Thursday, March 29, 2018

10th Birthday Blogpitch: Critique Guidelines


KEEP YOUR EYE OUT FOR THE SNEAKY AGENTS! We've got 16 agents who are planning to stop by over the next day or two, and if they see anything they like, THEY WILL MAKE REQUESTS IN THE COMMENT BOXES. Jot down your favorites, then pop back to see if any of them garnered agent interest!

When leaving critique on the pitches, focus first and foremost on whether or not the pitch hooked you. That's the main thing! Then you can go on to say why or why not. Ask questions that will prompt the writers to clarify things in their next drafts of the pitches. Or simply point out what you feel may be missing from the pitch (e.g. "But what is his goal here?" or "I'm not seeing clear conflict--what will get in the way of her accomplishing this?)).

HAVE FUN! There are quite a few of these I'd love to read; bet you'll think so, too!

IMPORTANT NOTICE FOR ENTRANTS: If you receive a request from an agent, please put AUTHORESS BIRTHDAY BLOG PITCH REQUEST in your subject line, unless instructed otherwise by the agent.

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.*

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.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #52: YA Contemporary

TITLE: Wide Open
GENRE: YA Contemporary

There’s only one reason Liora agrees to go on her class senior trip: she promised her daddy before he died that she would be adventurous, despite her crippling social anxiety. She soon finds herself lost in the Smoky Mountains with a hippie, a tennis player, a photographer, and a fisherman, none of whom have the survival skills she has. She must overcome her insecurities and lead the group back to civilization—before they starve.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #51: MG Contemporary

TITLE: Counting Perfect
GENRE: MG Contemporary

An endless pile of wishing-well pennies, coded diary, & Marty McFly. Obsessive eighth grader Zinnia Clark’s fixation on meeting her dad intensifies when insufferable student body president Isabella Watson announces a father-daughter dance. However, as Zinnia hunts for mystery Dad, her friends plan a boycott of the exclusive dance that leaves no room for girls with two moms or boys who wear dresses. Zinnia must decide to help her friends or chase a man who might not be around.


TITLE: Glimmr
GENRE: YA Psychological Thriller

It’s Black Mirror meets Pretty Little Liars when sixteen-year-old Fin Bailey creates Jane, her perfect virtual best friend, and finds out the hard way that things on the internet live forever. Jane takes on a life of her own, posting pictures that Fin didn’t create—pictures that implicate her in a series of horrible accidents—and Fin has to stop her before she reveals an even darker truth.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #49: YA Contemporary

TITLE: Seeking Sara Sterling
GENRE: YA Contemporary

THE HORSE WHISPERER meets JUST LISTEN. After getting dumped by her long-time boyfriend, 18-year-old Sara escapes to her uncle's Colorado ranch for the summer. When she connects with an injured horse bound for slaughter, she must learn to stand up for a relationship worth saving.


TITLE: Crown of Ash and Stars
GENRE: YA Fantasy

In Elyria, getting married means sharing a consciousness, and Elony can’t wait to marry her childhood best friend, Caz, when she comes of age. After a terrible accident, Caz becomes possessed by an evil spirit who’s determined to plunge the world into an age of darkness, collecting souls for its master, the God of Death. When her best chance of saving Caz is marrying someone else, Elony must decide how much she's willing to give up for love and her kingdom.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #47: Science Fiction

TITLE: Heaven Is Other People
GENRE: Adult Science Fiction

When 25- year old drug-addict and Mercury government security guardian, Camden Bence uncovers a conspiracy to take control of his world through a bliss-inducing religion called The Experience, he ignites a small rebellion to save his planet before it’s too late.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #46: YA Contemporary

TITLE: Here Comes the Sun
GENRE: YA Contemporary

THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY meets DEVOTED. A sixteen-year-old girl must decide whether to stay in her conservative Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints community with views she's questioning and be forced in an unwanted marriage or leave and lose everyone she cares about and risk homelessness.


GENRE: YA Fantasy

In 19th-century Montenegro, 18-year-old Vesna Pavlović wants, nay, deserves to live a wealthy life. But when a monstrous water nymph kidnaps her rich fiancé, Vesna finds herself at the brink of penniless spinsterhood. With little more than a donkey and a gun, she sets out to save him—and her chance at wealth. Becoming the water nymph's thrall was not part of the plan.


TITLE: Violet Ray and The Magnetic Pole Reversal
GENRE: MG Science Fiction

When 13-year-old Violet is left on her island after her mother leaves for the Andromeda Galaxy, she has to deal with an annoying guardian named Cat Ion. Their mutual dislike is tested when the Earth’s magnetic poles reverse and they are cut off from any communication. But when mysterious invaders arrive and Cat Ion is captured, Violet must save him, or her island will be destroyed.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #43: SF Crime Thriller

TITLE: AlwaysOn
GENRE: Adult Sci Fi Crime Thriller

In the near future, where the memories of celebrities are available for public download. Zane Dennet is an internet sensation and over 2 million people subscribe to his daily live feed. But when a false memory is implanted into his feed, showing him committing a murder, Zane finds himself on the run. With the police watching his every move, a two-minute delay in transmission is his only advantage – that and his millions of loyal fans.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #42: YA Contemporary

TITLE: The Third Strike
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Faking Normal meets Exit, Pursued by a Bear.

Alex has played baseball since 2nd grade. When she makes the high school boys team, team captain Connor sneers. --- Strike 1.

Connor assaults her. --- Strike 2.

Alex doesn’t believe she’s strong enough to testify in court. Then she learns she’s not his first victim. --- Strike 3.


TITLE: These Little Lives
GENRE: YA Historical

THESE LITTLE LIVES tells the story of Bosnian War through two narrators: Katarina, a Catholic Croat trapped in Sarajevo during the world's longest siege, and her best friend Adin, a Muslim boy suffering through the Srebrenica Death March. While clinging to hope and happier memories, Katarina and Adin fight through the war’s atrocities to find each other.


TITLE: MFO - Mars Farthest Out
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

On an isolated rim of the Milky Way, wounded teen soldier Mars Jäger of NuMar endures a grueling, cybernetic rehabilitation. Secretly embedded in his new form is a monstrous weapon he must learn to control. Growing self-awareness reveals innate cosmic powers streaming from the Symphony of the Spheres and that this life is but one of an infinite continuum of existences preparing him to save mankind.


TITLE: Doggedly Dead - A Killer Dogz Mystery
GENRE: Adult Cozy Mystery

Dumped by her husband for their dental hygienist, Lexie opens Hot Dogz, a gourmet hot dog shop with her BFF. When their competition dies while eating the lunch special, The Widow Maker, the handsome Sheriff suspects foul play.

Desperate to clear their names and protect their new business, Lexie searches for a killer, but if she isn’t careful, she may end up on the killer’s menu for murder.


GENRE: YA Fantasy

DEMONIAC is a 70,000 word young adult fantasy novel that’s equal parts ‘Buffy’ and ‘Hellboy.’ Demoniac aims to analyse and undermine the sexist trope of the virgin sacrifice in media, particularly in horror stories. In Demoniac, the young woman who is sacrificed returns to life with all of the powers of the demon she was murdered to summon. She then uses them to fight for the good of humanity, while working through her lingering trauma from the abduction.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #37: Suspense/Thriller

GENRE: Adult Suspense / Thriller

NICHOLAS MAREK hunts his father’s assassin while trying to evade a mole in the Department of Defense. The killer targets him after he refuses an assignment to take the life of a fellow agent. With the rogue agent on his trail, Nicholas must outmaneuver his mentor to survive. CHRISTINE DETRICK and her daughter team with him to unravel a web of collusion and expose the stratagem behind the assassination of Senator BEN MAREK.


TITLE: Truth Seekers
GENRE: YA Fantasy

'Snick' is a runaway palace servant who isn't at all in line for the throne. She's dreamed of running her own kitchen for years. The Truth Seekers are looking for an experienced cook to leave with a group of refugees. They think Snick could be that cook, if she can prove she can work in all sorts of adverse conditions. It's the chance of a lifetime. But earning it may get Snick killed—or, almost as bad, discovered.


GENRE: Adult Paranormal

In order to save humanity from a psychic plague, a ghost named Little Green possesses graduate student Nathaniel and uses his body to kill infected humans before they become contagious. Unfortunately, patient zero is a brilliant and relentless young woman who believes the plague represents a necessary new step in human evolution. She always manages to stay one step ahead of Little Green's humanitarian efforts.

She's also the love of Nathaniel's life.


TITLE: Will of Time
GENRE: Adult Speculative Fiction

When his research project is unexpectedly canned, college professor Will Grey takes the ultimate leap of faith to see if history can be changed…and accidentally kills Einstein in the process. But fixing his error results in an even bigger blunder, and reconciling past and present may mean leaving behind both the life he knew and woman he loves…forever.


GENRE: YA Science Fiction

To honor her father's legacy, Kali dreams of becoming a soldier and fighting the monsters terrorizing the world. But when she discovers that an assassin is targeting the army's general—one of the last links to her father and an integral defense against the monsters—she must save him. If she doesn't, the army will disband, the monsters will win, and she'll fail her father's memory. CINDER x ATTACK ON TITAN.


GENRE: YA Light Fantasy

As a Maiden, Verabelle is chosen to jump off a cliff and transform into one of the magical guardians of her fairytale land.

But there is no transformation. Only bones and tarnished Maiden brooches litter the shore.
And Verabelle doesn't intend to die.


10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #31: Science Fiction

TITLE: Silver
GENRE: Adult Science Fiction

In Halbrechta, where women past childbearing age possess the supernatural abilities of the Silvering, one of the most powerful Silvers has just died of mysterious causes. Inspector Alinda Joren must discover who, if anyone, was strong and clever enough to kill her, and why someone would do it. As her own Silvering abilities emerge, her investigation is complicated by the realization that she could be the next victim.


TITLE: Invisible Me

When a high school senior’s genius friend turns her invisible to protect her from his kidnappers, she has seven days to rescue him or remain invisible forever. His abductors are after her next, since she holds the key to invisibility. Avoiding their traps and deciphering clues, she discovers what she's made of when it's up to her to save not only herself, but also her best friend.


TITLE: Strange Occurrences
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Spooky is trying to keep her head down at a camp for delinquents when an ancient god, Carcass, abducts her for entertainment. She discovers he isn’t acquainted with modern media and convinces him to free her in exchange for internet access. Carcass becomes an internet addict and offers Spooky a deal: he will save her from a bleak future if she helps him protect the Earth (and the internet) from a pantheon of invading gods.


TITLE: A Limb of the Sweet Tree
GENRE: Adult Historical Coming of Age

In the sweltering Midwest summer heat of 1961 seventeen-year-old Cris Boland learns that lies are everywhere, but it's the truth that stings the most. As a stranger new to Burr Oak Grove, soon Cris’s present collides with the town’s past revealing puzzle pieces he never knew existed. When Cris finally becomes aware of his family’s sins, the horrid stain marking him threatens to unravel the bright future he’s always chased.


TITLE: The Arch
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Twins Bianca and Cole have been kidnapped and separated in a world of dragons and magic. An undead sorceress with an army of shadows stands in their way of getting home. She's searching for her own brother while seeking to unleash total chaos on all worlds, including the twins home. If Bianca and Cole can’t stop her, their world and each other, will be lost to oblivion.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #26: Women's fiction

TITLE: Saving Mama
GENRE: Adult women's fiction

A Muslim woman is falsely accused of attempted manslaughter in small town Texas. The victim’s estranged daughter, Lizzy, rushes to her mother’s bedside where Mama’s overriding fear is an eternity in hell. Home for the first time in decades, Lizzy suffers the culture shock of a backwards town while reliving a teenage bi-racial love affair which ended in violence and, ultimately, implicates her mother.  Highlights the similarities in racial and religious intolerance between two eras: 1970's and today.


TITLE: Like I'm Made to Save
GENRE: Adult Speculative Fiction

Elliot Siegerland sells morality, one prescription at a time.

As the communications director of a craft pharmaceutical company set to trial its controversial flagship product, Elliot spends his days pushing a drug that promises to curb a whole host of social issues.

But then he tests the drug on himself. He experiences some troubling side effects. And he decides that the drug, along with the company he works for, need to be destroyed.


GENRE: YA Fantasy

17yo outcast Phoebe finds a note left by her dead mother: you are cursed. Now she must find truth of her past, even if it means running to an enemy race of winged people. Nothing stops her—until she discovers that she IS the enemy and has the power to win an upcoming war. Now she must choose which race to betray in order to save the other. EVEN THE DARKEST STARS x ACOTAR


TITLE: The Wishkeeper's War
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Prison rat Scian brokers a deal with an enemy to end oppression by the Wishkeepers, a holy order of women who channel divine will by granting three wishes a year. They murdered her mother, banished her family, and Scian plans to return the favor.

Wishkeeper Rowena seeks to unmask, destroy the conspiracy. To stop Scian, she must choose between her religious ideals or her ruthless training. Two heroines, one winner in THE WISHKEEPER’S WAR.


TITLE: The Greater Good
GENRE: Adult Thriller

An ER resident’s improvised tracheotomy with a kitchen knife probably saved his son’s life. He finally knows the devastating, true cause of the boy’s worsening symptoms. Advanced Genomic Research offers hope, but he discovers their twisted use of stolen DNA and must keep quiet to save his son. Trouble is: He’s an accomplice.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #21: Upmarket Comtemporary

GENRE: Adult Upmarket Contemporary

When James loses his ferry captain’s job to Courtney, he’s so mad he won’t even acknowledge her—until she tips him off about the plan to develop his island home into a private golf resort. The only way to preserve those unspoiled ocean views is to team up, which requires James learning to trust a woman from “ashore” and Courtney learning to trust her own instincts.


TITLE: Amirah and the Red Scarf
GENRE: NA Fantasy

When demon-wolf huntress Amirah’s grandmother is brutally murdered -and her sacred book stolen- she must sacrifice her enchanted red scarf to stop a formidable enemy from using the book, granting him eternal life. Dark twist retelling of LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD


TITLE: Captivated
GENRE: YA fantasy

The Winner's Curse meets The Legend of Zelda. Sixteen year old princess Lottie considers herself rebellious, until she's kidnapped by an enemy king. She wants to escape, but soon develops positive feelings for him, until she can't decide whether she wants to kiss him, stab him, or both.


GENRE: MG Fantasy

Isla had no idea the bedtime stories her grandfather told held the key to a lifelong family mystery. As she follows him into The Silver Woods, her world is turned upside down when she discovers the mystical forest and impossible creatures from his stories turn out to be real. No one has ever returned from the woods, and the secrets hidden within the trees are even bigger than her grandfather’s stories. BIG FISH for MG.


TITLE: For the Love of a Child
GENRE: Adult Suspense

Inside a small hospital in rural Louisiana, two nurses conspire to provide a famous actress with a healthy daughter — even if it isn’t her own.


TITLE: Never Say Never
GENRE: YA Romance

FOOLISH HEARTS meets GREEK MYTHOLOGY in NEVER SAY NEVER, this YA romantic comedy with a fantasy twist. As Brynn navigates her parents divorce and the romantic entanglements of her friends, she discovers the annoying friend trying to set her up on dates is Aphrodite in disguise. But avoiding Aphrodite’s prodding has tripped Brynn into a bad situation. She’s falling in love...with the one boy who could end one of her closest friendships.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #15: YA Suspense/Thriller

TITLE: Eight Minutes, Thirty-Two Seconds
GENRE: YA Suspense/Thriller

L and M survived the end of the world. Now, there’s nothing left to live for except a suicide drug that only lets them die for eight minutes and thirty-two seconds.

Addicted to ‘death,’ when they briefly relive the world before it ended, they keep killing themselves just to remember what it was to be alive.

Until M doesn’t wake, leaving L alone to die.

No regrets, not really. Eight billion people already died.

Didn’t they?

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #14: YA Contemporary

GENRE: YA Coming of Age with Adventure and Romantic elements

With the help of a Chippewa-Indian classmate, sixteen-year-old Olivia escapes from Wisconsin and her father’s violence against her and her mother. On their danger-filled, cross-country motorcycle adventure, Olivia falls in love and learns self-defense. In a Thelma and Louise showdown, she faces false arrest, and later, death when her Vietnam-PTSD-grandfather shoots her. Olivia must decide: find Forever and a life away from her toxic family or return home to save her mother (80,000 words).


TITLE: Zodiac Cusp
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

From their celestial thrones above, the Zodiac Elite—rulers of the 12 signs—manipulate and place bets on “lesser” mortal beings. When their games turn deadly, Dr. Elsja Hastings, the banished daughter of Scorpio risks exposing her new life among mortals, standing against family to save her patients.

Complete at 93,000 words, modern mythology with medical intrigue.


TITLE: The Death of Flowers
GENRE: YA Dark Fantasy

Revolutions and deposed royalty mean nothing to Toma, a seventeen-year-old orphan who is more concerned with hunting, farming, and sewing her adoptive family's severed limbs back onto their decaying bodies. That is, until she saves a dethroned tsar from a crashed airship and is dragged into a civil war between magic-endowed tsarists and the superstitious proletariat.

SHADOW AND BONE meets GIRLS MADE OF SNOW AND GLASS, in a world filled with creatures from Slavic mythology, Russian fairytales, and Yiddish folklore.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #11: Historical Fiction

TITLE: When We Talk About A Place
GENRE: Adult Historical Fiction

‘When We Talk About A Place’ begins in 1749 colonial French enclave in India. The 205-year narrative spans eight generations. Six Hindu, Muslim and Christian family plots intertwine caste, community, religion and politics. They reveal touching intricate webs, tensile strengths and terrible weaknesses of India. There is deceit, murder, oppression and gritty elements of rural life.  This saga also spotlights the classical cultural world of the Tamil people.


TITLE: The Shoemaker's Daughter
GENRE: YA Retelling

He despised dancing, but a dance would save his life. Connor ran away to avoid dancing. He ends up at a ball in which the vindictive queen banishes the princes to an island, held by magic until they become proficient dancers. Their partners, the twelve mixed-race princesses, are tools to punish an old heartache. Connor unknowingly holds the key to break the spell. A unique retelling of the Twelve Dancing Princesses with a male protagonist.



Evren- a young sea navigator- voyages to the impossibly hidden Sea Queen’s lair to obtain the antidote to an epidemic sweeping the kingdom. Hundreds of people will die if Evren and her handsome Captain can’t find the lair. The Sea Queen whispers death threats to Evren over the salty wind. Secrets and magic are surfacing from Evren’s past. Either she stays with her Captain she’s come to love, or runs before the Sea Queen tries to kill her.


TITLE: A Bargain of Fear and Desire
GENRE: Adult Romantic Fantasy

When Lia’s sister May goes missing, Lia will do anything to save her, even travel to Faery and strike a bargain with the Fae Lord Riven for the most valuable thing she has to offer – herself.  A growing affection for Riven becomes Lia’s sanctuary in Faery where humans are coveted and old grudges run deep. A rival Fae Lord and web of secrets tests the strength of Lia’s affection for Riven and his world. 


GENRE: MG Light Fantasy

L'Académie Majestueuse: an elite Swiss boarding school. But something's off; creativity and originality are forbidden. Luckily, 12-year-old Vera can help–if she sneaks in living Objects from a whacky villager's curiosity shop and pairs them correctly with classmates. While she's at it, she’ll have to figure out why there’s a fire in her belly and learn how to utilize it. A LUMINARY AT L’ACADÉMIE is a middle grade novel for believers in magic aged 8-12.

10TH BIRTHDAY BLOGPITCH #6: YA Paranormal Suspense

GENRE: YA Paranormal Suspense

A compelling modern take on HCA’s “The Red Shoes”: Living with dyspraxia, fifteen-year-old Annora fights a daily battle against her own body. Blunders and bruises are the norm until new red shoes transform her from klutz to swan—just in time for Homecoming. Now that her parkour crush thinks Annora’s an urban ninja too, she keeps wearing the grace-granting shoes to hide her disorder, but a vengeful ghost is using them to gradually possess her.


TITLE: The Seven Labors of Nick Jablonsky
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Challenged by a mushroom induced prophet, Nick attempts to complete seven labors, like a discount Hercules, before summer's end while learning that there may be more to him than he once thought in this modern epic retelling of the Hercules myth.



Allyson's in a coma and she can hear everything the doctors are saying. She knows they’re keeping her in a coma for money, but she can't tell anyone. With a VR system implanted in her brain, she's given a second life she doesn't want. Using hacking skills, she'll help a boy return home but when he doesn't come back, she has to survive Aishwarya, queen of the VR world or split her soul to the brink of death to return home.


TITLE: Complex Solutions
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Lexi’s parents secretly proved a famous $1 million math theorem, before a car accident ended their lives. Guilt-ridden, Lexi must claw her way out of self-harm, confide in the guy she’s falling hard for and find the proof before a would-be thief does, stealing her parents’ credit and the one-million dollar prize.


TITLE: Glimpses of Me
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Senior class president and valedictorian, Asmah has a dark secret. Last year she fell for a teacher, narrowly escaping his predatory grooming. He’s arrested for assaulting her friend. Asmah’s guilt forces her to confront her shame and Muslim faith as she grapples with whether to come forward and testify.



GENRE: YA Contemporary
Bits’ crush, football star Chase, and his bereaved family have just moved into the house her father lost along with his job. Awkward. Even better, Chase shows up at her tutoring gig ineligible because of grades. The friendlier they become, the more Bits hopes he won’t find secret letters she left behind in his attic. The discovery could ruin the one thing that just might save their senior year from grief and crushing expectations.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday Fricassee

Dear Hearts!

Those of you on Twitter may have seen my mini-love-fest tweet last night:

There wasn't anything specific that spurred me to type that little message. Truth be told, sometimes it just hits me how amazing the connection among writers is.  And I'm ever thankful for it.

Ten years is a long time to run a blog, and throughout the past decade, folks have come and gone.  Mind you, many have also come and stayed (and oh, I love that!), but the good news is that many have come and gone because, well, they've been published!  No more need to enter Secret Agent Contests or learn about the basics of writing craft.  This blog, for them, was one of many stepping stones, and I'm happy to cheer them along their way.

Some, of course, have moved on because they've decided to no longer pursue writing as a career.  And some have moved on because that's what people do.  We lose interest, we go in different directions, we change our preferences.  It's all good.

The main thing is that, regardless of who's a part of this particular community, the writing world at large is a warm and inviting and vibrant thing, and I love being a part of it. I love the way we cheer each other on. I love the way we kick each other in the butt. I love the way we commiserate and empathize and remind each other not to take ourselves too seriously.

And now, as I'm seeing new names and meeting people who are just taking their first, stumbly, excited steps toward authorhood, I'm reminded that the journey continues.  The roster may change, but the well-trodden path is daily hit with new feet.

Those of us who've been doing this for many years can dip into our well of experience and say, "Here! Have a drink!"  Those of us who are starting out together can say, "Hey, let's walk together." On it goes...on and on, and the human spirit never dwindles.

Do you all realize the part you play in this? Can you see what an awesome thing we have here? What an awesome thing we are?

And that's the story behind last night's tweet. (Because you know there's ALWAYS a story. It's what we do!)

So.  Monday = submissions for our Tenth Birthday Blogpitch.  If you haven't already read them, the details are HERE.

And if you haven't yet subscribed to my author newsletter, GO HERE TO SUBSCRIBE (and also sniff around my web site!).  There's a free giveaway for subscribers this month; sign up now so you don't miss your chance to win.

That's that! I'm off to happily begin what is essentially my first day of Spring Break (which is this household looks like NO LESSONS AND NO DANCE CLASSES TO DRIVE MY LITTLE DANCER TO ALL WEEK, and which will translate into cleaning things I don't normally clean, walk-taking, and ALL THE WRITING. All the glorious, uninterrupted, soul-quenching writing!

Happy weekend, all!

Monday, March 19, 2018

ALL THE FUN To Celebrate Miss Snark's First Victim's TENTH BIRTHDAY!

Ten years, my friends. On April 4, 2018, it will be AN ENTIRE DECADE since I wrote my first BLOG POST here.  Naturally, I want to celebrate!



When: Thursday, March 29
What:  50 pitches to be posted for public critique and possible requests from agents


*Submissions will open Monday, March 26 at 9:00 am EDT and will close on Tuesday, March 27 at 9:00 am EDT.
*After the close of submissions, the bot will randomly select 50 entries to be posted on the blog.
*ALL CATEGORIES AND GENRES--except erotica or erotic romance--will be included.
*Your entry should consist of a tight, 75-words-or-fewer pitch for your completed, polished novel. (Do not enter this contest if your manuscript is not agent-ready.) Remember--the fewer words, the better.
*Submit your entry HERE.
*The 50 winning entries will post on Thursday, March 29.


Two wonderful things!

1. Your pitch will receive critique from this lovely blog community AND several published authors.

2.  SNEAKY AGENTS will also be reading the pitches! If they see anything they like, THEY WILL MAKE REQUESTS IN THE COMMENT BOXES.

So basically, if your entry is chosen for this blogpitch round, your pitch will be read by agents who are currently open to new clients. The agent response to my invitation to this contest has been delightfully positive so far!

If you have any questions about this contest, please leave them in the comment box below.

2. Q&A WITH ELAYNE BECKER, Associate Editor at Tor Teen

On Wednesday, April 4 -- MSFV's 10th birthday -- I will share an exclusive interview with Elayne Becker, my fabulous editor and rising star at Tor Teen and Tor/Forge Books.  In the comment box of the interview, Elayne will field your questions! The comment box will be open for 24 hours, during which time you may post your questions to Elayne. She will take up to 3 days to answer ALL questions posted!

Note: This is a GREAT opportunity to get insight from the inside. Mark your calendars!


Elayne will be giving away a box o'books from Tor to one lucky winner. YOU DON'T WANT TO MISS THIS!  Details on the giveaway are forthcoming.

I hope you'll join us for the celebration! I'm thankful for these past ten years, and I'm glad you've been a part of them.

Monday, March 12, 2018


From Joanna:

I’ve read the entires and have picked my winners. I’m sorry that some of the comments might not be as expansive as others, but a few were hard to pin down.

#50 She Dances In Blood - this was just a great opening with nice backstory and great action
#41 The Year My Mother Ruined My Life - such a cute and well executed hook

The prize:

A 100-page read for each!

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


Secret Agent Unveiled: JOANNA MACKENZIE

Many thanks to this month's Secret Agent, Joanna MacKenzie of the Kristin Nelson Literary Agency!

Joanna's Bio:

Joanna joined Nelson Literary Agency in 2017 after a decade with a Chicago-based agency, and is currently building a list of adult and YA titles. She enjoys working with authors who embrace the full publishing process (read: love revising) and is committed to the stories her clients want to tell both with the words they put on paper, as well as with the careers the build. Joanna is looking for the epic read that, at it's center, beats with a universal heart. In particular, she’s drawn to smart, character-driven mysteries and thrillers - both, ideally, with a little edge. Originally from Poland, and by way of Canada, she’s all about narratives that deal with the themes of identity and the immigrant experience as well as those that delve into all aspects of the relationships that make us who we are – parents, siblings, best friends, and first love.

What Joanna is looking for:

On the YA side, I’m looking for strong, confident voices and characters I can’t stop thinking about. I’d love to find a Veronica Mars-ish character I could really sink my teeth into; or be swept-away into a Bone Gap world; or enthralled by characters like those in I’ll Give You The Sun. On the adult side, I’d love to find a great Tana French-esque mystery (no more girls on trains or wives between us for me) and also a book featuring Sarah Paulson’s character from Ocean’s 8, aka seemingly perfect suburban mom with a secret life, think the first season of Weeds.

Winners forthcoming!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Secret Agent Contest: Critique Guidelines

And here we go!  Jump right in, and keep your eyes open for the critique from this month's Secret Agent.

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.

March Secret Agent Contest #50

TITLE: She Dances in Blood
GENRE: YA Fantasy

In moments like this my blood dances through me, pounding out a rhythm with my heart. There is no better feeling. The night is dark and quiet except for the song of death within me as the two vampires flee from us. The female pulls ahead, leaving the male behind as a sacrifice. He shouts, but she doesn't break her stride. He flings a look over his shoulder at me and grimaces. With a burst of speed, he darts onto a side road, jumps on a dumpster, then vaults onto a roof.

Like a shadow, I follow.

“Ivanka!” my partner, Romero, shouts. “You're not supposed to engage vamps alone!”

A fact I’m fully aware of. But I never let vamps escape. He knows that.

Romero continues to yell as I put on an extra burst of speed and race along the roof. I pull a stake free from my combat belt and lunge forward. My knees drive into the vamp's legs as I plunge the weapon into his back, aiming for his heart. It feels like slamming into a concrete wall, but the force sends the stake ripping through flesh to reach its target.

Paralysis claims the vamp, sending him into torpor, and he collapses beneath me. Together we roll down the roof and fall, the ax strapped to my back throwing me off balance and forcing me to land on all fours on the dirt road.

I rise and look down at the vamp. Why would anyone ever choose to become such a creature?

March Secret Agent Contest #49

TITLE: Mimic
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Getting past the Protector was all a matter of timing. The time of day, first of all. Dusk, after most of the sunlight was gone but before the torches were lit. Then the trick was to slip by at the exact moment someone else was passing through the gate, while the Protector was occupied with drawing blood from the next one in line.

The form was also crucial. Issa had gotten through a few times in the guise of a small child, so short that the Protector never saw her as she toddled in the wake of someone’s billowing cloak. The stubby legs, though, made it harder to move quickly. She couldn’t afford to stumble and be caught. Last time had been too close.

The other likely choice was taking on a limber body that could scale the wall in the space of a single breath. Issa hadn’t dared that before. She’d practiced leaping the lower walls at the edges of the Den for the past month, and Yeril swore her swift movement was hardly visible if he wasn’t watching closely. She almost believed him.

She’d already wondered and worried too long, resolving every evening that this would be the night, only to lose her nerve and slink back from the wall. Tomorrow most of the farmers would pack what remained of their wares and leave the city. Then her chance would be gone for another season.
It was already nearly sunset. “Now,” she whispered, pulling on the black, threadbare tunic and tugging out its wrinkles. “Do it now.”

March Secret Agent Contest #48

TITLE: One of the Lucky Ones
GENRE: YA Contemporary/coming-of-age

"Okay, guys, you remember the rules." Dad was doing his best to look stern as we stood outside the door to the library on a warm Saturday afternoon. It was not a convincing performance. He sounded like he was talking to all three of us, but he was watching Millie and especially Owen. He uncrossed his arms and waved a hand in an "I'm-waiting" motion until we all answered.

Yes, even me. I might have been sixteen, but I knew if I didn't play along Owen would start yelling, "Annie's not saying it!" and the rest of the morning would be a lot less fun. At three, he had very strong ideas about what was "fair."

"No running, no fighting, no yelling," we chanted. "We don't pull all the books off the shelf,"—I muttered "Owen" under my breath—"we use our indoor voices, and if we want the same book we have to take turns."

Dad nodded and opened the door. The kids didn't quite run to the children's section. Ms. Davis smiled and waved as we came in, skinny gold bracelets clinking and glowing against her dark skin.

Oh good, I thought. That'll make it easier.

Ms. Davis was the new children's librarian, and already had my siblings wrapped around her perfectly manicured little finger. Owen acted much better when she was there, but Dad and I still made sure one of us stayed close by. Millie was five-going-on-twelve; I didn't worry about her unless Owen made her mad.

March Secret Agent Contest #47

GENRE: Adult Mystery

Wiry and strong as a rod of rebar, Lamar Gallivant was gifted with an uncanny aptitude for math, baseball—and burning shit down.

He hung out behind a shoe store until the black Mercedes rolled up at exactly 10:20. The sleek four-door, with tinted windows and Georgia plates, slowed to a crawl as the passenger lobbed a disposable cell phone into leaves piled near the curb. Once the sedan was out of sight, Lamar retrieved the prepaid burner and powered it up. A text message spelled out his target’s address.

Lamar hiked his baggy jeans and tore through the heart of Charleston’s river-carved peninsula. Blowing past college chumps. Dodging tourists. Sidestepping businesswomen. At East Bay Street, he zigged north alongside the Cooper River. Property values and fashion sense nosedived with each stride. Rainbow Row gave way to sun-bleached blah. Broken street lamps replaced copper carriage lanterns. Seersucker couture morphed into overstuffed stretchy pants.

Nine blocks later, the road forked at the dilapidated row houses and subsidized apartments of Fleet Landing. The east-side neighborhood, less than two miles from the opulent Battery and South Carolina’s most stately antebellum homes, was almost dead—close enough to call the coroner. Lamar plopped on a bench to retie his boot laces and shake off a flicker of unexpected jitters. He longed for the inky darkness that’d made him invisible on his previous jobs.

He should bolt—call it quits.

But fifteen grand was a lot of money.

The trouble with trouble…

March Secret Agent Contest #46

GENRE: YA Thriller

A three-year-old kid missing for a decade. A fourteen-year-old brunette lost last month. The missing persons poster pinned to a board in the dollar store has been there forever, though the faces on the poster change every month. The teen’s face must have been recently added; I don’t remember seeing it the last time I came here. The girl has thick, wavy hair and large dark eyes. Just like Mimi.
My throat tightens. I have searched through hundreds of similar pictures and news articles over the past five years, hoping for information on my cousin. Something that’ll prove that she ran away. That she’s alive and safe somewhere.

That I’m not a murderer.

I force my gaze away from the poster and text my aunt: at the store.

Ever since my cousin disappeared, Auntie and I follow a routine. I make sure she’s always aware of my whereabouts. It’s become second nature, as familiar as breathing.

Her reply pops up an instant later as expected. Good. Be safe.

After gathering the stuff on my shopping list, I head down a narrow aisle.

A tall man in a frayed black leather jacket and faded jeans stands in my path, his back to me, leafing through a stack of magazines.

“Excuse me,” I say

He glances over his shoulder. The brim of his baseball cap shadows his thin face and part of a dirty, blond beard. His eyes lock on me, and he goes still.

March Secret Agent Contest #45

TITLE: Just One Day
GENRE: YA Contemporary

My vovó is dead. I buried her in the backyard, deep. Just like she told me.

Before she went, she explained that she’d been told she was dying a month ago. But it was last week when she finally believed it and started to make a plan for me. This plan where I don’t tell anyone she’d dead. Seven days. That’s all it took for my life to be over because I am not me anymore despite my chest continuing to rise and fall with the breaths I cannot stop taking. Seven days. Though I guess all it ever takes is just one.

A week ago

Pulling the strap of my bag over my head and onto one shoulder, I move down the stairs as quickly, the thuds making the family photos quiver on the wall.

            “Meu coração?” my grandmother calls from her room, a whisper question that also means ‘where are you going?’ I have been home for three days straight, since the never ending cold she’s got started keeping us both up at night. She says it will pass.

            I start to go out the door, to pretend I didn’t hear her but then she coughs, an awful, deep chested noise. So, I trudge back up to her door at the top of the stairs.

            “Sim?” I stand in the doorway looking into to her tidy peach flavored room. The warm honey wood of her headboard, dresser, and night table each with some flowery something on it.

March Secret Agent Contest #44

GENRE: YA Fantasy gaslamp

Hilda stood behind the impossibly heavy red velvet curtain, waiting for it to open or, perhaps, fall from the coiled mechanism holding it up and crush her. She didn’t particularly want to be crushed, but at least it would be something different. An adventure of sorts. Something other than performing over and over without an end in sight. Well—she swallowed the too-painful thought away—there was an end, but not one she cared to think about. 

“Miss Hollow, a moment!”

Hilda turned toward the unnecessarily loud voice, her silk ruffle overlay flapping against the smooth velvet of her skirt like a smothered scream.

One of the sound operators raced up to her. He held out a silver micro-trumpet then quickly pulled it back against his chest before she could remind him, again, that chanters of illusion didn’t need amplification. 

She clenched her fists. This was only her fifteenth time singing here on her three-year tour of opera houses and grand hotels. However…he was merely trying to do his job. Besides, perhaps he was new. She took a moment to really look at him. Thoughtful eyes. Sweaty brow. Disheveled jacket collar. Yes, definitely new. She relaxed her hands but didn’t answer. He wouldn’t have heard her anyway, not with the silencers—large brass discs—over his ears. Tiny cranks in the center of the circles could be turned and tightened to stamp out sound. The opera house required all employees to wear them. The proprietors said it was because they didn’t want the workers to be drawn into an illusion.

March Secret Agent Contest #43

TITLE: Seeking Sara Sterling
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Twenty-One Pilots blares from my car stereo as I stare out at the parking lot next door. The music has a way of numbing my mind, taming the roiling emotions inside me. I can’t bring myself to get out of the car just yet.

    A skinny, unshaven man emerges from a beat-up pickup truck and flicks his cigarette to the ground. He starts toward the entrance of the One Dollar Store but then looks my way, the music escaping my partially rolled-down window likely catching his attention. His eyes lock with mine. I want to look away, but they’re the same bright green color as Bryan’s. The man smirks, as if he knows all about what happened last night. My jaw clenches tight, and I look away.

    When the song ends, I shut off the engine and push out a sigh. Time to face my new reality.


    “Hey Sara.”

    My manager’s voice pulls me from a daze as I walk through the door. He’s at my post—the front desk of Alejandro’s Authentic Mexican Restaurant—straightening a stack of menus. I force my mouth into a smile, but it feels all wrong.

    “Hi, Ramon.”

    I wonder if everyone can see the trauma written all over my face. Ramon doesn’t. Or at least, he doesn’t let on that he does. I’m nearly an hour late, but I’d called earlier to let him know I would be.

March Secret Agent Contest #42

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Something wasn't right with the sea.

Evren scrutinized the batch of red-eyed fish that hung from her long silver wire, their bellies bloated. That morning she had gone down to the edge of Ionoke Island’s best fishing nook, and found more fish washed ashore, limp and pallid.

She gazed out at the glittering sapphire water surrounding the island. The breeze flurried off the sea like invisible threads, tickling her face. White foam lapped at her black boots. Glistening silver and white granite rocks gathered around the corner of the island. Everything looked fine from the outside. The fish told a different story. Their home was in trouble.

“What is she doing to you guys?” Evren bit the bottom of her lip. The Sea Queen wouldn’t curse her own kingdom, would she?

She shivered and gripped the wire so tight that it cut into the middle of her palm. As she watched the blood trickle down her hand, she felt her thoughts spiraling. Why was the sea warming? What would that mean for her? If she couldn’t fish, how was she going to make money? Captains weren’t exactly looking for the navigator who had a death wish stamped to her back.

The murderous invisible pirates - the Naja - were looking for her. Why? She still didn’t know and she had been asking that question for years.


All I need is enough money to fly across the seas and leave this wretched place and the Naja behind. 

March Secret Agent Contest #41

TITLE: Alaska: The Year My Mother Ruined My Life
GENRE: YA Contemporary literary YA

First, there was a note on the fridge in Mom’s barely legible scrawl: “Family meeting. Living room. 4 p.m. Tuesday.”

I wrote neatly beneath it: “No can do. Fencing match. 3 p.m. Tuesday.” She never attended my matches—they were just club matches—so it was no surprise she was clueless.

Later, there was a new note: “Familll neeting. Livi— rom. 4 p.m. Wed.”

Once again, I answered: “No can do. Volunteering for Mrs. Coates. 1–5 Wednesday.” Mom wouldn’t know about this, either, unless she looked at the wall calendar in my room, which, mind you, she was free do.

Note #3: “Fam m--t. LR. 6 p Wed.”

Gah! “No can do. Neither can you. Women’s dinner at the club, 6 p.m. Wednesday. Make sure your purple dress is clean.”

Then there was a fourth note: “Fam met. LR. 12am. Wed. Midnight. I’ll wake u.”

And there it was: Mom’s insanity on display. She was totally serious. And it would work: My schedule was wide open then, though my eyes wouldn’t be.

I couldn’t imagine what was up. We’d never had a family meeting. Given Mom’s flair for crazy and dramatic, I figured it wasn’t worth trying to guess: It could be anything, eensy or enormous, important or unimportant, brilliant or ridiculous. If I saw her between now and then, I’d ask, but chances were good our paths wouldn’t cross. She’s busy. I’m busy. Hence the notes.

March Secret Agent Contest #40

GENRE: Adult Mystery


Majid Jaber was ascending the flight of four verde-green steps in his way to step up the podium. He got stung back with the fresh memory of the, nearly similar, yet wider, lengthier, lush covered steps he had recently scaled.

He felt like a debilitating old man experiencing a heart attack. That was not entirely unfathomable as he sensed he's got much older at the impact of the last year's blood-curdling events when he was only forty-seven.

Ascending another couple of leveled steps on the uplifted stage, Majid drifted back to reality from the agonizing recent memory he will carry into his burial. He caught the sight of the two far men settled at the panel over his head to the right.

He nodded appreciatively at the new president for the seventy-second session of the United Nation's general assembly, elected by the countries of Eastern European Group. The head of the gavel –recently handed over to him by the previous president– peeked over Majid's head; threatening to keep order; something that the greatest multi-national entity has been failing to do to the world.
The furthest man at the hefty wooden-lined, verde-green marble encased panel was none other than Danielle Medicci, the UN Secretary-General and Majid's childhood friend. The Italian, highest UN rank official was peering over at his friend with maddening concern that the entire capacity filling the UN general assembly hall –of officials, reps and media contingents– were failing to notice. All because they had been all following Majid’s striding up for the speaker’s podium with not much lesser fervent looks.

March Secret Agent Contest #39

TITLE: Absolution
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I can’t believe she brought him here.

I noticed him standing next to her right before kickoff. The smug asshole who stole my mother away from my father. During a free kick a few minutes ago, I pointed him out to Kevin. We’ve been dominating this game, but I’ve been terrible at finishing these chances we’re creating. I have one job on this team: score goals. I’ve already hit the post, the crossbar, and skied a sitter. It’s their damn fault.

The ball gets passed to my feet from Desmond and I feel their defensive midfielder lean into my back. I chip the ball out to Kevin and try to turn towards the goal. Kev passes it to Cody who keeps it moving quickly to Spencer who has made a run forward. We’re definitely dominating if he’s coming out of the defensive line to help break down their lines. I catch his gaze and point to where I want the ball. If I meet it there, I can play in Pete for a shot. Soccer is nothing is not an artistic game of angles and force.

Most people don’t consider athletes artists. But the only time I’m close to being an artist is with a soccer ball at my feet. When I’m not-quite-dancing, but weaving, sprinting, almost-flying beneath bright stadium lights like fingers across a fretboard. That’s art I understand. Sure, they appreciate the all-time greats: Jordan, Serena, Messi. They’ll always get recognized as master artists, pillars of perfection.

March Secret Agent Contest #38

TITLE: Never Say Never
GENRE: YA Romantic Comedy

True love is bull****.

I grew up in a home built on the belief in true love. As I headed down the stairs for breakfast that Monday morning, I witnessed the wondrous majesty of true love, right there in my kitchen.
Sitting at the table, Dad stared blankly at his newspaper, holding it up like a wall between himself and Mom, who drew her spoon absently through her cereal. He might as well have drawn a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the side of the newspaper that faced her. Interruptions from his daily reading of the news were strictly forbidden--if you were Mom.

“Good morning, Mom. Good Morning, Dad. What’re the important headlines of the day?” I flopped onto my chair, and intrusively peeled back the corner of his newspaper.

“Good Morning, Brynn,” Dad said with a faint smile, shaking his newspaper until it was standing straight up again. He was dressed in his usual shirt and tie with slacks, the required uniform for his job as a mid-level manager at a communications firm near the city.

“Yes, rather nice of you to join us.” Mom’s empty eyes stared at the back of Dad’s newspaper, her lips twisted into their semi-permanent frown. Mom was still wearing the long blue t-shirt she slept in. Her shift at the grocery store started later in the day.

I somehow managed to suppress an eyeroll. “I stayed up late doing homework. Had some trouble waking up.”

March Secret Agent Contest #37

TITLE: The Company of Old Ladies
GENRE: Adult Upmarket women's

The two old ladies sit in the Panera Bakery Café near downtown Denver. Plump Pansy, gray hair in the French twist she’s sported for years, sips a small, Equal-sweetened, hazelnut decaf. Despite her life-long battle with weight, she makes a face and adds two packets of sugar. Friend Esther, tall and bony and strung together loosely as a starved cat, drinks a soy milk latte.

           Pansy resumes the women’s customary discussion, a courteous—if heated—dialogue over the benefits and burdens of advanced age. At sixty-eight, she struggles to accept her deteriorating exterior while her interior still feels about thirty-five. “I simply don’t care what’s proper or improper any more. If I want to be blunt and opinionated, I am. I’m willing to look foolish. A big bonus that compensates for discomfort like the hemorrhoids plaguing me.” She shifts on the hard chair to search for respite.

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

            Pansy knows she must freeze in obedience to Esther’s silent command. Esther, the elder by fifteen years, likes to lead in pointing out items of interest, perhaps an especially dirty homeless man, or a newspaper headline blazing panic over a new environmental danger. Pansy 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. At the table next to them. Something truly strange and wonderful. Whether male or female Pansy can’t tell immediately. Starting at the top, a Mohawk.

March Secret Agent Contest #36

TITLE: The Case of the Cat Crazy Lady
GENRE: Adult Cozy Mystery

Cathy stood before the tiny tombstone, a bouquet of spring flowers clutched in her hands. She bent down, tears in her eyes, as she read the inscription: “Here lies Floppy, beloved cat of Catherine Carter. Until we meet again on Rainbow Bridge. 2003-2015.” She placed the flowers on the ground in front of the stone and wiped her eyes with a tissue she took from the pocket of her blue cardigan. Growing up with an abundance of pets and now being part owner of a pet cemetery, pet loss was a constant in her life. However, the handsome gray and white tuxedo cat she’d had since the age of twelve left special pawprints on her heart. She would never forget Floppy.

Cathy turned as she heard a low rustle. At first, she thought they were footsteps and that another visitor was joining her to mourn a pet. Glancing behind, she saw it was Oliver, the elderly Siamese she adopted two years ago after his ninety-year old owner passed away.

Oliver approached on his cocoa paws. He let out a loud meow, typical of Siamese cats. It echoed through the quiet cemetery. Cathy knew he only wanted her attention. She patted his head as he rubbed against her calf. She felt his touch through the legs of her jeans.

“What are you doing out here, Oliver?” She was sure she’d closed the door behind her of the small house she shared with her grandmother.

March Secret Agent Contest #35

TITLE: For the Love of a Child
GENRE: Adult Suspense

My fingers tapped against the neck of the whiskey bottle that had saved my life. I wanted to pull it out and toss down a little more liquid courage, but I knew I’d only be putting off the inevitable. The door in front of me wasn’t going anywhere.

If I knocked, I honestly believed he’d kill me. Not figuratively. Not the cute ‘he’s going to kill me’ I hear other women use when they go shopping. He would literally end my life.

A cartoon image of a tombstone floated in front of my eyes.

Betty Miller. Died September 20th, 1998. Knocked on the wrong door.

My fingers traced the swirls in the wood grain. Much like the grey siding of the apartment complex around it, this particular rust-colored piece of wood didn’t appear to be anything special. But if I went through with this, knocked on this specific door, my life would change forever.

I stood there for a minute or two, staring at the door while my body swayed back and forth as if the wooden deck belonged to a ship in a storm. The bottle had somehow found its way back into my hand. I brought it to my lips, and part of me welcomed the warmth and euphoria the amber liquid ushered in on its way down my throat. The other part of me wanted to throw up.

March Secret Agent Contest #34

TITLE: Head Case
GENRE: YA Science Fiction/Fantasy

“I wish that I had a better prognosis for you, but these are the facts.”

He speaks as though he truly regrets the information he’s about to give, but the tone of his voice tells me otherwise. He lacks the sincerity someone about to tell the parents of an only child that their child will probably never wake up needs. I’ve never seen his face, but I don’t have to. I’ve learned to read people’s tones. Especially his. There is very little he cares about.

The child that will never wake up is me.

“Are you saying she’s going to be like this forever?” Mom’s voice trembles. I try not to imagine her reaching up to wipe tears gathering in her eyes. I wish that I could comfort her, but I can’t. I’m stuck inside my own mind.

Doctor Zaid clears his throat. “There is no way of knowing. Our tests prove that there is brain functionality. Which is good. It means that her brain is still functioning. It isn’t just a stem. By all counts, she should have woken up months ago, but here we are. Whatever is keeping her in the coma simply won’t let her go.”


My eyes are shut. With my eyes closed, I can’t see the doctor or the hospital room. I can’t see my parents faces. Nine months that I’ve been confined to the corners of my own mind.

March Secret Agent Contest #33

TITLE: Eight Minutes, Thirty-Two Seconds
GENRE: YA Suspense

L had forgotten how many times she’d died.

           Then, after resurrection, withdrawal kicked in with shaking and seizures, making it impossible to pretend she’d not become addicted to dying. Craving the life discovered in those brief moments of oblivion before being reborn.

            Once more. Her eternal promise to M: just one more death. Please.

            L’s fingers shook where they rested on his arm, trying to pull the injector closer to the port in her forearm. “Just one more.”

            “One more, for you,” he said. “Leaves the rest for me.”

            M pressed the plunger.

For a moment, she wanted to curse him. Damn him for injecting her, for wanting the rest of the doses, for reminding her that after she died she’d forget her empty promises of never doing this again.
            He’d heard it all before. He’d hear it again the next time he killed her.

            But the moment was fatally brief as the heat reached her heart. Fire tore through her left arm, to her jaw, into her ears with the banshee wails of flatlining.

            The pain overwhelmed. Until there was no pain at all.

The first seconds after dying were a vertigo death spiral, when the brain shuts down in a cascade of agony amid the inescapable sound of the last beat of her heart.

            Seconds later, other memories return. She’d died before. She’d die again. On purpose.

            Death had a reason.

March Secret Agent Contest #32

TITLE: Light on Glass
GENRE: Adult Women's Fiction

The dog refused to poop.

            That's what my life had come to. Standing on the sidewalk at an ungodly hour of the morning, wearing a fuzzy, pink robe and sheepskin boots over mismatched pajamas, watching a twenty-pound dog search for the perfect place to poop. Poop that I would have to pick up or risk the wrath of the homeowners association.

            Designated poop picker-upper. That’s my job. I sighed in the crisp, morning air. I don’t remember circling that option on my career aptitude questionnaires.

            After visiting three patches of grass and a fire hydrant, we headed home. I walked into the kitchen and headed straight for the coffee maker. As I sipped my way through my first cup of coffee, four year old Jack and seven year old Ella wandered in looking for breakfast.

            They were picking their way through waffles and juice when my husband came rushing through the door.

            “Keys. I need keys.”

            “Under your wallet on the counter.” I didn’t need to look up from my coffee to know where they were.

            “Yes. Thank you!” Rick scooped up the keys. “I’m running so late. I totally forgot I told Charles I’d meet him before work.”

            I poured a cup of coffee into a travel mug for him and held it out.

            He saw it and stopped mid-stride. “You are the best.”

            “So I’ve been told.”

            Rick shuffled through the disorganized stack of papers on his section of the kitchen counter. “Oh, I forgot,” he handed me a padded, yellow mailer.

March Secret Agent Contest #31

GENRE: YA Fantasy

It takes twice as long to go through an airport when your passport has to be read in Spanish. My time in the US had taught me as much.

The security officer at LAX eyed every page of my passport like he was reading a psychological thriller. I checked my watch again: 14:45. The gate closed at 15.

For the love of Einstein, I just wanted to make my flight.

I had to make that flight.

“Are you sure you want to go?” Behind me, my father tightened up the straps of my backpack, sliding yet another tissue pack into my outer pocket. You know, no emergency Kleenex can’t solve. “I mean, it’s Cairo. It’s so unsafe.”

“We live in Los Angeles.” I scanned the line of people taking off their shoes and belts in front of us as the giant analog clock on the wall struck 14:47. At this rate I would miss my flight, which meant I’d miss my chance to change the world.

“So?” he said.

“So we live in—” I sighed, waving my hand in front of his face. No use explaining this. Every place on Earth was unsafe for his not-so-little daughter, traveling without him for the first time. “I’ll be fine. It’s only for a couple of weeks. I promise I won’t join a militia.” My father smiled a weak smile.
The comment earned me a grunt from the officer. He uncapped a red pen and scribbled on my tickets. Hell if I wasn’t seconds away from being deported.

March Secret Agent Contest #30

TITLE: Daydreams
GENRE: YA Fantasy

A jolt of static electricity pulled me from the beach and back into my high school psychology classroom. I gasped as another course shot through my right shoulder. My eyes flew open, only to lock on the teacher in front of my desk.

“You wouldn’t happen to have been sleeping my class would you, Miss Danner?”

“No,” I said slowly. I hadn’t been sleeping, not exactly, but my daydream had been deep and detailed. Still, the front row of Mr. Michaels’ class probably wasn’t the best place to zone out.

“Then would you care to summarize the lecture?” he asked, sounding annoyed.

His irritation paled in comparison to mine though. The public humiliation of being asked questions in class was usually reserved for other kids; the kids who didn’t get straight A’s or mainline textbooks in their spare time.

I glared at Mr. Michaels for breaking this unspoken rule. He had fast become my favorite new teacher. His brand of dry sarcasm was exactly what I needed to keep me interested enough to pay attention in class. Most of the time.

“The whole thing or just the last few minutes?” I asked. It was almost the end of the hour, wasn’t it?

He glared right back as he said, “Describe the brain chemistry of falling in love.”

Well, that gives me something to go on at least, I thought, mentally reviewing everything I’d ever heard or read about neurochemistry.

March Secret Agent Contest #29

TITLE: The Monster Waves
GENRE: Adult Literary Fiction (Family Saga)

WE LOST MY LITTLE BROTHER on the day before Christmas.

Bud had been playing with his toys just after breakfast, there in the living room of our small house. And then he wasn’t.

No one knew if he’d wandered away or was taken by somebody, whether he was snatched violently or ran laughing to someone who smiled and held out a Hershey bar. He was only 4, but he wasn’t a shy kid. There was no way to know the exact circumstances.


SINCE IT WAS CHRISTMAS, that day in 1940, I didn’t have to go to school. About an hour later than usual, I poked a foot out of covers, just a small gesture before fully committing to verticality. And already, something was off. The room temperature was comfortable, almost too warm. We lived in Euclid, a suburb of Cleveland hard against the shore of Lake Erie. Late in December, you could count on winter’s full conceit, icicles, snow, the kind of cold that bit lips, froze the snot in your nose, sent your pecker and balls into deep hiding. Our house, old like all the ones around it, had a basement furnace, boxy and solid as a freight engine. The heat managed to reach the main level pretty well, but the second-floor bedrooms were another story. On school mornings, when I had to be up by 6:30, it wasn’t all that rare to see my breath, steaming white like Seabiscuit’s stamping in the gate at Pimlico.

March Secret Agent Contest #28

GENRE: YA Horror

The toe tag on the decapitated body read: IF FOUND, CALL (512)555-1212, so Del pulled out her iPhone.

Her favorite television shows portrayed dead bodies as a one-way ticket to life in jail, not a prerequisite to salvation. But life wasn’t television.

Life wasn’t that simple.

Del spied a turkey vulture gliding around the body. “Get the hell outta here! He’s mine!” she said, snatching a piece of gray limestone from the dirt and hurling the rock skyward. The irritated vulture voiced its displeasure before settling into the field’s lone oak tree which masqueraded as a kickstand for her ten-speed bike. For now, sixteen-year-old Del owned her prize uncontested.

The burning Texas sun played spotlight for the headless body starring center stage.

“I’m not afraid of you—” Del circled the shirtless decaying corpse. She maintained a perimeter outside the buzzing flies and fluid-soaked ground but breathed easier knowing it wouldn’t answer. “—I’ve seen other dead people, you know.”

Seen. Created. Collected. Same difference.

The option to call the cops had long since passed. They would canvas the field. Talking her way out of one dead body seemed plausible, but not a half-dozen. While her underground fort kept the bodies out of sight, their putrid scent would undoubtedly betray her.

Besides, if this was what she thought it was, there wouldn’t be a need for anymore collection. Time had come to collect on her handiwork.

She chewed her last unbroken nail to a jagged nub before dialing.

March Secret Agent Contest #27

TITLE: DEVASTATION: a Toronto Island Mystery
GENRE: Adult Mystery

June 1968

     Policewoman Christine Marsh reached for the passenger door handle of her police vehicle as she watched the two boats beeline a collision course to Ward’s Island Dock. The ferry's horn bellowed as it plowed through the lake, frothing water curling away from its prow. The eight-person water taxi raced the ferry from the periphery, peppering the air with its staccato horn.

     “Stop the car!” yelled Christine to her sergeant behind the wheel.

     Sgt Bard slammed his heel into the brake pedal. The Bronco jerked to a halt in a spray of gravel stones two hundred feet south of the dock.

     “They’re going to crash!” She shouldered the car door open, not waiting for her sergeant to ease his portly body out of the vehicle, and hurtled across the grass toward the ferry dock, hiking her skirt higher so she could run faster, her police-issue purse bouncing against her hip.

     She thumped onto the wide wooden dock. “Slow down!” she shouted, waving her hands above her head to get the attention of the ferry captain.

     Taking his eyes off the other boat, the captain spotted her, and slowed down fractionally.

     The water taxi emitted a jubilant beep as it cut in front of the bigger boat and steered toward the side dock allocated for small watercraft.

     Christine staggered as the ferry butted the row of tires lining the dock, its engines churning in reverse as its wake slopped over the worn rubber treads.

     These boat drivers were crazy! They had passengers on board, for goodness sake.

March Secret Agent Contest #26

TITLE: Banished
GENRE: YA Fantasy

I stare at my reflection, noting how the anger simmers just below the mask of my indifference. I grimace and try to dampen down. I will need to add extra whorls today, a distraction I hope. When the minders get a look at my face this morning I want them to see arrogance and disdain in my embellished tattoo… not the expression of someone fighting for control. My sixteenth birthday isn’t here yet, I reminded myself. Today is not my day to die.

I stab the metal tip of the ink scribe into the small black glass bottle. The red ink is the most expensive as it comes from the roots of the rubia plant, known for it’s finicky growing needs. It had cost me nearly two weeks worth of lunch credits, but it is well worth it. The deep crimson color stands out like fresh blood. I tap the edge of the bottle to remove excess ink and proceed to add extra whorls to my tat, pulling the design up past my eyebrow and nearly into the hairline. I watch, always fascinated, as the metal tip of the ink stylus gently scours my flesh, drawing tiny beads of blood that mix neatly with the color of the ink. I am one of the few that don’t try to hid the stamp of shame society has placed on us, I flaunt the mark, make it my own.

March Secret Agent Contest #25

TITLE: Garrett Gordon vs. The Cyberians
GENRE: YA Fiction

Garrett was bored out his mind at home alone, trying to read his assigned Lord of the Stupid Flies book with one hand and frisbee-tossing old CD-roms into a waste bin with the other until he decided to break the monotony by having a little fun at his old middle school’s expense.

He bolted to the window and scanned his driveway and up and down the sunlit street to make sure he saw no signs of his mom’s car before he typed the five-digit password into her laptop on the first try. 21096: her wedding anniversary.

Next, he'd need to break into the middle school’s computer system. He could do it the old-fashioned way and just hack the router from outside the school, of course, but that would require him getting on his bike and riding the few hundred yards to the school’s gate, possibly breaking a sweat, and possibly running into Thomas and his gang of goons, skipping class out by the abandoned sports equipment shed. He glanced back through the open curtains. And it did look pretty hot outside.

So, that only left guessing the sixteen characters disguised as asterisks in the area labeled “Password.”

He cracked his knuckles and leaned close to the screen.

He tried “RichardCarlBixby,” the principal’s real name.


He tried it again, all lowercase. Again, password error.

Just then, an idea came. He typed “WildcatsFootball.” The screen opened onto a black and gray webpage that looked like it hadn’t been updated since phones had curly cords attached to them.

March Secret Agent Contest #24

TITLE: Ferry to Brenton
GENRE: Adult Upmarket contemporary

James wasn’t actually reading the newspaper—he was hiding behind it. Hiding from the blinding reflection of May sun on a glassy harbor. Hiding from the rock-hard bagel on the round table in front of him. Hiding most of all from that empty ferry dock.

If only the flimsy paper could block out sound as well. His stranded commuters perched at three tables against the Brenton Bean’s outside railing, and their worries hammered against his hangover like a seagull feeding frenzy.

“Think the ferry'll get here like the mayor said?”

“Boss is gonna kill me.” 

"I've gotta get off this island, or I'll…”

James should've delivered them to Newport just over two hours ago. Right now he should be steaming back to Brenton Island again, sunlit spray flying and diesels rumbling, already tasting his daily bagel-and-coffee reward. But yesterday he'd been fired. So instead of clutching a wooden wheel, he was crushing limp newsprint.

Every time he checked the empty dock, someone would try to catch his eye. The regulars over at the big table knew to leave him alone; even Mayor Frank hadn’t tried to strike up a conversation this morning. The others, who’d all deserted their Wednesday morning routines to drift down here in search of news, speculated about him in voices pitched to carry. What had really happened to James yesterday afternoon? Could the ferry even run without Captain James? Each time he heard his name, the scar on his left temple throbbed.

Though that could be last night’s beers.

March Secret Agent Contest #23

TITLE: In Jake's Shoes
GENRE: Adult Southern Contemporary

November 28th
Khost, Afghanistan

I knew the chow line would be long, so I stayed behind to let it shorten. No one wanted to stand or eat too close to anybody serving in the Mortuary Affairs Unit, anyway. Working around dead people left a smell.

I lay still as a bird dog on point. My eyes were open, but I couldn’t see a thing. I had taken off my boots and socks, because I wanted to feel the smoothness of the plastic under my heels and on the tops of my toes. As the plastic settled over my body, its heaviness was comforting, like the thick wool blanket mama used to lay across me on cool nights when I pretended I was asleep. I felt its weight and coolness where it touched my naked forehead, nose, cheeks, heels and toes. I tried not to let my chest heave too much, so I took deep, slow breaths. It didn’t matter. Each breath heaved my chest enough to crinkle-crackle the plastic, as if bone beetles scurried across the outside surface, searching for ingress.

Time stood nearly as still as I lay. No red dirt swirled up my nose. No fingers sweated inside my blood covered gloves. No dog tags lay crumpled on the ground to collect and catalog. No tattered pockets to search for hidden “I love you,” notes from wives. No wrinkled, bloodied photographs of unseen babies to smooth and place in plastic baggies. No leg-less, foot-filled boots to un-lace to remove the ragged stump.

March Secret Agent Contest #22

TITLE: Ruby, Ruby
GENRE: YA Historical, Thriller

The visions have stopped, for now. Not having to see a corpse in over a year I’m free to perform again.

Jonathan doesn’t think I’m ready, but I’m ready to show our professors what jazz music could do, like the Swingjugend in Germany, dancers my age, who defy the Nazi crackdown that calls swing the music of the enemy.

If I pass the final grade tonight, I can join the swing circuit with my band. Proving to my brother, he didn’t have to watch me so carefully.

Taking a deep breath, I fix an alabaster shield with a puff of powder and straighten up, even as my stomach wretched with preshow giddiness.

The door flies open and Samantha steps inside, flouncing her blue tulle dress she sits next to me. “Jonathan let me pass.”

Not surprising. Samantha could convince a rock to roll over. “How is it out there?”

 “Swoony! Everyone’s dancing and I think the parents are finally leaving,” she says, smearing rouge on her cheek. “Your brother’s waiting, cute as a bug’s ear.” Her eyes hold mine in the mirror. “Too bad.”

I smile politely and stand up. “Alas, Harold’s his new flame.” Turning, I align the back of my dress appropriately. “I do hope he’s careful this time.”

“I have one favor to ask you,” Samantha asks, curling her lips into a bass clef. “Do you think, tomorrow, you could help my little brother? He’s dying to play piano again, and he loved your company so much."

March Secret Agent Contest #21

TITLE: Next To Me
GENRE: YA Young Adult

A newspaper cutting slid noiselessly out of the folder and landed gently on the tiles at my feet, making a slight rustling noise as it hit the marble floor. I read the heading: Haulage Magnate’s Daughter Recovered Barely Alive and sucked in a deep breath, clasping my hands tighter, turning my head away to focus long and hard at one of the diplomas on the wall. A sloppy mistake from her part. My trauma journey has been long, agonizing, and very painful. The last thing I needed right now was a reminder of the past my parents were paying for me to forget.

Realising her gaffe, Dr. Stone hastily reached down and snatched it up. I ignored the twinge of pain that soared up my hand as I realised that I’d accidentally dug my nails into my finger so hard that it had begun to bleed. I took out a tissue from my jeans pocket and wrapped it tightly around it, watching as the red permeated the whiteness. Pretty.


“Midnight. You know, the same. No changes there,” I said, fighting hard to not cry.

“Talk me through last night.”

The noise is piercing. Its shrillness resonates shock waves through me and I open my eyes. I am standing at my bedroom window facing the garden. My heart is battering angrily against my chest cage and I instinctively place my hand over it to stop the pain. My heart hurts and I feel nauseous. I want to vomit. It’s fear. I’m terrified.

March Secret Agent Contest #20

GENRE: YA Contemporary

I love this porch, especially on a warm summer afternoon. It’s screened, it’s shady, it belongs to my best friend Zoe. It’s more like home than home, these days.

Zoe sits by my side, her laptop perched on her knees, scrolling through her senior pictures. Even in black and white, her smile jumps right off the screen like a big hug. “You’re a real pro, Bits. My parents will love these.”

I would hope so. Zoe’s parents covered two month’s rent for Dad and me paying for something I would’ve gladly done for free. There’s something about photography. Lines, shapes, colors, stories captured for posterity. It’s how I frame the world, and I’m pretty good at it. I wish I wasn’t, but lately it’s my lifeboat.

Zoe clicks back and forth between three versions of her wading in City Lake, the warm dusky light dancing in the ripples around her ankles. “You’ll get into Rochester for sure.”

“They’ll have to give me major bucks.” I don’t have the heart to tell her I’ve given up on my dream school. “Waiving the application fee wouldn’t hurt either.”

“Your dad will find a job.” Zoe throws and arm over my shoulder. A wayward strawberry blonde curl tickles my cheek.

Before we’re homeless, I hope. It would be way too pathetic if Dad and I were evicted from our tiny garage apartment.

“New York is too far, anyway. I’d only be home for Christmas. If I get in at Colorado State, I can live at home.”

March Secret Agent Contest #19

TITLE: Hangman - The Guesser
GENRE: YA Romance, adventure

The Executioner pulls the metal structure from the brick wall. It’s morning. I hope this is the only hanging today. The sun hits the dangling rope noose, shimmering the gold and yellow in the thick braid. The wind moves it like an invisible mouth is exhaling. I blink and look away. Shift my attention to the digital timer built into the structure’s top arm. At the ready, it reads 00:00.

On a bench near the structure, I sit and open my notebook to write the date and time. I’ve been keeping track of every hanging I’ve been to since I was ten. My dad always told me how important it is to know how the hangings work. I’ve been studying by watching and making notes.

A burst of laughter floats over my shoulder. I turn and look. It’s a few students from my school. My spine immediately straightens, bracing for a barrage of insults. I can’t wait to graduate from high school and get away from everyone. A guy points his finger at me, then spins it in a small circle beside his temple. Justin Ryman. Athlete asshole with a head full of nothing.

“Coo-coo, Jason!” he yelps. The others follow suit - bunch of lemmings.

Every town has a square with a gallows in it. Our square is also an open market. Blooming flowers, ripe fruit and fresh-cut meat, sharing space with the hangings. I don’t know, lately it’s feeling…not right.

March Secret Agent Contest #18

TITLE: The Shoemaker's Daughter
GENRE: YA Retelling


   Shouts of delight mingled with his name quickened Phillip down the hall, propelling his bulk toward her office. Eyes alight, she grabbed his hand, pulling him through the doorway toward the water clock.

    “I’ve just had a message from Eli. He obtained the goblet!”

    He followed reluctantly to stand before the clock, water flowing down its face. It came to his chest, the falling water moving the gears, gravity marking the passage of time. In the bowl at the base, the last strands of steam silently curled upward. He stared with his wife at the remnants of the dissipating message, but he could read no meaning. There was, for him, only the monotonous trickle of water falling through the clock. It would have been soothing but for the contradiction of receiving a message.

    She squeezed his hand in both of hers. “I have been so unsettled about the Coming Out Ball.”

    He frowned, pulling his hand free. “Well, if you hadn’t thrown the goblet in the first place! Besides, you promised you wouldn’t involve Cole.”

    Shaking her head, she took his hand again. “I only said I would leave him out of it until after the ball. Somewhere, there is a young man capable of dancing as Cole could have. And with the courage to do it. I will see the dance I should have had with Cole.”

    “You set too much expectation on this ball.”

    “I will see that dance. Otherwise, the princes will go to the island.”

March Secret Agent Contest #17

TITLE: What We Were Missing
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I can’t remember the day my dad left.

Those twenty-four hours yawn like a black hole in the story of my existence.  A blind spot between total happiness and familial unraveling.

It’s been six years and I still catch myself sipping coffee and googling memory retrieval.  Therapy.  Hypnosis.  Optogenetic technology.

But I don’t pursue any of it.

Successful retrieval of lost memories hinges on one common factor.  You have to want to remember.  And believe me.  I don’t.

I’m standing on the front porch when Jo’s black SUV swings into our short driveway, two steaming cups of coffee warming the palms of my hands.  Tiny Christmas lights wrap around the railing, lending our house a cheery glow in the late afternoon fog.

“Um, you do know it’s November?” I said earlier as Mom hunted the extension cord.  

“Riley, let it go.  They look inviting.”  

Your house tells a story, after all.  And we need ours to be a happy one.

The engine shuts off and I bend back my thumb, snapping it forward with a loud crack.  Nervous habit.  Jo emerges first, her blonde hair pulled back in a sloppy ponytail.  The twins, pent up from the four hour drive, shoot like rockets from the car the moment their buckles pop open.

“Aunt Riley!”

I set the mugs on the small table next to our porch swing and hug them tight, spinning around with one pint-sized human tucked neatly under each arm.  I like the way the world blurs around me, softening at the edges.

March Secret Agent Contest #16

TITLE: Doggedly Dead - A Killer Dogz Mystery
GENRE: Adult Cozy Mystery

I stared at my pristine white bathtub debating to bath bomb or not to bath bomb. My best friend and now business partner had insisted on rectifying the situation when I’d confessed to never partaking in the craze. She’d bought out half the selection Wal-Mart had on offer.

A knock on the bathroom door was followed by the one sentence that brought sheer terror to our entire neighborhood.

“Mrs. Rogers wants to talk to you.”

Placing the bath bomb on the vanity, I wondered what offense the kids or I could have done to incur the wrath of our next door neighbor. I opened the bathroom door and found my oldest sitting on the edge of my bed, twisting a strand of Auburn, today, hair.

“Where’s the phone?”

“Sorry, she’s on the porch, not the phone.”

Ignoring the smirk on her face, I grabbed the fuzziest robe I had ever owned and stuffed myself into it, covering my pajamas. “Just great,” I muttered.

Dropping the strand of hair, she offered to send, “the wicked witch” on her way.

“Hailey Ann Harrison, stop calling her that.” Even if it was true, I couldn’t risk such impolite behavior making its way back to my parents. I shuddered at the thought of their reactions.
I walked down the hall and sighed before opening the front door. A scowl on her face was the norm, I’d come to learn but her normally hairspray lacquered hair stuck out at odd angles as if even her hair was angry with me.

March Secret Agent Contest #15

TITLE: Konadai
GENRE: YA Fantasy

“If it can be created, it can be destroyed,” I mutter, staring at the data filling the holographic panel above my crowded desk. Then again, I’m sure the gods said the same thing about us.

A loud beep from the intercom snaps me from my thoughts. The voice is calm, almost robotic, as it pages one of the many doctors in the hospital. The small lab is isolated on the sixth floor, away from the sick patients and buzzing medical staff. I prefer it this way. Cultivating a cure for the virus ravaging our island city is far less heartbreaking than watching people die from it—especially people I know.

As I settle back into studying the data on the panel, another sudden noise draws me back to reality. This time it’s from the door swinging open. Anette strolls into the lab, focused on the digital tablet she’s carrying, with a manila folder tucked under her arm. Her unbuttoned lab coat reveals a red silk blouse, its color in stark contrast to her dark skin. As I straighten myself in my chair, she drops the folder onto my desk. It’s another unwelcome addition to the ever-growing mountain of assigned labor. My chest tightens as I glance down at the stack of papers.

I didn’t sign up to be buried under mundane work. I’m here to be a virologist, not a secretary.
Blowing my bangs out of my face, I move the papers aside and grab my notebook from the drawer.