Monday, May 21, 2018

Oh, the Sparkly Winners!

Here you go, my lovelies, from Colleen's very fingers:

Dear authors!

Thank you so much for sharing your first pages with me. I enjoyed each and every one of these, and I hope my comments help. Please remember that mine is only one opinion, and what doesn't work for me may be exactly what another agent is looking for. Consider all of your feedback from not just me but from the other authors and only edit based on those that resonate with you.

I'd love to thank Jillian for inviting me to the Secret Agent party. What an experience! I hope you'll all join me in buying Jillian's book as soon as it's published, binge-reading it in one night, and then posting a thoughtful review for her.

Okay, on to my requests.

I invite all of the authors to check out my bio at, and if you think we're a good match, please send me your query via my Query Manager link.

Query + Synopsis + 50 pages!


Query + Synopsis + Full please!

Please paste your query + synopsis into the body of an email with your MS attached and send to Thank you!

CONGRATULATIONS, all!  Winners: Please be sure to follow Colleen's instructions above. Best of luck!

Secret Agent Unveiled: Colleen Oefelein

Huge thanks for our lovely and enthusiastic Secret Agent, Colleen Oefelein of the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency!

Jennifer's Bio:

I’m a fairly new agent with The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency (since February 2018), and I’m actively and very excitedly building my list. Prior to working with New York’s Jennifer De Chiara, I was an associate agent, agent assistant, and PR manager with Inklings Literary Agency, which was where I began my publishing career as an intern several years ago. Prior to that, I'd retired from the Air Force, where I was an officer and engineer working space launch. I hold a BS from Penn State in Chemical Engineering with a focus in Biotechnology, and I also hold a BS in German. Some of my off-the-wall talents include flying helicopters and speaking in 10-codes, which I picked up while working emergency dispatch for Alaska State Troopers. As a published YA author, I can greatly appreciate the journey to publication and always look for opportunities to mentor pre-published authors. As an agent, I host several online and conference workshops such as Rejection Correction, Pitch Perfect, “Reel” Inspiration, and Un-Dreary Your Query.

What she's looking for:

I represent authors of picture books, middle grade, young adult, and adult books in a range of genres. In general I love to see anything high-concept, fast-paced, and in deep POV. I love dark tales, flaw-ridden main characters, and unreliably evil antagonists. I shy away from anything with insta-drama or overly emotional responses in the opening pages from characters I haven't gotten to know yet.

In YA, I badly want a Faust retelling, and a retelling of a more obscure fable, fairy tale, or lesser-known cultural myth. Also in YA, a mystery/suspense/thriller based on or inspired by the David Grunwald murder (one that smartly navigates the culture of teen cannabis use and violence). I’d also love to see a suspense or thriller that involves identity policing. In YA SciFi, urban fantasy, or dystopian, a story that calls to mind THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN;

In MG and YA, I’d love to see a non-didactic, fresh perspective from a main character who struggles to fit in to or feels ostracized from his/her marginalized community;

In MG, YA, or Adult: anything by or based on an Alaska Native POV; and a thriller or mystery involving painted rocks.

In Adult: Romance and romantic suspense between multi-dimensional characters. Please no insta-love.

Winners forthcoming!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

May Secret Agent Critique Guidelines

We've got a fun mix of genres this time!

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 Contest #50

TITLE: Wide Open
GENRE: YA Contemporary

It must have been my promise to Daddy that made me agree to this. Mom didn't even have to talk me into it much; I just said yes. Because it's an adventure, like Daddy would've said, and because Fisher said they only had space for thirty. That's only twenty-nine other people.

Still. Am I crazy? A senior class trip with twenty-nine people I have nothing in common with. They have, at best, ignored me completely, and at worst outright made fun of me. I've learned to wrap a protective layer around my heart, so I won't be hurt by them. They don't like me, I don't like them. It's peaceful and mutual. So why am I going again?

I groan and press my face into my pillow. It really must be for Daddy. He would have wanted this. Invitations don't exactly come pouring in for me, so really, I never had much of a choice.

Mom knocks on my bedroom door frame. "You up?"

I sit up too fast. "Yeah."

She enters and perches on the end of my bed. I've always thought Mom is beautiful. Streaks of silver run through her long, honey-gold hair. Her face is heart-shaped and kind, her eyes like two green pools. I remember when they used to sparkle. Now they're deep and veiled. Typical Mom, burying her pain so no one else will have to deal with it.

May Secret Agent Contest #49

TITLE: The Fertile Clay
GENRE: Adult Weird Fantasy

A graveyard. Mausoleum maze embracing the main plaza, a painting in monochrome. Dark anthracite headstones, slate gray tombs, communal bonehouses of sand & plaster. Dashes of green from burgeoning weeds. Three important buildings: workshop & delivery hall at the plaza’s edge, crematory rising in the distance. All this surrounded by the City, cliffs of houses stretching without end: no outside, no exit, no border.


The dead made up his City, and his City had been disturbed. Mokun Ilhadem splashed soil over the plaza as he trudged back and forth. Overnight, something had changed on his graveyard, something he couldn’t pinpoint. Something with consequences.

The feeling had climbed up Mokun’s arteries and right into his brain stem, until his eyes snapped open and he sat in his bunk bed, wide awake. He had dreamt of a flowering darkness, of low spaces he slithered into, a City unmade in his image.

Something had happened, something terrible.

Mokun checked his workshop and toolshed, took a look at the lychgate, and surveyed the grounds. The mausoleum maze and the crematory’s metal tower appeared as they always did, the plaza lay silent, the perimeter wall untouched.

He clenched his fists and looked around. The graveyard trembled under his gaze, turned alien and incomplete. Mokun had taken a nightcap in the evening and slept deeply, but his helpers should have watched. He hadn’t specifically instructed them, but they should have. The old mortar around the plaza moaned, and some of the flagstones crumbled into gossamers of gray dust.

May Secret Agent Contest #48

TITLE: Five Questions
GENRE: YA Contemporary

“Remind me again why I agreed to do this,” I asked Madison. The box landed with a thud that was echoed by my falling onto the bed. It was the first day of summer, and she was moving into her boyfriend Kyle’s apartment.

“Because you love me, Abby.” Madison beamed at me and flopped onto the bed beside me.

Our hair mingled on the navy bedspread beneath us, my honey blond interwoven with her espresso brown hair, as we tried to catch our breaths. We were both more winded than we had any right to be, considering her new apartment was on the first floor, but neither of us called attention to how unfit we were.

“And it had to happen today?” I confirmed. Through the window, sunlight hit my face, turning my vision pink behind my eyelids. My sweat-slicked skin warmed further, and a bead of sweat dropped from the nape of my neck onto the bedspread.

I sat up and leaned forward to start unpacking the box that I had so unceremoniously dropped onto the floor.

“Yes,” Madison said. “We’ve been together three years. Now I’m finally out of high school and don’t want to spend another day living apart from him.”

My eyes rolled almost involuntarily at her sappiness, but I did manage to refrain from making an accompanying gagging noise. I might have tried to convince her to wait to move in with him had I not seen how ridiculously happy Kyle made her.

May Secret Agent Contest #47

TITLE: Untitled
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Theora leaned against the dark cherry wood desk, staring at the dozens of animal parts displayed across the walls of the dim office. Furs, antlers, claws, heads. All with small plaques underneath, noting the name of the Warrior who’d made the kill and the date and occasion received.Recessed lighting gave the place a formal look, like some strange, gruesome museum.

But after two years of war it was a welcome sight. Better a museum than a massacre.

The door opened and the Warriors’ Handler, Boada, leaned in the doorway. “Not your favorite dress, I hope,” she said, not quite raising her eyebrows at Theora's teal satin v-neck.

Theora didn’t even glance down. She rarely second guessed her outfit choices, and today wouldn’t be one of those times. “By your wording, should I assume it’s going to get ruined?”

“Possibly. He’s not exactly thrilled by your plan.”

“He doesn’t have a choice.” Nerves crept in her stomach, but she kept them from reaching her expression. She was, afterall, a proper Aranean. And the president of the entire colony, at that. Anything other than stoicism in front of a colleague, even in a private setting, was considered nothing short of shameful. “Besides, there are worse ways he could spend his week than pretending to be my husband. Easiest mission he’s ever been on.”

Boada cleared her throat, leaving the comment unchallenged, and took an envelope from her pocket. “His travel papers.”

Theora skimmed them over, focusing most on the photo.

May Secret Agent Contest #46

TITLE: Crash and Ride
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I really, really don’t want to steal anything today.

But I have to.

The Shopper Mart is silent as I walk in. I’ve arrived stupidly early this Sunday morning, and the store has only been open for five minutes. There are zero customers. I don’t count as one, obviously.
My anxiety is high, heart hammering against my Grateful Dead T-shirt. I tap a drum beat on my thighs to help me groove with the rapid rhythm in my chest. Boom tappa tap boom.

The pattern soothes me and gives cadence to my footsteps. Packages of Halloween cookies fill a table near the front. A black ghost cut from a garbage bag is strung behind the display. Its open mouth is a silent scream.

The only human I can see is a tired teenager leaning against her register at a checkout lane. I recognize her from the high school.

At first this panics me out of my drum beat. But then I think, this is good. I can chit-chat if I need to divert her attention from what I’ve stashed. I just have to be brave.

My steps are the bass, thump thump thump. My hands are the snare, filling in the spaces. I let the rhythm carry me into the aisles. I am a marcher. I am the drum. My path is set, like a formation on a football field.

I glance up at the two-way mirror that hides the offices. Security cameras perch in the corners.

May Secret Agent Contest #45

TITLE: The Shoemaker's Daughter
GENRE: YA Retelling

Connor stared up at the hawk hanging by a leather strap tangled on a pine branch. She flapped to gain purchase, flashing her mottled brown and white underwings. His heart pumped. The bird would die and quickly. He needed Robert to help solve this. What use was an older brother in another country?

   As he looked into the canopy of needles, branches far out of reach, the branch of a neighboring oak caught his eye. He walked under it. He loved to climb. Jumping not so much. But this was the way if there was one. And it would delay the dance lesson.

    He climbed until the branches sagged with his weight. Leaning back, he swayed the young tree, and on the crest he jumped, pine tanging his nostrils as he scrabbled the wood. With the branch encased between his legs, he shimmied toward the shrieking bird, hands collecting tar. Reaching the strap, he pulled a short knife from his belt. Clenching the blade between his teeth, his check against the rough bark, he hoisted the bird whose flapping unsteadied him. He blindly cut at the leather wrapped around her leg. Her talons caught at his shirt, piercing the flesh. Connor grunted, he’d nicked her. He felt the leather break between his fingers and released her leg. She fell, spinning, then caught the wind and soared away. Getting down wouldn’t be so easy for him. He let his arms dangle, wishing he didn’t have to come down.

May Secret Agent Contest #44

GENRE: YA contemporary mystery

After practice, his whole body ached. The only thing that helped was to walk. Let his mind go blank. Forget about the complicated plays that Coach had made them run today. Forget that the game on Friday might be his chance to catch the attention of a college scout on the lookout for a running back who could also play defensive safety.

He knew that Reid and the rest of the gang expected him to come by the patio behind the gun shop. Reid always expected something of him. Not today. He needed to make moves that would ease him out of the gang and their plans for what they called “pranks.”

At the edge of the park, he hesitated. The path was narrow and rocky. A challenge he relished.
When he stumbled, he caught himself before he hit the ground. His hand felt the hard metal before he saw it. A glint in the gathering gloom. When he picked it up, some of the corroded metal flaked off in his hand. “What’s this?”

“Who’s there?” A gruff voice. Close by. Not friendly.

He raised the pipe ready to use it as a weapon against the shadows that surrounded him.

The punch to his back was sudden and swift.

He doubled over.

“I’ll take that,” the voice said.

He tried and failed to hold his grip as he felt strong hands wrestle the pipe away.

The first blow grazed his shoulder.

He winced.

After the second blow, everything went black.

May Secret Agent Contest #43

TITLE: Mitch in Stitches
GENRE: MG Contemporary, Humor

What did the zero say to the eight? Nice Belt!

That beauty is from Book #14. I have exactly 29 joke books, and no, you can’t borrow one. But if you wanna join me for a laugh, sit with me at lunch. I’m the kid with the cape, in the corner alone, joke book in hand, laughing it up. I’m the one “in stitches”—get it?

I didn’t get it either but it means laughing.

I know I should be running around at recess, getting red faced and sweaty like all the other kids. But honestly? I’d rather walk around in circles, repeating puns out loud in hopes the kids learning Double Dutch are listening. I could try a knock-knock joke on the boys playing kick-the-ball-as-hard-as-you-can-and-try-not-to-get-in-trouble-when-it-hits-somebody-in-the-head. (About 97% of the time it’s my head. Are they aiming?) But what if they don’t laugh?

I steer clear of the kids cramming for this week’s Math Olympics. They’ll only listen if I mention a number or the square root of something, which isn’t very funny. Besides the zero/belt joke, the only other number one I’ve got is “Why is 6 afraid of 7?” (Because 7 8 9…get it? Seven ATE nine. That would be totally scary if it wasn’t hilarious.) Pretty sure they heard that one in preschool though.
None of these other playground kids are Math Olympics bound. Maybe one'll listen? I flip back my manly cape and stand tall. “Knock! Knock!” I say to the bunch of rowdy six graders.

May Secret Agent Contest #42

TITLE: The Sisterhood of Friends and Enemies
GENRE: Adult Historical Fiction

At eight o’clock on Monday morning, Erica Waller took her seat in Room 214 of the Moore School of Engineering, home to 18 of the 63 girl math sharks working for the school’s new occupant, the United States Army Ballistic Research Laboratory, Philadelphia Computing Section. She felt slightly guilty over having worked this past Saturday, the first day of the Jewish New Year, but knew God would forgive her. After all, killing Nazis by equation took precedence over prayer.

She pulled the plastic dust cover from her Marchant mechanical calculator, reviewed her table of data inputs and results, and identified the steps required for finalizing the bomb trajectory she’d been computing since Friday. Within minutes she began punching numbers into the Marchant and pulling the arm, adding to the clickety-clacks and sweeping clanks that filled the room. Noise for some, music for others, the sound soothed Erica and helped her concentrate. And concentrate she did, so much so that she didn’t notice the gradual reduction in clatter, lifting her head only after silence deafened the room and Norma tugged at her sleeve.

“Unbelievable,” Norma said, her voice dripping with disgust. “Miss Turner must be out of her mind.”
Erica looked toward the chalkboard and there stood Assistant Section Chief Turner with a girl Erica had never seen before. A girl dressed in a smart taupe suit and crisp white blouse, her complexion equal parts coffee and cream, a first for the Philadelphia Computing Section.

May Secret Agent Contest #41

GENRE: YA Contemporary

I was going to kill my brother.

Yep. Kill, as in maim brutally until he succumbed to death’s cold, dark embrace. Because a slow death wouldn't do. No, he deserved to suffer. I didn’t know much about Chinese water torture, but I could learn. And the leaky faucet in the bathroom, the one he’d promised to fix months ago, would do the trick.  A couple of hours of that would surely drive him insane. His brain might even start to liquefy. Maybe dribble out of his ears a bit.
I wondered if that would be painful enough. Or painful at all, considering he'd killed most of his brain cells already, taking hit after hit of whatever his crackhead friends put in front of him.

I hoped wherever he was at that moment, whatever he was smoking was laced with some bad shit. I didn't even feel bad thinking it. This always happened. He'd disappear, lifting cash from mom's purse and leaving her sick with worry instead of anger. One day turned into two, three, eight at the most. He’d stumble in eventually, visibly worse for the wear, but with a sheepish "I'm sorry, Mommy. I’m sorry, Darcy. I promise I'll be better from now on" smile plastered on his face. And then he’d do it all over again a couple of months later.

Getting clean was part of Quinn's regimen. Staying clean was a different story.

May Secret Agent Contest #40

TITLE: Damaged Goods
GENRE: YA Science Fiction(light)

Snatchers have come to our Wastelands to reduce our numbers. Again.

One of our soldiers rides up, his face haunted, two fingers raised in the air. I peek from behind a tree. The scratchy wood cuts my chin from pressing too hard, but I let it.

My father sits on top of his horse and looks like he’s about to be sick. The shake of his head is barely detectable. “Two what?” Father asks, his face still twisted. I know he knows already, just like I do. He doesn’t want to believe it.

The soldier’s face darkens. “Children,” he says like the word hurts his tongue.

In the middle of the dry forest, about two hundred of us hide—my father’s army and me. To hide we have to go in deep; the leaves are sparse. The nearest soldiers freeze when they find me behind them, listening. So does my father. Father insists on keeping me with the group, but usually finds a way to keep me away from the ugly happenings.

I hardly have a chance to finish swallowing the lump that forms in my throat before the group bursts into chatter-prattle. My father’s in a frenzy, checking on me every few minutes. Two children snatched away instead of the usual one is the biggest news I’ve heard in my lifetime. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve made it thirteen years. In a couple more, I’ll no longer be a child the enemy wants.

May Secret Agent Contest #39

TITLE: Ananke the Suicide Eater
GENRE: YA Horror

Call Dewey looney, but finding out your long-term babysitter just got drafted into the Vietnam War is an earth-shaker. But the craziest part? Rio’s acting like they didn’t watch the draft lottery on TV an hour ago--like he ain’t going to end up dead in ‘Nam.

“What’s this?”

Dewey freezes midway while taking a bite of his eighth taquito. Rio squints at him from the opposite end of the kitchen table with the letter in hand. Jesus, Dewey forgot about it between brainstorming ideas for poems that don’t involve flowers, talking to Indy on the phone about the importance of who’d win a fight: Dracula, Frankenstein, Godzilla, or King Kong, and there was something else he was busy doing earlier but can’t remember. Why is he like this? Oh, yeah, and not to mention Rio is going to freaking ‘Nam.

          Dewey tries to change the subject. “I needa borrow the truck keys. Don’t we need milk and eggs and-”

           Rio’s frown has him stopping his plan dead in its tracks. “I never said I was gonna let you borrow my truck. Walk to the store. I don’t wanna get another call from the cops about you doing that stupid--whatever it’s called--where you stop at a light and switch seats.”

“Chinese fire drill.”

“Why is it called ‘Chinese fire drill?’ What does Chinese have to do with it?”

Dewey shrugs. “So I can go?”

“What? Are we having the same conversation?”

Dewey wolfs down the rest of his taquito.

May Secret Agent Contest #38

TITLE: Me and My Drum
GENRE: MG Contemporary

I didn’t learn a thing in science class. The bar-b-que ribs Mommy promised for dinner took over my brain. I hope she’s not too tired after work to cook. She was running around this morning like a scared puppy. I’m not surprised she overslept though. I went to the bathroom late last night and her light was on. That was the second night in a row. I’ll have to ask her about it while we’re in ribs heaven.

For now, I’m stuck on rib-less earth, waiting for Shelly. I bet she’s at her locker blabbing with somebody. I threaten to leave her everyday, but she knows I won’t.

The school buses drive off and most of walkers are halfway down the hill. Shelly finally comes outside with her bright smile and long braids swinging.

“Ready, Mika!” she says, pulling her bookbag tight against her back.

“You bet.” I shift my bag on my shoulders. “Ready…set…go!”

We race down the hill that leads away from the school. My stick legs can’t keep up, but my laughing isn’t helping either. Racing to the old brick house is the best part of my week—even if I lose.

“Smoked you again, girlfriend,” Shelly teases.

“That soda bottle tripped me up!” I say, breathing like I ran a mile instead of a block.

Shelly twists her mouth to the side. “Please, girlfriend, every Friday you got some excuse. I’m faster, that’s all. Don’t let these thick legs fool ya.”

May Secret Agent Contest #37

TITLE: Welcome to Duckworld
GENRE: MG Fantasy

“Mokie! What’s hiding in your mouth?”

Uh, oh. I’d been spotted. It’s hard to sneak past open doors when my nails click on the floor.

“Something’s hanging from your lip. Something shiny.” Emma paused. “Wait a minute. Is that my dance costume in your mouth? MY DANCE COSTUME?! GIVE IT HERE!” she shrieked as I ran past her.

I didn’t have Emma’s sparkly recital outfit in my mouth. It was something far more important. It was her future. And not just her future. It was the whole family’s future. Even mine.  Everything depended on what happened to the sticky wad I had in my mouth.

            I hit the back door before anyone could grab me, leaped into the back yard, and slipped through a strategically dug hole under the skirting around the deck.

“Mooooooookieeeeee! Come here, boy!”

My plan was working! When they don’t see me, they’ll think I jumped over the fence. They’ll never look for me under the deck.

Mrs. C's nervous flip-flops fluttered across the top of the deck. “Moooookie!”

Yeah. You heard right. Mokie, even when it's drawn out as long as a six foot leash, still rhymes with “Smokey.” Mokie is short for “Mokus” which is Hungarian for squirrel. I'm named for an animal that’s so stupid it'll run back in front of a car after it’s made it safely across the road.  No dog should have a name that makes “Bozo” sound smart.

May Secret Agent Contest #36

TITLE: Smarts: Escape from Wonder
GENRE: YA Romance

I sit in the corner of the stuffy, stadium-styled classroom here at Princeton, scribbling a picture of a birthday cake on my notebook. When I’m done with my little drawing, I make a wish and use the eraser to blow out eighteen slightly lopsided candles on top of the cake.

I wish my hair was blonde.

Brushing red eraser crumbs off my paper, I roll my eyes. I really can’t think up a better wish than that? And wishing for a completely different life is against the rules, isn’t it?

A frown creeps onto my face before I catch it. But come on, what girl wouldn’t feel a little sorry for herself if her parents stopped celebrating her birthday when she turned eight? If that wasn’t bad enough, they also made me change my name and my hair color.

Yep, my hair color.

“Okay,” Professor Bell says as a smile steals over his chubby cheeks. I love that teaching Smarts 101 is the highlight of his life. Inside, my frown turns into a small smile, but I make sure it doesn’t really show on my face. “You all know how I love brain teasers. I have two quick ones for you.” I gradually perk up in my seat. “Teaser number one: How many students do we have in this class? Don’t answer out loud, just glance around the room quickly and make an educated guess.”

May Secret Agent Contest #35

TITLE: Memory Keeper
GENRE: YA Contemporary Fantasy

She’s going to die today. Maybe.

Her best chance of survival hinges on what I do next. The glass arrow in my hand quivers like a beast ready to charge. I want to hold it back, lock it in a cage, but the thing is, my orders aren’t up for debate.

With an indignant sniff, I squeeze my weapon. I love magic, but I hate mine. Memories are such an intimate part of a person. Erasing them, or even changing them seems like an invasion of privacy. And it ruins lives. Might as well be dead with your memories gone.

My skin pricks. My heart thuds. Don’t do it. Orders are orders.

The girl I’m to rehabilitate is ready for the alchemist to administer the anesthesia. Under his careful guidance, I’ll work my magic. Standing on the other side of the girl is her memory therapist, here mostly for emotional support. She’s the only one in the room not wearing a uniform. I think it helps the patient feel more at ease.

I drag my gaze to a bright light above where my target sits. It’s so bright it’s like staring into headlights. I can’t see the girl whose memories I’ve been ordered to erase. I’m glad I can’t see her face. It’s better this way.

A ripple of fumes like mirages on a hot desert road seeps out of the light. Hisses of black fire sizzle from the wrinkle that looks like it’s melting. The fluorescent tube explodes.

May Secret Agent Contest #34

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Something wasn’t right with the sea.

Red-eyed coddlefish hung from Evren’s long silver wire, their bellies abnormally bloated. The fish washed ashore at the edge of Ionoke Island’s best fishing nook that morning had been limp, pallid. Evren swallowed, ignoring the eerie tingling on the back of her neck.

She took in the glittering water surrounding the island. The breeze flurried off the sea like invisible threads, tickling her face. White foam lapped at her boots and Evren leaned down to dip her fingers into the sea. Warm? Warmer than usual. Wrinkling her nose, she inhaled the tangy salty air. Everything looked fine from the outside.

The fish, however, told a different story: their home was in trouble.

She shivered fiercely and gripped the wire so tight it pierced the middle of her palm. Blood trickled down her wrist. Wiping the drops on her threadbare tunic, her stomach grumbled. It had been a day or two since her last meal.

Her neck prickled. Whirling on her heel, Evren peered sharply to see if there was an invisible pirate there. The murderous scoundrels—the Naja—were looking for her. They wanted her eyes. Told her they were special. But she wasn’t going to meditate on that too long.


All I need is enough money to fly across the seas and leave this wretched place and the Naja behind.
Evren gritted her teeth and gazed across the bustling main drag of Ionoke. She shot a glance up to the beaming orange sun. It was sun goddess, Amataru's festival.

May Secret Agent Contest #33

TITLE: A High-Strung Italian Beauty
GENRE: YA Contemporary (Coming of age)

Maybe I should feel good that a new rider searched me out. Asked for advice. A lot of the junior-men cyclists crowded near the starting line are eighteen. Me, I’m only seventeen.

           But why should I help him? Hey, I don’t want to be a jag-off but I’ve never seen this guy before. Why should I tell him what I’ve learned from miles of sweat and blood and road rash?

            I’m not in this to be nice. I’m in this to win.

            He stares at me, waiting, like I owe him something. We straddle road bikes, minutes before the first pre-season race at the Oval. We’re not alone. Bunched around me is my team, the Burgh Boys, along with forty-two other riders from all over Pittsburgh.

            My buddy AJ says, “Go on, Sam. Give him something.”

            What the hell. I remember my first time. The nerves, the rush. Changed my life.

            “The beginning of a race, it’s an avalanche of sensory overload,” I say. “Don’t let the distractions wreck your focus.”

            The guy stares at me with his mouth open, like, huh? His face and thick neck flush red. He pushes off and disappears into the throng, muttering “asshole” under his breath.

            AJ stifles a laugh. “Really? You could’ve just told him what gear to use.”

            “He’s lucky I didn’t answer in French.”


            “Non. Un amateur.” Our high school requires a language. AJ and I’ll need French when we get to the Tour de France.

May Secret Agent Contest #32

GENRE: MG Paranormal

Derek figured there might be far worse things in life than being raised in a funeral home. For example… um…

Okay, here’s one. You could have your brains eaten alive and slurped down by cranky, overworked zombies who haven’t had their morning coffee.

Or how about this? You could be stuffed into a spin dryer at Leo’s Laundromat & Hideous Stain Removal Service and set to Extra Dry/Huge Load.

But Derek Hyde wasn’t eaten and he wasn’t spin dried, either. Just driven to the narcoleptic town of Littleburp in the family car (actually, an old yellow school bus), and then to a really undesirable address: 1313 Slimeytoes Lane.

As the bus splashed its way through a thunderstorm on the worst day of Derek’s life (so far), his mom and dad worked at keeping his spirits up by singing their favorite, most embarrassing song: Poopy Head, Poopy Head, Don’t You Be a Poopy Head.

It didn’t help.

It was bad enough his parents dragged Derek out of his seventh grade class and away from all his friends to limp across the country in a broken-down bus on this Journey to Nowhere. Much worse was the notion of moving him into a spooky old manor house they planned to convert into a funeral home.

Because his parents were funeral directors. Morticians. Undertakers.

On this blustery autumn day, Derek watched through rain-streaked windows as they screeched to a halt in front of the scariest mansion he’d ever seen.

It had towers. With turrets.

May Secret Agent Contest #31

TITLE: Complex Solutions
GENRE: YA Contemporary

     Air whirs around me as I race out of the bathroom and shoulder my way through the crowd disbursing into classrooms. I keep my hand pressed to my sleeve and run down the hall. The bell sounds and panic clamps down on my chest. I can’t be late again.

    I stumble over my feet and catch myself before I somersault to the floor.

     “Walk much?” mumbles someone.


     Jess Martin’s flinty voice prickles my skin and sets my teeth on edge.

     Heat creeps up my face as I stand and jog the last few steps to my locker, my long hair concealing my embarrassment. I don’t have time for her taunts. I need to get to class. I can’t be late again.

     “Of course with those giant boat feet of yours, I’m not surprised you trip all over.”

     Go away. Find someone else to harass.

     She stalks off, laughing, mumbling the word ‘amazon’ under her breath. I slam my locker door, my hands in fists. Just once, could she leave me alone? What did I ever do to her, except set foot in this school?

     I push my hair over my shoulder, grip the strap on my bag and jog down the now-empty hallway to the last door on the right. Sweat trickles down my temples. I wasn’t going to be late today. So much for that.  

     I open the door to room 104 and shuffle into homeroom. Eighteen pairs of eyes turn toward me as I take my seat.

May Secret Agent Contest #30

TITLE: The Magical Lemon Tree Recipe Book
GENRE: MG Urban Fantasy

I always cry at the end of Junior Top Chef. I hate seeing someone lose, though I’ve only lost one baking contest since I first started competing—thanks to some hotshot six-year-old whose meringue impressed the judges so much, they barely spared two seconds on my chocolate pudding pie. I was five with a stolen recipe from Betty Crocker. If I only knew then what I know now.

The next day, I buried that second place trophy in my underwear drawer, asked Santa for a cookbook, and my baking changed forever. Cookbooks are magic.

If I can repeat last year and beat these four kids, I’m golden.

My sister, Cyan, tugs the edge of my black apron and points at the red tape on the floor that tells all contestants where to stand.

“Right. Thanks for being my wing girl, Cy.” I wipe the last fork on my yellow- and white-striped towel, set it tongs down on the plate next to the other two, and step back.

Teetering on my Doc Martens, I scan the crowd. My sister doesn’t say a word. If she did, that’d take the cake.

“Mom and Dad’ll need to sprout wings and fly if they’re gonna make it on time this year.” They hadn’t even been home after school. Just a note saying they had an appointment and to look after my sister.

As I grip my stained recipe journal, Cy squeezes my arm and a stout judge whisks away my slices of pie.

May Secret Agent Contest #29

GENRE: Adult Science Fiction

In two hundred thirteen years, Essence had never killed a human. Only six weeks ago, the thought of ending such a delicate life brought on a crippling nausea. The back of her jaw clenched, acid dripped down her throat. But now, shivering against the metal plank, weaponized vapors burning her lungs, she knew one thing: death came for all.

A heavy door scratched at its hinges and rattled open. Essence startled. Down the concrete corridor outside her cell, soldiers dragged a woman along. The scrappy push and pull of resistance clanged in a lopsided rhythm. Someone limped. Maybe it was the captive, maybe it was one of the soldiers.
The unit stopped at an empty cell two down from hers. Aluminum batons shoved the woman in. She sobbed. Essence searched the vocals, isolating the rich timbre of the young voice. No. The new captive wasn't the one she searched for, the one that led her to this place, the one that got her caught. But the woman didn’t have to worry. In a few minutes, Essence would set her free. She’d set them all free.

Rubber soles turned on the linoleum floor. The soldiers headed out the same way they came in. But one of them didn’t follow his comrades. Blasius Sebastea III paused in front of Essence’s two-way mirror. She almost smiled. They thought they were safe on that side of the mirror, hidden under the darkness of the barren hall. They didn’t know she could see them all.

May Secret Agent Contest #28

TITLE: More Than Meets the Eye
GENRE: YA cont

The state of Texas saw fit to give me a driver’s license yesterday and Mom congratulated me with a new car—her old red Ford Festiva, aka The Clown Car. Despite the suck factor of the rundown hatchback, I’m psyched. Now I can drive myself to shows and concerts.

In fact, there’s a pop punk band in Austin I’d love to see tonight, if I hadn’t already made plans with Meagan, my country music-loving best friend. But, hopefully we’ll have fun wherever we go. Until then, I have one class left.

I walk into World History, and there’s a sub. He’s writing on the board: Man-Made Disasters - Floods. Fires. Explosions.

Uh oh. With tomorrow being the fourth anniversary of Dad’s death, hearing about disasters is a bad idea. I take my seat and reach inside my backpack, fingers groping for my earbuds. They should be right here in the front pocket.

“Oh no,” I grumble. “I left ’em in the car.”

I’ll just have to tune the sub out. Mind over matter, Dad always said. I can do this.

But after a short lecture, the sub shows a video of disaster scenes. My blood runs cold as our local power plant is featured. “Evansburg, Texas,” the narrator says. “Five dead.”

Above the cluster of buildings, dirty brown smoke rises from a flickering light that pulses to the hum of unleashed energy from a blown transformer. I’m frozen, seeing this for the first time, yet with such a sense of déjà vu.

May Secret Agent Contest #27

TITLE: Bree Incarnate
GENRE: MG Mystery

Bree Patterson did not believe in ghosts. Nor did she believe in alien beings, curses, magic, or mind reading. Bree Patterson believed in none of these things because Bree Patterson believed in scienceAnd because she believed in science, Bree Patterson had a very big problem, and her problem was this: if ghosts and aliens and magic truly did not exist, then there was no explanation for the mysterious event that had occurred that afternoon in Science Club. No explanation at all.

The only thing that made even the teeniest bit of sense was that she had imagined the whole thing. Or quite possibly, she was losing her mind.

Bree pondered all the possibilities as she pedaled her bike up Wixom Hill. Standing tall on the pedals, she pumped rhythmically. Up. Down. Up. Down. Think. Hard. What. Happened?

She told herself there was a rational and logical explanation for what took place during her lab experiment. There had to be. But the more Bree searched the extensive encyclopedia of knowledge in her mind, the more confused she became.

It didn’t help that the incident kept replaying in her mind in all it’s colorful glory:  there was the experiment, the Bunsen burner, the flame, and the thing she had seen within the flame: The vision.  

At least she thought it was a vision. What did you call a face that suddenly appeared inside a flame and started screaming? Bree didn’t know. She didn’t want to know. She just wanted to forget the whole thing even happened.

May Secret Agent Contest #26

TITLE: Facets
GENRE: YA Speculative

In my business, secrets are as valuable as objects—if not more.

Tonight, I planned to steal both.

Through the windshield, I studied the skyscraper down the block that promised what I’d been seeking for years. Justice, revenge, my mom’s freedom. Or some complicated combination of all three. The time had finally come. And I didn’t intend to do things halfway.

I closed my mind to dreams of what came after. It was dangerous enough pulling a job clouded by emotion. I could allow no distractions. But that didn’t stop the energy from crackling up my arms and through my core or the pound pound pound of blood in my ears that pulsed with an electric thrill.
I crawled from the passenger seat into the back of the van. Emptied of seats, it contained a mobile computer array and our gear. Nelson Ramon sat in front of a screen, prepared to work his tech magic. His fingers were a blur over his holo-keyboard.

Carina Ford climbed after me from the driver’s seat. “I don’t like Nelson as the getaway driver. He doesn’t even have a license.”

“Better than you turning the streets of San Fran into your personal F1 track,” Nelson said without slowing his typing.

“It’s decided,” I said. “Besides, if Nelson gets stopped, underage driving is the least serious offense we’re committing tonight.”

Nelson scoffed. “I can control traffic lights and cams from here, not to mention track every cop car in a ten-mile radius. They’d never catch me.”

May Secret Agent Contest #25

TITLE: The Lies That Become Us
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Money may not buy happiness, but it sure can buy some freaking beautiful, howl-at-the-moon-worthy, designer shoes.

I stand transfixed in front of the Nordstrom display at the most hallowed place in the world: the magical, magnificent Mall of America. The Jimmy Choos are a flawless blend of classic style and modern design, four-and-a-half inch elegant heels with a wrap-around strap. They coordinate perfectly with the black, form-fitting dress in the bag at my side purchased for the most important day of my life.

These shoes deserve to be worshipped on the altar of homecoming court. These shoes could bring world peace. These shoes could—

“Piper, what are you doing?” my best friend Adeline asks.

I have to choke down the emotion before squeaking out, “They’re perfect.”

Adeline’s eyes follow my focus to the shoes. She shakes her head so adamantly her blonde ponytail whips her in the face. “They’re Twelve. Hundred. Dollars.”

I roll my eyes. “That’s an exaggeration. They’re only $1199.”

Adeline stands with a hand on her hip. “Your dad warned you about spending money.”

I hitch my bags over the shoulder of my Michael Kors white leather jacket, which is a perfect contrast to my wavy, brown hair. “Come on, Ads. What Roy doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

“Calling your dad ‘Roy’ doesn’t change the fact he’s your dad. It just makes you sound weird.”

I sigh. “He’s on the campaign trail. Again. He knows I’m going to spend money.”

May Secret Agent Contest #24

TITLE: The Bug Collector's Bucket List
GENRE: YA Contemporary

What the hell?

   The question hasn’t stopped rattling through my brain ever since Mom and I snuck into the chapel and slid into the very last pew. There's a lot more important things to be worried about at the moment, but all I can think is What. The. Hell?

    I mean, where does someone even get a bright green casket like that?

    Grandpa was a weird duck—everyone knows that—but I definitely never saw this coming.

    Mom shifts uncomfortably in her seat, pushing a strand of hair behind one ear for the hundredth time. It’s a nervous tic of hers. But I get it. Being here is beyond awkward for both of us.

    Two rows ahead, an old lady with painted-on eyebrows turns to squint at us. She’s probably trying to figure out why we’re sitting in the back of the chapel instead of up front with the rest of the family. Maybe she doesn’t know the story. Or maybe she does and thinks my grandpa’s death is reason enough to move past it. Fact is, the rift in my family has held strong for nearly two decades now—since before my birth. And things won’t be changing anytime soon. I give her a whatcha-gonna-do-old-lady? look, and she turns back around.  

    Another hymn begins, and along with it, a chorus of off-key voices. Neither mom nor I join in. Instead, I stare at my shoes. Maybe gray converse and black jeans were the wrong choice for today.

May Secret Agent Contest #23

GENRE: MG Middle Grade Mystery

    Grandpa Jim had to be pulling my leg. The house in front of us looked like a zombie’s hideout, nothing like the other fancy mansions we had seen as we drove through Beaufort. Maybe we had ended up at the wrong place. Who would actually want to stay here?

    Not me.

    “This can’t be the place, Grandpa.” I squinted at a round object in the third-story window, trying to decide if it was a lampshade or a zombie head. “It looks more like a haunted castle than a hotel.”

    But Grandpa Jim was too busy maneuvering Blue Bessie into the weeds at the side of the gravel driveway to respond. Gnarled branches from the huge oaks scraped and screeched along the top of his motor home. I studied the dried, rusty stains running down the mansion’s exterior. If I squinted just right it looked like dripping blood. I shivered and glanced at my cousin Jake.

    “Welcome to Hotel Transylvania, Maggie.” Jake smirked and pointed his GoPro at the run-down mansion.

    Minutes earlier, as we’d driven down the plantation’s long winding road, excitement had swelled inside me like a balloon. I’d leaned forward in my seat, straining to get a glimpse of Darlington Plantation Manor, which Aunt Roza had described as “the most magnificent place she had ever seen.” But when the trees finally thinned, and the house came into view, the happy balloon inside me popped.

    The old mansion was the color of my mud-stained soccer cleats.

May Secret Agent Contest #22

GENRE: MG Speculative

Stories swirled around our town about the unusual woods that edged my neighborhood, but most people dismissed them. Not me. 

I’d heard there was truth in those stories from the mysterious Ms. Jemima Blaze, who lived in the ramshackle place dead center of the woods. Her ancestors had lived there for years, so I figured she should know. She also told me it would never show you anything, if you looked too hard. But I did anyway, couldn’t help it.

“Let’s go,” I said.

“Geez, calm down. I’m coming,” said Oliver.

I stood at the end of his driveway, which was three down from mine. His mom leaned out their front door and grabbed the mail from their mailbox.

She called, “Hi Rinn. Not too long today, you two. Oliver told me he has a lot of homework.”

“Ok, Mrs. Jacobsen.”

My name is actually Corinne, but everyone calls me Rinn, even my parents. In fact, pretty sure they started it.

Once Ms. Blaze confirmed our suspicions, Oliver and me hunted for magic on a regular basis. We searched along the beaten path through the woods. Different days of the week, because there were other things to do too, but at least a couple, except the time he had the flu and the time I fractured my arm. It wasn’t a whole break, but my mom made me stay inside for a week to help it heal. She’s kind of a worrywart.

May Secret Agent Contest #21

TITLE: Art Girl
GENRE: YA Contemporary

The bristles of the brush eased over the canvas and the light coat of black and white made it glow. I was retouching an old painting of a starry sky in an attempt to spark back my lost art mojo. The day I created this, the topic was ‘Freedom’ and I had thought of all the unlimited possibilities in the sky. Cheesy, but at the time, the idea possessed me.

Now, I laughed at the irony. I didn’t feel any sense of freedom anymore. The concept of stars reminded me that we only saw the past in the sky. Not the present or the future.

Mr. Akhiro placed his hand on my shoulder. “Your work is fantastic, Lillie.”

Tension slipped away from my shoulders. As I inhaled the familiar, bitter scent of oil paints in the art room, I ignored the compression in my chest. Lunch time was almost over so I had to leave.

The upcoming submission to an art gallery was due in one month, where an outside judge would pick the best artist. While the cash prize attracted every art student in Lincoln High, Mr. Akhiro narrowed down the list to ten, with my name being first on the list. He needed my best paintings because he knew it was my golden ticket to university—an opportunity at a dream that would otherwise be out of reach for me because of my family’s financial status.

If only I could paint.

"They will love your work," he assured.

May Secret Agent Contest #20

TITLE: Wish I Was Here
GENRE: YA Romance

Thirteen minutes after school ended I pulled up across the street from Isaac’s house and checked my image in the visor mirror. Did I look as frazzled as I felt? His words from chem class still echoed in my head.

“I screwed up, Ana.”

I snort laughed. “How? Wouldn’t that be like Michelangelo messing up painting his house?”

“Not the lab. My experiments at home.” He lowered his voice. “I’m in trouble.”

I stared at him for a moment, not sure if he was joking. “What do you mean you’re in—”

“Not now.” He slung his backpack over his shoulder. “I’m leaving early. Can you come over after school?”

I nodded. Since when did he have to ask?

“I need to get ready. Come as soon as you can, okay?”

“Get ready?”

But the bell rang, and he was out the door before I was off my chair.

I pushed the visor back in place after smoothing my wavy auburn hair, only to have it pop back up. Humidity in May in Ohio. But when did my appearance matter with Isaac anyway? We’d been best friends since we met four years ago, freshman year.

I used the spare key he’d given me so he wouldn’t have to stop working to let me in. I took a deep breath and shoved the door open.

“Is that you, Ana?” Isaac called up from his lab.


“Did you lock the—?”

“I’m locking it now.”


I headed to the basement.

May Secret Agent Contest #19

TITLE: What Goes Up
GENRE: YA Contemporary


She pointed her skis down the mountain, crouched low, and kept her eyes on the jump. When she reached the bottom of the slope, she stood back up, raised her arms, and rode the kicker up to shoot into the sky, twisting her body through the air. On her second flip, she kept her eyes below her, aiming her skis toward the snow, ready to –


She looked up, a little dazed, but suddenly aware that she was not actually on the mountain.

“The year of the French Revolution, Whitney?”

She glanced at the notes on the desk in front of her. The half-filled page wasn’t going to help her here. She didn’t have time to look at her best friend for help, and even if she did, Gracie would never speak in class out of turn, so she answered the first thing she could think of.

“7-8-9! I mean, 1789.”

Ms. Gentig nodded and directed her attention back toward the rest of the class, but not before Whitney saw the amused glint in her eyes. She sank back in her chair. She’d been caught day-dreaming yet again.

When the bell rang ten minutes later, Whitney stuffed her notebook into her backpack and looked up into Gracie’s wide smile. “So what were you practicing this time? Your full-double full?”

“No. Ms. Gentig interrupted me before I finished.”

Gracie laughed at her friend as they walked out the room and down the hall toward the cafeteria.

May Secret Agent Contest #18

TITLE: The Burnt State
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

The Brothers weaved their way through the crowds pressing in on them, flowing through even the tightest of the festive shopping throngs.

           An observer would have sworn there was no way anyone could pass between the plump old lady, clutching her swollen bags, and the svelte, tall woman in the fur coat packed tightly against her, only to see first Mr Ralby and then Mr Digby emerge from between them.

            The Brothers wore long black overcoats, a staple in the chilly weather. Their staffs were cradled in the crook of their arms—Mr Ralby right and Mr Digby left-handed. Mr Ralby had a long aquiline nose, a full face, was fond of the good things in life as was evident in the modest straining of the overcoat in the middle, and even though one couldn't see it under the black bowler hat he was wearing, had straight black hair with just a few streaks of white. Mr Digby had long, wavy black hair flowing out at the back of his neck from under an identical bowler hat, a pale complexion on a tight, hard face—Mr Ralby appeared tanned in comparison—and he exuded perfection, the exact fit of his coat and the shine of his shoes scorning any who dared suggest otherwise, undoubtedly the elder and wiser of the two brothers.

            The Brothers left the crowds behind, plunging into the maze of streets in the suburban neighborhood with brisk determination. Half an hour of walking brought them to the doorsteps of 29 Levington.

May Secret Agent Contest #17

TITLE: Heritage
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Runes class was so boring it felt painful to stay awake.  A sting on Jaden’s arm jolted him from his drowsy state. He winced as he reached over to discover a pharmakon dart dangling from his tunic sleeve. At least its clouded glass vial contained a note and not poison, like it was designed to. What kind of warped, wool-brained maniac would pass a note by pharmakon? He peeked behind him. Terach Bukari.—of course. Terach flashed his crooked smile and flexed his over-muscled arm. His sleeve slipped, revealing the glint of metallic gears and leather strap of the pharmakon’s discharger on his wrist.

 He motioned for Jaden to open the note. Jaden glanced at their Rune’s Scholar to be sure the coast was clear. Sir Aurelius had started a new row of vocabulary on the board, oblivious to anything his students were doing.

 Jaden unrolled the parchment, revealing a crude sketch of his torso lying on the ground with Terach standing above him. His sword dripped with an unnecessary amount of blood that pooled around Jaden’s mangled body.

A nervous chill crept up Jaden’s spine. He and Terach were slated to spar in tomorrow’s battle class. He’d considered just writing out a will and being done with it, but decided to be more proactive instead. For the last week, he and his best friend Antony drilled for countless hours in the hope of giving Jaden hope. The latest battle class rankings looked a lot like Terach’s sketch.

May Secret Agent Contest #16

TITLE: Forest of the Sea
GENRE: MG Fantasy

Yesterday was the last time I’d see Grandma. The mermaid story Grandma told last night was the last one I’d ever hear.

“Mom, I’m going to draw,” I said before turning the knob on the door.

Two steps and I’d be out of the house. Away from the gloom and tears. No more murmurs of the fire or how horrible it was that Grandma was no longer with us. Ten minutes to the beach where I’d spend the summer drawing, sketching, perfecting my charcoal skills.

“No. We have guests. You’ll stay until everyone is gone.”

I shook my head. “Please. I don’t want to stay. You and Dad know these people. I don’t. Please let me go.”

While I waited for Mom’s answer I shifted the backpack hanging on my back. The straps pressed into my shoulders since it was stuffed full of art supplies. Spending the rest of the day at the two-thousand year-old forest buried by the sands of the sea sounded a lot better than constantly thinking about Grandma.  No one liked to do it, especially me. Besides, I was pretty sure she’d rather I picnic on the rock near the beach and make up stories about what happened to the forest than bury my head in my hands and cry all day.

One of my favorites was the story about how the tree trunks reached far beneath the land into the sea. They were a passageway to the world of mermaids Grandma liked to talk about.

May Secret Agent Contest #15

TITLE: Twenty-Two Saints
GENRE: Adult Fantasy Romance

Not again Sammi. Pinpricks ran down my arms bringing pain, then numbness. I opened my mouth to release a scream, my jaw locked. The sound embedded in my throat, refusing to enter the air. I yanked my arm, and the pain intensified.

Tingles exploded from my heart, leaving a heavy weight in its wake. I tried to open my eyes to see what was pushing on my chest. My eyelids remained shut; I saw only blackness. Nothing was working; my body didn’t obey my commands to move.

The pressure on my chest dissipated, taking the numbness with it. I opened my mouth and moved my jaw back and forth. The scream that was hanging in my throat, gone. My eyes sprang open. Relief filled me; I could move again.

Looking at my hand, a new sensation ran inside my stomach. Sickness. My hand glistened in a light shimmer. Morning dew coated my bare skin, and I had a lot of skin showing. I was wearing an old t-shirt and baggy underwear.

Standing to stretch out my sore muscles, I looked around. Where am I?

Hunter green walls wrapped around a kitchen and dining room combo. Dusty paintings of roosters hung on the walls. The face on the grandfather clocks showed it was 2 am. Two dirty plates sat forgotten on a cherry wood table nestled in the corner.

A cobalt blue door was a few feet away. It clashed with the wall color, but was an exit.


May Secret Agent Contest #14

GENRE: MG Contemporary

It’s three hours before the biggest audition of my life and Mom is slumped at the kitchen table, texting like her fingers are on fire.

Mom never, ever texts.

“You let me sleep in.” My eyes travel to the empty stovetop. I’m fine with cereal, but Mom usually insists on making a big breakfast, since she’s convinced that’s the key to a top-notch performance.
“Hi, Sweet Pea.” Mom drops her phone. Her mascara is smeared, and instead of her usual fashionable dress and bracelets, she’s wearing a t-shirt and jeans. “Thought you could use the rest. Want me to make toast? We’re out of eggs.”

“I can do it.” I shoot her a sideways glance. “Everything okay?”

“Absolutely. That was Dad. He’s meeting with students, but he’ll be at the audition.” She stands up and plants a kiss on my cheek. “He’s looking forward to hearing his favorite pianist knock the socks off the judges.”

My stomach turns into a soft pretzel. I love piano, but I’m not thrilled with the Mozart piece for the Young Artists camp try-out. Who wants to follow the notes and dynamic markings some dead guy wrote a zillion years ago? Jazz is way cooler. It feels like I’m flying when I make up my own rhythms and riffs, but I’m only allowed to do that on Wednesday nights from 3:45-5:15 when I accompany the Palms Middle School jazz band. The rest of the time, I’m stuck with Brahms, Bach, and boring Beethoven.

May Secret Agent Contest #13

TITLE: Mystery of the Dark
GENRE: Adult Paranormal

“Hello, my name is Kate and I’m an addict.”

Kate leaned back in the booth at the diner where she was waiting for Colin, moving blonde hair out of her hazel eyes and cursing whoever thought bangs were a good idea. Tapping aimlessly on the laptop’s keyboard in an attempt to work, but she wasn’t paying attention to what was on her screen. Instead, she was people watching, keeping her eyes on the door and she had counted at least one vampire enter. Anyone could tell a vampire on sight, due to the extremely pale, nearly white skin, meaning the vampire hadn’t fed in a while, and a faint hint of copper. Normal humans couldn’t smell it, but the ones who were half human and half supernatural could. She was half vampire, a dhampir, which gave her better senses, as well as being faster and stronger than a normal human.

The world changed dramatically since Y2K. The vampires came out of the shadows and, in less than a decade, humans fully accepted them as if vampires had been there since the beginning of time. It was easy when they came with immortality and cleaning up the scum of society. In response, the Agency came out of the shadows as well. The Agency wanted a check and balance with the vampires, werewolves, Fae, and magic users of the world so they would not have carte blanche to do what they wanted.

May Secret Agent Contest #12

TITLE: The Curse of the Moon Spirit
GENRE: YA Fantasy Romance

 I knew it meant trouble when we were summoned inside before the sweltering August sun set. Father didn't like work to go unfinished around the farm, especially right before harvest. Dusty from replanting red beans, my sister and I took turns patting each other down outside our ramshackle little house. The large shutters attached to the yellowing walls of the house to keep the snow and rain out, splintered down the middle, could barely do its job. I couldn’t count how many times I had small flecks of wood in my fingers after shutting them with a bang. Being patient with us, Mother would take out each splinter with a smile.

 Even though the house looked like it would fall apart at any second, Mother still worked hard to keep the house clean.

 My older brother, Yasahiro strode past us, already having gotten most of the dirt from his clothes. I gave my little sister a final pat and waved away the dust cloud that filled my lungs, making me long for water.

“You’re good-go on.” I said

Yuki’s tired face stretched into a smile, “Thanks, we better hurry.”

“You go in, I’ll just be a minute.”


 She hurried inside leaving me to stare at the shabby straw woven mat we used as a door. It seemed I’m always being rushed along somehow, be it in the fields, or even rushing to get to bed to wake up and repeat the process all over again.

May Secret Agent Contest #11

TITLE: A Matter of Time
GENRE: YA Contemporary/Historical Fiction

“Greetings and salutations, my dear seniors,” Mr. Carter began. A few students shifted nervously in their seats at the gleam in his eyes. He rubbed his hands together like a starving man at a feast. “Have I got something special for you.” Dramatic pause. “A project.” I heard a long, low groan coming from the general direction of Greer, my self-proclaimed best friend, a few seats behind me.

“But not,” he continued, “just any old project. This one is a stroke of sheer genius. It will definitely cement a Teacher of the Year win for yours truly yet again. The learning opportunity I’m about to bestow upon you is unparalleled.” The groan grew louder.

“Out with it Mr. Carter. You’re killing us with suspense,” a football player whose name I hadn’t bothered to learn spoke up from the back of the room. “Will it at least include the opportunity to booze it up in Jenks’ basement, like last year?” A couple of his friends snickered in response. I rolled my eyes.

“I have no control over what you people do in your free time, but as always, I will wholeheartedly encourage you to fully live your project. The doors of history remain firmly closed to those who choose not to open them.”

I wasn’t sure if that comment was too vague to be deep or so deep it became vague. A few more snickers filtered over from the corner of the room. Someone began tapping a pen against their desk.

May Secret Agent Contest #10

GENRE: MG Contemporary

Average-size kids live in one world and short kids live in another. Want to be teased? Be a short kid. Want to be the last one picked for a football game? Be a short kid. Want to be mistaken for someone two or three years younger? Be a short kid. Want the biggest jerk in school to pick on you all the time? Be me. Jared Everett Hoover.

The good thing is Cassie’s never cared about any of that. My best friend since we were five, Cassie’s honest and fearless. We’re made from the same raw material, except for the sugar and spice and all that.

Cassie and I stand by a picnic table at the park waiting for our friend, Jimmy. It’s the last day of summer and we planned frisbee and lemonade before my mom picks us up.  Cassie tugs a strand of blond hair between her fingers and twirls it.

“You know, I jumped off the top of the bleachers today outside the gymnastics school,” she says.
“Nuh uh. No way.”

She flashes a full-faced grin. Her blue eyes and blond hair seem to sparkle in the sunshine. “Yep. And no broken bones. Not even a bruise.”

I whistle. “They turn the grass into cotton candy or something?”

“No, I’m just all that. And I never brag about it,” she replies.

“Uh, right. I forgot that modesty is your middle name. That and you never exaggerate.”

“Very funny.” She folds her arms and smirks.

May Secret Agent Contest #9

TITLE: The Mostly Invisible Boy
GENRE: MG Contemporary Fantasy

Casey Grimes was invisible—at least most of the time.

He stood on the corner under a stop sign, jogging in place as his school bus sped down the street. It slowed to roll through the intersection and Casey sprinted alongside, smacking the door as his backpack bumped his spine. Sound and movement gave him a fighting chance to be seen. For a few seconds, anyway.

“Open up!” he yelled.

The driver squinted through the smudged glass, and Casey banged harder, until the brakes squealed and the accordion doors whooshed open.

“Where’d you come from?” the driver asked.

“Same place I always come from.” Casey jumped into the bus. The driver shrugged and floored the accelerator.

The other two kids on Casey’s route always sat together in the back. He waved, but they didn’t notice, so he took his usual seat by the window, pressing the vinyl with sweaty palms. Don’t give up on the day yet, he told himself. Things might still change.

But they reached Vintage Woods Middle School and nothing was different.

Nothing at all.

“You new here?” A girl asked as Casey opened his locker.

“Of course not,” Casey said. “You’re Lydia, we sit next to each other in—”

But she’d already started talking to someone else.

Manuel walked past—they’d had a five second conversation once—and Casey whirled.

“Hey Manuel,” he said.

The boy’s gaze paused for a millisecond and slid away like it was magnetized.

May Secret Agent Contest #8

TITLE: Time and the Trains
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Unbeknownst to the rioters in the city, the man in the Cogsmith’s tower was a cyborg.  It wasn’t obvious; only a few little screws showed through his chained wrists, tapping tiny music on the manacles, and a steel rib gleamed through the side of his tattered suit jacket.

It was very quiet in the tower, but down in the city it was not.  Over the usual clatter of the trains, one could hear fire chewing up buildings, homemade weapons clattering, and peasants screaming anarchist songs.

The door to the tower opened, and an aged man with a beard and a trench coat walked in.  He strolled to the window opposite the prisoner and looked out over the tower yard with an appropriately proprietary air.

He continued to stand at the window until the cyborg said, “You do realize they’ll never allow you to escape the city?”

“Yep,” said the man.

“Good.  Just checking,” said the prisoner, settling himself against the wall.

“I forget - how long have you been here?” the lordly man asked.

“In this time, or this tower?”


“Four days.”

The man – most called him the Cogsmith – nodded and sized up the cyborg.  He was extraordinarily long-limbed and gangly; his dilapidated suit matched the shaggy black hair of his piecemeal scalp.  He had the soot-black blood of the trains all over his jacket.

May Secret Agent Contest #7


My hovercycle engine pulsed underneath me like an extension of my own heartbeat: fast, erratic, and prone to skipping. I swerved around a lumbering transcycle. Hovers rocketed my bike forward as I turned down a narrow street. In my back pocket my EP, or handheld electropaper, buzzed a second before my earbuds relayed the caller’s voice.

           “Job,” my boss, Eiiji Minami said in a staccato voice. “Warehouse pick-up. In and out by 8 A.M.”

            I let out a long sigh as I slowed my bike. Another pickup, another job. A cycle I feared would repeat forever. The stale air of Kyoto in the summer sagged against my skin. The early morning sun peeked out from behind the mountains, but the closeness of the buildings meant most of the street remained draped in shadow. Above me the trails of airships marked the sky like giant kanji. Only a few weeks until the Oban Race and already the hotels were filling as spectators flocked to the bigger cities for the speedcycle races. I only had a few hours of freedom until I had to be at my next shift. I braked to a stop.

            “What’s the pickup?” I spoke into the mic on my EP.

            “Kosuke has the rest of the instructions,” Mr. Minami said.

            My stomach dropped. If Kosuke was involved this wasn’t a simple errand. Kosuke Minami hovered in the gray space between legal and illegal.

May Secret Agent Contest #6

TITLE: Amirah and the Red Scarf
GENRE: Adult Fantasy

The sweet aromas of freshly baked baklava and cinnamon buns swirled around Amirah and her grandmother as they stepped out of the bakery and into the chill evening air. Amirah's grandmother placed her hand on her elbow. Startled by the unexpected touch, Amirah turned to face her.

Shadow clouded her grandmother's face as she spoke. “Here, Scre,” she said, calling Amirah by her Serbian nickname, meaning “heart”. “You will need this tonight. ” She untied the red scarf from under her chin, gently removing it from her silver-colored hair.

Amirah looked down as her grandmother held it out to her, the red silk draped over the old woman's gnarled fingers. “What are you talking about, Baka? You’re coming with me.”

Shaking her head slowly, her grandmother looked up toward Amirah with deep brown eyes, a shade darker than Amirah’s. She sighed. “No, not tonight, Srce.”

Furrowing her brows, Amirah pressed, “But you always hunt with me?”

“I know,” she said and gave her a warm smile. “But you’re ready now. I’ve taught you everything I can. My eyes do not see as clear as they once did. I fear my presence during the hunt this year would only place you at great risk. You’re a woman now, Srce. You knew this day would come. Tonight, you must do this on your own.”

Her grandmother placed the scarf in Amirah's hands, forcing her fingers to close over the silky red fabric. A shiver of magic rippled through the scarf, tingling Amirah's hands.

May Secret Agent Contest #5

TITLE: The EX-Mean Girl
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Jab. Cross. Hook. Cross.

Ashley repeated the routine for a minute, balanced on her toes. She kept on even when it hurt her abs, shoulders, and arms. The pinch of pain learned with every throw meant little as compared to the fear she felt inches away from Parker. On her way to business math, Parker had grabbed her by the waist and pulled her into an empty class next to them. It had been days since, but she could sense his touch on her waist. He had pinned her to a wall and leaned in to kiss her. As soon as his lips landed on Ashley’s she pushed him away enough to move out of his way. Annoyed he had called after her, “Cm’on don’t make me chase you. Why do I get the special treatment, you didn’t seem to have a problem with the other guys on the team?” His words echoed as she pictured his smug face and let the rage power her more.

Again. Jab. Cross. Hook. Cross.

With fists clenched and knees bent, she pushed through the air one hand at a time. Her thin arms and petite height didn’t give her enough thrust to push through. Every second jab was confused and sluggish but it had only been few odd weeks since she started practicing.

After days of stalking YouTube Videos and pestering the local gym, she finally decided to train herself.

May Secret Agent Contest #4

GENRE: Adult

Lamar Gallivant drifted outside a coffee shop as the Mercedes rolled up at exactly 9:45. A passenger in the sleek four-door with tinted windows and Georgia plates lobbed a disposable cell phone near the curb. When the sedan crawled out of sight, Lamar fished the prepaid burner from a pile of leaves and powered it up. A text message spelled out his next target’s address.

He hiked his baggy jeans and blew past the knot of college chumps huddled around a food truck. At East Bay Street, he zigged north alongside the Cooper River. Rainbow Row gave way to sun-bleached blah. Broken street lamps replaced copper carriage lanterns. Seersucker couture morphed into overstuffed stretchy pants.

Less than two miles from Charleston’s opulent Battery, the road forked through the dilapidated row houses and subsidized apartments of Fleet Landing. The east-side neighborhood 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 raked his fingers through his hair and longed for the inky darkness that’d made him invisible on his previous jobs. He knew he should bolt—call it quits. But eight grand was a lot of money and Falcon had him by the balls. He absently inspected the pickle jar in his backpack filled with homemade napalm—a blistering concoction of toilet bowl cleaner and gasoline.
The trouble with trouble…

Lamar pushed up the sleeves on his hoodie and squeezed between two houses.

May Secret Agent Contest #3

TITLE: Fury of Stars
GENRE: Adult Science Fiction

Out the porthole, the planet’s golden surface drifts away beneath the hazy, distorted burn of the aft engines. We’re at full thrust, and although I’m buckled in, I don’t need the brace. Our small jetpod makes all the right noises as we enter Corvis’s thinning atmosphere. A seat shimmy here, a clacking grate there, the garbled growl of booster ignition drowning out the thunder in my ears. At least I don’t have to worry about it falling from the sky. But it’s the pendulous, bruise-black clouds that have me worried. Something rumbles. We’re going to fly through a morning squall. I clench my jaw. This is gonna hurt.

           We punch a hole in the cumulonimbus.

            Light betrays us, and we’re consumed by a darkness so pure for a moment I imagine what death feels like. The gasps in the cabin mirror the dread of the storm. A hand grips mine. I hide my smile as my sister gives a high-pitched squeal accompanied by a squeeze worthy of rigor. This isn’t how she imagined our first trip to the station, and when a blaze of blue rips through the cabin, my heart jolts in sympathy.

            Fat droplets lick down the glasstek windows in rivers. A rattle reverberates the reinforced hull. Wind smacks the outer panels with gusty fingers. Then something commences hitting the ship, a thousand tiny taps all at once. Another brilliant flash followed by a planet-breaking crash causes my insides to plummet to the surface. Chairs shake. Everyone screams.

May Secret Agent Contest #2

TITLE: Visions of Us
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance


A few days ago, I met my soulmate. This is not me simply being an overdramatic teenage girl who bumped into a cute boy in the hallway. This was magical confirmation that I had found my one true love. And coming from me, that’s saying a lot. I thought it was a witch’s myth that no witch had ever actually experienced. But now I know it’s true. When I touched him for the first time, not only did I feel that warm, safe, exciting love, but I saw it. I saw our future together and it was unimaginably beautiful.

But today was different. Today I had a different vision. Just as I thought something was finally going my way in my tiny world, the worst imaginable thing happened.

I scratch my pencil so hard against my journal, that it’s only a matter of time before I break the tip. The tears streaming down my face soak the page but I try to write around the wet spots. I focus on putting pencil to paper in hopes that my sobs will soon subside.

As I quickly wipe my tears away, I hear heavy footsteps barreling towards my room. The bronze doorknob twists and the heavy wood swings open. I slap my journal closed and sit up straight in my bed. I stifle back any rogue tears. My mom bursts into my room and I already know what’s coming.

“Ever heard of knocking?” I ask.

May Secret Agent Contest #1

GENRE: MG Science fiction

The rabbit screamed.

Kate gripped it around its torso. Who would believe a creature this small could make such a horrific noise? Like a child torn from its mother—or father.

Bam. Crash. Thud.

She sucked in a breath. Thinking about Dad's accident wouldn't help the rabbit.

Kate sat cross-legged in the dirt and cradled the animal in her lap. The snare, meant for a wolf, cut into the rabbit's leg and blood oozed into its brown-grey fur. She grabbed its hind ankles.

It kicked.

"Watch it!" She rubbed the fresh scratches on her arm. "I'm just trying to help, OK?"

She turned the rabbit to point its legs in a safer direction and pressed her forearm against its chest. The beat of the animal's tiny heart fluttered against her wrist. When she slid a finger under the wire of the snare, the rabbit screamed again.

"Shhh." Kate hummed a few notes of something, something someone had once sung to her probably.
The rabbit grunted and jerked.

She covered its eyes and stroked its forehead with her thumb. If it kicked too much, it would hurt itself more.

Did it think she was a wolf?

Right, because a lot of wolves have knowledge of basic first aid.

Dad taught her how to tend to animals back in Saint Paul—before Uncle, before the accident—the first time she heard a rabbit scream. A dog caught it. She chased the dog away, but the rabbit was too far gone. Dad helped her bury it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

May Secret Agent Early Info

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open next Monday, May 14.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (please read carefully):

*To enter, please use THE SUBMISSION FORM HERE. (Please note: email submissions are no longer accepted.)
*Submissions will open at NOON EDT on MONDAY, MAY 14 and close at 6:00 PM EDT.
*The first 50 qualifying entries will be accepted. THIS IS NOT A LOTTERY.
* PLEASE NOTE: You are responsible for figuring out your own time zone. "Time Zone differences" are NOT a reason for not getting your entry in.
* Submissions are for COMPLETED MANUSCRIPTS ONLY. If you wouldn't want an agent to read the entire thing, DON'T SEND IT. If an "entire thing" doesn't exist, you shouldn't even be reading these rules.
* Only ONE ENTRY per person per contest. If you send more than one, your subsequent entry(ies) will be rejected.
* Submissions are for THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. Please do not stop in the middle of a

GO HERE to submit via our web form.

As always, there is no fee to enter the Secret Agent contest.

This month's contest will include the following genres:

*Middle Grade (all genres)
*YA (all genres except high fantasy and hard SF)
*adult (all genres except women's fiction)