike, we need another player.” Carlos bounced the soccer ball against the lowest bench.

Demonstrating his sorry soccer skills wasn’t Mike’s favorite after-school activity, but he never turned down his best—and only—friend. Besides, doing homework on the bleachers just encouraged the dork title. Maybe Brutus wouldn’t even show up. Just in case, Mike ran downfield. Way downfield.

He stretched, pretending to miss Carlos’s wave to move closer.

“Look, it’s Afro-Einstein.” Brutus’s screech carried across the field.

Mike froze. When his zero-gravity omelet-maker won the science fair, the judge called Mike the next Einstein. Brutus chanted “Afro-Einstein” until he was sent to the principal, never realizing Mike thought it a compliment having nothing to do with skin color.