Wednesday, September 29, 2010

From Pantser to Plotter?

I wouldn't go that far. Despite my increasing penchant for planning, I can't deny my natural bent toward organic writing.

Still, I've been letting you in on my authorly journey for some time now, so I thought I'd share some visuals so you can see just how PLOTTERISH I'm looking these days.

I am in the midst of a fairly large revision. While staring at 30 chapters, extensive notes, and a blinking cursor, I decided the best course of action would be to break the chapters into their individual scenes. It took me a whole afternoon at the vineyard, and it was SO. BORING. I don't do well with tedium or anything remotely repetitive, you see.

But I persevered. And ended up with 144 lavender notecards, as such:

Yes, that's a Scrivener screen shot. It's too tiny to read the words, which are mostly cut off because of the size of the cards, anyway. But a simple click on each card reveals the bullet items I included on each to let me know exactly what's in the scene. Part of Scrivener's coolness is that you can drag the cards around. So changing the location of a particular scene is easy.

As I finish each chapter, I color-code the corresponding scene cards. That way, I can see the chapter breakdown at a glance. If I decide at some point to move a scene from one chapter to another, all I have to do is drag it and change its color.

At any rate, I've completed nine chapters so far. So my bulletin board now looks like this:

Isn't that pretty? The uber-dork in me gets all excited each time I get to choose a new chapter color. And the anal retentive administrative assistant in me (yes yes, I used to BE one) is all excited by the high level of organization here.

So there you have it. Breaking the novel into its smallest components has been HUGELY successful so far. Those of you who already use the write-in-scenes approach may be rolling your eyes at my slowness. No matter. I'm absolutely giddy over this.

Mind you, this is a completed novel. I haven't tried my hand at scene-plotting a new story. My brain doesn't work that way! But my love affair with colored notecards is flourishing, and I heartily recommend it to any of you who are feeling overwhelmed with a large, looming revision. Each completed scene feels like a wonderful accomplishment -- even if it's only 280 words long. And you all know how important those little psychological boosts are.

Happy plotting, happy scening, happy editing, happy revising, happy WRITING to you!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Winners! Winners!

I'm happy to announce this month's winners in the Secret Agent Contest:

Honorable Mentions:


THE PRIZE: Ms. Townsend requests that you send your full manuscript.

Third Place:


THE PRIZE: In addition to requesting your full manuscript, Ms. Townsend will critique your query.

Second Place:


THE PRIZE: In addition to requesting your full manuscript, Ms. Townsend will give you a query critique and editorial feedback for at least the first twenty pages.

First Place:


THE PRIZE: In addition to requesting your full manuscript, Ms. Townsend will give you a query critique and editorial feedback for at least the first fifty pages.

BRILLIANT prizes, yes? Winners, please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific submission instructions.

Congratulations, all!

Secret Agent Unveiled: SUZIE TOWNSEND

Huzzahs to the magnificent Suzie Townsend of Fine Print Literary Management for her awesome Secret Agentness!

Suzie's bio:

Suzie is actively looking for fiction and non-fiction: specifically Middle Grade and YA novels (all subgenres, but particularly literary projects), adult romance (historical and paranormal), and fantasy (urban fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, epic fantasy).

Recent sales include Personal Demons by Lisa Desrochers (Tor, September 2010), All These Lives by Sarah Wylie (FSG, winter 2012), Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson (Harper, winter 2012), Sea Rose Red by Cat Hellisen (FSG, spring 2012), Zombie Tag by Hannah Moskowitz (Roaring Brook, fall 2011), and Tempest by Julie Cross (St. Martin’s Press, forthcoming).

She’s interested in strong characters and voice driven stories: she’s particularly keen on strong female protagonists, complex plot lines with underlying political, moral, or philosophical issues, and stories which break out of the typical tropes of their genre. Some of her favorites are When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series, and Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series.

She drinks too much diet orange soda, has a Starbucks problem (those soy chai lattes are addictive), and lives in Brooklyn with two dogs who know that chewing on shoes is okay but chewing on books is not.

Suzie keeps a blog and can be found on twitter at @sztownsend81.

Hooray! And huge thanks for Suzie's thorough comments. Winners forthcoming!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Fricassee

A glorious morning! And I just spent part of it writing outside.

I want to talk about The Metamorphosis of a Writer. And when I'm finished, I'd love to know where YOU are.

We start as caterpillars, creeping along. The whole writing thing is new--or it's old but rediscovered. We dabble. We sneak in spare minutes here and there.

But mostly, it's creeping. We're tentative; we're not sure we can actually FINISH a novel. We're jittery if friends ask us what we spent Friday night doing. We sometimes allows weeks or (gasp!) months pass before sneaking back to our "little project."

Then we finish the novel. Wow! And we realize this is something we CAN do. Whether we'll take this further remains to be seen. Because at this point we 1) stop or 2) stall or 3) enter metamorphosis.

The metamorphosis process is where most of us stay for a very long time. For each, the journey is different. As we progress, the changes become more intense, more obvious. Our goal is always those beautiful wings.

Unlike a real chrysalis, our writerly metamorphosis usually takes years.

As we get closer to breaking out of the cocoon, the process often becomes more painful. The "near misses" drive us nuts. The ever-closer, ever-stronger, ever-better, and still-not-quite-making-it can be...well, exhausting.

Getting an agent isn't the final and sudden end to the metamorphosis process, either. It's a hurdle overcome, for sure. Our beady little eyes are peaking from within the widening crack. And selling the book lets our wee heads emerge a bit more. But there's more growing-stretching-changing that occurs as we work, for the first time, with an editor.

Finally taking wing doesn't mean we stop growing, either. Have you ever watched how voraciously a butterfly drinks nectar from a garden of flowers? It's like a constant feeding frenzy. No lazy, look-at-my-gorgeous-wings for these creatures. If they want to continue their flight, they need to work. Hard.

And so it is for the writer.

Saddest of all? When writers shrivel and die inside their cocoons, long before their metamorphosis has a chance to progress to completion.

I actually wrote my Very First Novel in six months. Yes, it sucked, but that's beside the point. I thought I had proven to the world--or at least to myself--that I could Write A Novel In Six Months.

Feisty little caterpillar, indeed.

Then, having realized that Novel #1 was a travesty, I began Novel #2. Lo and behold, I was still a caterpillar.

It took me more than twice as long to finish the thing. Huge chunks of not-writing time slowed down the process and made it look like I really wasn't writing a novel, after all. Creeping, creeping, creeping. And while the story itself was certainly stronger than the first one, my writing still had a long way to go.

A long, long, long way.

Somewhere along that long way, while querying the second novel and writing a third, my metamorphosis began. By the time I'd started my fourth novel, the process was well underway. The fifth, like the fourth, was drafted in three months and now awaits surgery. I'm now writing my sixth and revising my fourth.

(I sounded like Beethoven just then.)

My little beady eyes aren't peeking out yet. But I'm in an INTENSE season of metamorphosis, to the point where writing is a focal point in my life. It's not a "little project" or a "hobby" or "something I work on after everything else is done." Yes, the "everything else" HAS to be done (alas! alas!), but the writing is very high on my priority list.

Dang, I'm working hard. No one's MAKING me do it, and I love it. But if this were a physical cocoon, I'd have broken a major sweat by now.

My perfect dream life? Me, a little cottage by the sea, and my stories. And maybe Mr. A, too.

Your turn. Think about your journey. Are you a caterpillar? In the midst of a long metamorphosis? Finally taking wing and gorging on nectar (a.k.a. hard work) to keep flying?


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

September Secret Agent #50

TITLE: Curious Invasion
GENRE: SF/Steampunk

Queen Victoria was dead. Long live Queen Victoria.

The bells of Westminster sang out dolefully as Dr. Althea Jones scurried out of the morgue. The gas lamps sputtered as the heavy rain slammed against the glass casing. The old man had called it down to the exact minute. At five minutes after midnight, January 5, 1848, Queen Victoria died at the hands of her own physicians.

Only to be brought back by the miracle of modern science.

Brought back by vampiric science really. The physicians who surrounded her would steadfastly deny it, but Althea wondered how many vampires had been drained this night to give England an immortal ruler.

Shivering with a cold not born of the midnight air, she walked faster. Rarely did she stay this late at work anymore; however a pleasure dirigible had collided with an armored war zeppelin late in the afternoon. All told thirty five people had found their way out of this world this night.
Althea clutched her umbrella tighter and walked forlornly past the shuttered garage door. Gaston had made her promise she would never ride Lula Belle in the rain. She was a fine steamcycle, his newest invention, but he couldn't seem to make her navigate in the rain. Of course, living in London, this limitation meant Althea was extremely limited in the days she could drive her.

Pondering her current dilemma, she could hardly be blamed for failing to notice the man behind her until he grabbed her neck.

September Secret Agent #49


Damon heard a rustling behind him; the crunching of paper, shuffling of boxes, and high-pitched cursing. Shaking his head, he took a sharp breath and called, "Ms. Peterson? Do you need help organizing the postcards? I already unpacked the most recent order."

No response.

He pulled himself from his seat at the counter, and trudged to the backroom, his messy auburn hair falling in front of his eyes. "Ms. Peterson, you don't have to work on Thursdays. Remember Melanie told us she was cutting our hours," Damon said as he pushed up the door.

"Oh!" He jumped backward, placing his hands above his head. "I'm sorry..."

He peered at the girl in front of him. She was splayed on her back, tangled in an ornate cinnamon-colored gown that reminded Damon of something his little sister would have worn around Halloween.

"Are you going to just stare or are you going to help me?" The girl snapped, attempting to stand up but tripping over her bell skirt. Damon's ears stood up at the sound of her voice. She had a distinct accent, making her voice ring with a musky aroma.

Leaning against the wall, he crossed his arms. "Your dress seems to be eating you." He grinned. "Are you here for study abroad? You do realize you don't have to dress in honor of your country's cultural heritage," he paused, studying her round face, "even though it does add some flavor."

September Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Child of Fire
GENRE: YA Fantasy

She had always known pain.

Born in the depths of Firehold, to a broken and enslaved people, she had only one memory that was without pain.

It was her first memory, which was of fire, and she loved it. Like every Child of Fire, she was given to the flame at birth.

Any who burned were left, unwanted, but she laughed and played with the fire, and her mother, the Queen, was pleased.

"She plays with the fire as though she were one of us," spoke one of the Demons in attendance, with not a little bit of awe.

"Of course she does!" exclaimed the Queen, and the Demon who had spoken shrank back.

"I would expect nothing less from my child, the child of the Unspeakable One, King of Demons Himself!"

She turned to look at the child in the flames, an inhuman smile lighting her too-beautiful features.

"My Katthal-a'vrin-n'zov. She shall be greater than all of you," she murmured.

The Demons exchanged glances.

They had wondered who the once-human Queen had allowed to sire her child; and though none had thought it possible for a Demon to produce offspring with a human, they really couldn't bring themselves to be surprised.

Queen Luura-n'vrin's desire for power knew no bounds, though they themselves only obeyed and called her Queen because their own King commanded it thus.

The child continued to play with the fire as it licked and danced around her.

It whispered to her, and she liked it.

September Secret Agent #47

TITLE: Mouths
GENRE: YA Fantasy

“I cast Elliot's Greatest Missile Storm.” Derek crossed his arms. He glared past the dungeon map littered with miniature statues representing his fallen comrades, daring Randall Hampton to argue.

Randall took the bait. “That's fine, but it's going to take several seconds to prepare the spell. I'll cross my fingers that you dodge the incoming dragon wing, two claws, and tail.” One corner of his lips twitched up. He took a sickening amount of pleasure in screwing his players over to see how they'd get out of it. While Derek and his three companions had done well up to this point, it looked like their dungeon master might have thrown them a curveball they couldn't hit.

Unless, that is, the barbarian had done enough damage to the dragon before getting ransacked by its poisonous claws of death. Derek could only cross his fingers.

“I've already prepared Elliot's,” Derek said. “I did it before the barbarian kicked the bucket.”

The other three players, the barbarian, their bard, and their cleric, flipped their heads back and forth between the drama.

Randall lifted an eyebrow. “Okay, fine. What's the save?”


Whoops of excitement filled the room. Randall held out his hand for Derek's calculations.

Derek passed his worksheet over. He could do this. He had to. If Ianen Hollysword, elfen sorcerer extraordinaire, died, then he'd have to roll another character. Which would really suck.

September Secret Agent #46

GENRE: Historical fantasy

"My Lord." The man prostrated himself on the floor before the altar. Despite the heat of the day, the grey stone beneath his body was cool. He pressed his face into the floor and prayed He would be pleased. "It is done."

His heart thudded as he waited, lying on the temple floor, trembling with fear that his Lord was displeased and would not come. Thud, thud, thud. Each heartbeat marked another moment that he waited. The candles on the altar flickered, sending ghostly images along the floor. Thud, thud. Then He appeared out of nowhere, as was His way. There was no sound or warning. One moment He was not there. And then He was.

"Are you sure?" He asked.

Pressure around the man's throat blocked his breath. His heart beat faster as he fought to stay calm. It was just a test. His Lord was on the other side of the altar, too far away to touch. The solid stone walls of the temple extended the length of three men between them. Yet the feeling was real and He could kill without touch; the man had seen it himself. "Are you very sure?"

"Yes, my Lord," he choked. His body screamed out for oxygen. Sweat trickled down his back as he pressed his face further into the cool stone, smooth beneath his fingers. He tried to have faith that He would not kill him. "I did it myself."

September Secret Agent #45

TITLE: Hidden in Shadows
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

My prey muttered a curse and slid a few feet down the miniature mountainside. I handled the gravel climb with ease, but the man I stalked panted heavily and looked around with wild eyes.

Some rocks tumbled down as he stumbled, and I ducked behind an oak tree. I didnâ't want my prey to spot me and make a break for it. I'd waited four days for this -- my opportunity to hunt and kill him at my leisure. Four painstakingly long days in which the lowlife spent his days with other lowlifes, and my patience had nearly worn down to the point I wanted to kill both him and his friends.

A druggie who siphoned his rich wife's accounts and regularly used their young boy as a punching bag until he was a bloody and broken mess, I despised the malefactor. Little kids were innocents, they deserved better than that. At least the wife had the sense to run away with her boy. Not once, but twice. When the dirtbag kept following them, demanding more money, she had called on me to save them.

How ironic. I would be saving two lives by stealing one.

The sun sank heavy, ready for slumber. Reds and oranges blurred together like a bucolic landscape from Thomas Kinkade. The view from the top must be beautiful. That is, if the sweetgum and pine trees didn't hide it.

I peeked around the oak.

September Secret Agent #44


The soft tinkle of Christmas music threaded its way through the house and up the steps. Ellie paused on the landing and gripped the banister until her knuckles turned white. She swayed and her eyes lost focus as memories of Christmas mornings played like a movie in her mind:

Early, even before the first birdsong, before sunrise, when the world was still a soft gray, she would hear bells dinging downstairs. A deep, hearty voice would rumble,"Ho, ho, ho, Mer-r-r-r-y Christmas."

Frozen in dread of seeing and not seeing, of hoping and being afraid, giddy with anticipation she would shake her two brothers and her little sister and hold her finger to her lips. Like a row of stalking Indian braves, they would creep down the stairs where she now stood.

The creep would become an all-out run halfway down and the four would burst with bright eyes into a living room that had been turned into a fairyland. Paper streamers hung draped across the room. Balloons in bright colors floated across the floor and came to rest on chairs, tables and lamps. Confetti in gold and silver was strewn across the floor, the tree and presents and formed a pathway through the house. An empty glass of milk and cookie crumbles on a small plate stood evidentially by the fireplace. Dangling, bulging with toys and sweets, their stockings stood legless sentry. Strings of rainbow pixie lights on the fragrant, fat tree twinkled on piles of gaily wrapped packages.

Now, without warning, never again.

September Secret Agent #43

TITLE: Witch Way Down
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

The choking stench of burnt flesh filled the air. It sat on the back of my tongue and slid down my throat. Standing with a hand clenched over my nose and mouth didn't help; it just made me look like I didn't belong. Eyes watering, a sheen of sweat coated my skin, but it was the hollow throbbing sound in my ears made me take a step back. The numbness of shock was slowly sinking into my muscles and I didn't want to take a header into the greasy pit of ash and human remains at my feet. If I passed out, maybe I wouldn't have to touch it. That was my happy thought.

"Grace, you okay?" March asked without his usual sarcastic tone. March was Sergeant Robert Marchand of the New Orleans Police Department, and I blamed him for the acid churning around in my stomach, threatening to spew all over his crime scene.

Nodding, I didn't say anything, because I didn't trust what would come out of my mouth. Nearly a year since I'd been roped into helping with monster-related investigations, it should've gotten easier. If March could stand here looking all calm and collected, I should be able to do the same. I needed to work on my magic, figure out a spell to make a rotting corpse smell like strawberry jaw, or pine trees, or dog shit—anything else really. "Can we just get this over with," I demanded.

September Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Lost in a Heartbeat
GENRE: YA thriller

The late afternoon sun hugs me, a subtle reminder I'm still alive . . . for now.

At the traffic lights, I bike across the main road and enter the busy beach parking lot of the northern Minnesota lake. One of the bike racks near the beach has an open slot. I slide my bike in.

My muscles tighten, like they used to do before a swim meet, before I had a chance to do the relaxation exercises our swim coach taught us. I scan the faces for a familiar one. One I hope to never see again.

Several guys I recognize from school walk past, their words too faint to hear, other than, "Dude, you gotta be kidding me?" Kids run across the sand, giggling and screaming. A few families pack up to go home.

A shaky breath escapes my lips. He's not here, watching me, making sure I'm being a good girl.

I remove my sneakers and socks, and run across the warm sand to where Alejandra, my best friend, is unrolling her towel.

"Hey, you made it." She grabs the hem of her lime-green Camp Chippewa t-shirt, the dorky one the junior day-camp counselors wear, and yanks it over her head, revealing her bikini top and light olive skin.

I unzip my backpack and pull out my towel. "Sorry. Had to gone home first to change."

She eyes my jeans and hoodie. "I don't suppose there's a bikini under that?"

September Secret Agent #41

TITLE: Dead Ringer
GENRE: YA Thriller

Jorgen fingered the knife and inhaled a foul aroma. A black garbage bag was shredded in the diner's alley, its contents scattered and feasted upon by an enormous rat. The smell was a blend of rotting garnishes, curdled milk, used oil from grease traps, and cigarette butts. It was a shame to conduct business in a place like this.

The girl watched him with no visible fear. She waited for his movement, gracefully tensing her calves in an alternating pattern so that she swayed, ever so slightly, back and forth like a cornered prizefighter. Left, right, left, right. She wasn't talking, and it was time to end things.
"This is your last chance," he said, eyeing her throat. "Please believe I'm being honest with you about that. Tell me."

Part of him admired the TAG operative, and did not want to kill her. He would do it though; she wasn't giving him the information about Recall X, whatever that was. An event, a location, a person--it could be anything. He was rarely informed. Their agencies shared similar interests in projects quite often, but what she was doing in Philadelphia, he was unsure of. Perhaps it was a safety rest. If so, it was about to come to an abrupt halt.

"I can't answer your question. My apologies to the Heidengul."

Ridiculous, Jorgen thought. "You're sure?"

She nodded, still waiting.

He let out a heavy sigh, tightening his grip on the blade. "Wrong answer."

September Secret Agent #40

GENRE: MG/Fantasy

WHACK! The wooden ruler slapped down hard on the edge of Ruby's desk, and split in half. The broken piece flipped up smacking her chin. "No sleeping in my class," her teacher said sternly.

"I wasn't sleeping. I was just resting my eyes for a moment." Ruby rubbed the stinging red mark on her chin.

"Don't argue with me, or you'll have detention."

It's the last five minutes of class. What difference does it make? Ruby wrinkled her nose when suddenly she got a a whiff of a strong disgusting smell. Jeremy turned his head around and chuckled at Ruby's expression. He had delivered one of his famous gas bombs again. She sat in the seat behind him so there was no escaping.

"Ewe. That is so gross?" Someone in the back of the class remarked when the smell finally drifted.

"It was Ruby. It's her natural fragrance," Lauren replied. The bell rang. Everyone raced for the door. On her way out Lauren purposely knocked the books off Ruby's desk and giggled. The classroom was empty except for Chad Kindle.

Ruby gathered her books, and kept her head down so he couldn't see her embarrassment. He's looking right at me. What's he doing?

"You missed one." He picked up the Literature book hiding behind her desk and handed it to her.

"Thanks." Ok now what? He's not going away. He's still standing there. Why doesn't he just leave?

"The ruler hit ya pretty hard, didn't it?" He touched the red welt on her chin.

September Secret Agent #39

TITLE: The Opposite of Magic
GENRE: Contemporary fantasy

Emily stared at the gargoyle, mystified and a bit amused. She'd never seen one indoors before. In a basement, no less.

Eyes bulging, mouth gaping, hands rending its face, the small statue looked not only horrible but also reproachful, as if it knew she felt sorry for herself and its definition of misfortune did not match up with hers. It crouched beside the arched door at the bottom of the stairwell, above which--she now noticed--was taped a message straight from Dante's Inferno: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

Good God, nobody was going to visit her during office hours. Shaking her head, she opened the door, anticipating cardboard cutouts of tortured sinners or something equally silly.

Instead, an empty passageway made entirely of stone stretched ahead, deeply shadowed. Bare-bulb fixtures clung to the ceiling, casting small islands of light. Torch brackets--empty ones--dotted the walls. Even for a Gothic Revival building, it was over the top.

"This isn't a basement," she said, appalled. "It's a dungeon."

"Isn't it great?" a male voice called out, startling her so thoroughly she dropped her bag.

The man popped out of a connecting corridor and strode over with hand outstretched. "Bernie Ballantine, medieval lit. You must be the history department castoff."

"I'm afraid so," she said, wondering if the professor--who looked to be about sixty--was colorblind or had donned a neon-yellow fedora on purpose.

September Secret Agent #38

TITLE: Marlowe and the Spacewoman

The sting of the acid rain should have been hard to ignore, but the gun in his face made it easy.

"I'm sorry, but you know too much," said Toulene. "My new identity, the DNA profile I'll be assuming, and my route of escape. You provided all of them. I can't be found. The City isn't the only party trying to locate me."

These meetings always go sour, thought Marlowe. Everything seems to be going fine, and then someone jams a gun in your face. He put on his most winsome smile, which wasn't saying much. "You mind if I put my hat back on? I just got this face lifted recently, and I'd hate to void the warranty."

Interpreting not getting shot in the face as assent, he slowly reached down for the fedora hissing in the caustic puddle at his feet. The bubbling of the acid-resistant coating on the hat caused it to wobble. "Weatherman said it would be a 6.2, maybe 6.1," he said conversationally. "But I think the pH dipped to 4.9 or so. What do you think?"

Toulene said nothing, but the gun wavered in her hand. Amateur, thought Marlowe. But geneticists can hardly be expected to have street smarts.

"What do you think of the face?" he asked as he shook the excess water off the hat. "Recognize it?" He checked on Teddy's hiding place using the low light implant in his left eye.

September Secret Agent #37


The scream shook the thin, wooden walls of the cottage. Luis Green's initial reaction was annoyance. His grandmother had a tendency to melodramatics.

The shriek sounded again. "Rhiannon!" Shrill and engorged with raw panic. "Don't jump!"

Luis ground his teeth. What the hell was she thinking?

He leapt off the bed and raced outside onto the beach.

"Rhiannon!" He yelled.

He tore across the golden sand. To the right of the tiny cottage towered the cliffs.

"Oh no," Luis groaned under his breath. "Not again."

He ran faster and as he ran he did something he'd promised her he would never do. He delved into her head.

"Rhiannon! Where are you?"

"Damn it, Luis!" Her furious and instant reply struck him like a slap. Relief sucked the adrenaline from his legs and he nearly buckled onto the sand. "I told you to keep out of my head!"

"Just tell me where you are!"

"Mind your own damn business." She slammed their telepathic connection closed.

He reached the cliffs and looked up. The crags stretched skyward, dark, jagged, treacherous. Rhiannon liked to climb them. She wasn't supposed to, Rene, their grandmother, had banned her - indefinitely. But when did Rhiannon ever do as she was told?

Luis searched the craggy face. Nothing. He looked back toward the cottage. The hot summer sun glinted off the tin roof of the water tower. Suddenly he knew exactly where his sister was.

"Oh, Rhie," he groaned. "Why, why, why?"

September Secret Agent #36

GENRE: YA Fantasy

Samantha Liffey peered across the meadow at the target two hundred feet away. She took a deep breath and held it. Just two hundred feet between her, a perfect score, and acceptance into prestigious Xenith Training Camp for field sports. Good thing she always did best when she was nervous.

Honeybees buzzed in the summer clover, and the crowd murmured behind her. She licked her lips, the arrow cool in her hand, her arm straining against the bow. Squinting, she aimed at the tiny golden circle in the middle of the target.

As always, her gut told her the exact moment to let go, and she released her grip. Heart thumping, she watched the silver arrow fly. Her aim, like always, was true. As if drawn by a magnet, the arrow struck the bull's eye with a satisfying thunk. Success!

"Yes!" A girl's voice rang out above the screams of the crowd. Sam turned to see her older sister, Abby, darting across the field. She was still wearing her white fencing uniform. The first place medal she'd won earlier bounced against her chest, flashing gold in the sun.

Sam ran to meet her. "We're in! We did it! Do you get what this means?" She threw her arms around her sister.

"Yeah!" Abby jumped up and down, pulling Sam with her. "We get to be with Mum! She'll be so happy. We're the best, Sam, the best in Salem. We could be the best in the world!"

September Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Gods in the Machine
GENRE: Science Fiction

Levana Anderson sipped her blue-white chocolate latte, holding the steaming porcelain cup firmly in her rounded hands. She peered through creamy white froth at the blue liquid. How did they do that, she wondered- -make the chocolate coffee blue?

Levana's gaze moved from her warm cup to the neon green button implanted in the black plastic restaurant table, stars shimmering within its ebony core. As she pushed the button with her right thumb, a cloth panel rose next to her with a whirring sound, revealing a large rectangular window.

The psychologist set down her cup to more intently soak in the spectacular view. Earth was no more than a giant's black dinner plate resting on a matching table, fluorescent sugar spilled across the darkened circle. Hours ago, night had fallen on the part of Earth linked to the Galaxy Garden Space Hotel in geosynchronous orbit. Levana could barely make out the dark rim of Earth, but the city lights popped brilliantly. Studying the stars thrown across the outdoor scape, the psychologist briefly wished she knew the constellations.

Aboard the Space Hotel for a much-needed vacation, Levana tried to relax. She slumped against the faux leather cushioning of the booth, stretched out her long legs under the table and felt a sudden release of pent-up tension in her knees. Running her hands through her thick brown hair, she shook all of it loose, then picked up her cup of blue-white liquid.

September Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Prayer
GENRE: Historical Romance

Alice waited for the throng to diminish before gathering her skirts and setting foot on the narrow wooden gangway. She felt dizzy as the boards beneath her swayed with the movement of the ship. Her feet cramped, unused to the dainty leather boots she hadn't worn during the six week journey, and she stumbled. Gripping the handrail, she managed to keep herself from tumbling into the choppy sea below. Thank goodness! she thought. She did not wish to meet the man she was to marry looking like a drowned rat. She stepped off the wooden plank onto solid ground. After weeks at sea, it felt strange. She still had the sensation of movement, although she knew that to be impossible. The ground was firm and steady, not like the ship's decks that pitched and heaved with the slightest movement of the ocean.

A gentle rain fell from the heavy, grey sky and caught in her hair; she could see the light gleaming through the droplets that clung to the dark strands that escaped her hairpins. She stepped away from the ship and allowed other passengers to pass her as she scanned the dock, unsure what she was looking for. She had never met William Heller although she felt she knew him from the letters they had exchanged over the last year .

Her father had been so pleased when William asked for her hand, despite never having met the man. And unlikely he ever would, Alice thought with a rueful smile.

September Secret Agent #33

TITLE: Siege of the Heart
GENRE: Historical Romance

England, December 1066

Isobel Dumont vowed she would not cry, not in front of the men her father charged with
her protection.

As she urged her steed down the overgrown path, she focused on the boss of the circular shield slung across the back of the rider in front of her. Gritting her teeth, she could feel the pressure threatening behind her eyes again. The worn leather strap of her quiver dug into her shoulder, but she made no move to adjust it or her bow as they rattled along her back with each stride of her horse.

She already knew nothing could bring her comfort.

The beech trees were too thick for the snow to fall, but the bitter wind still found Isobel and her five companions. A half-hour out, she gave up trying to keep her hood in place, and her braids whipped out behind her like a banner as they rode. The trees grew sparse as they neared the end of the hunting trail that wound its way through her father's holding in northern Gloucestershire. After a few more strides, the horses emerged onto an open field.

Kendrick, one of her father's trusted men-at-arms, called for a halt. Eagerly, the men dismounted. Isobel could not blame them, as it had been a long, unfruitful ride. Kendrick ordered the two youngest, Edgar and Cuthbert, to scout ahead while the horses rested.

Blinking furiously, Isobel slid off her mount and straightened the padded tunic she wore over her kirtle.

September Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Blackbird
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy/Spy

I was halfway through the guitar solo for "Die Love, Die" when I first saw him, a twenty-something self-confident creep in the third row. I supposed the guy was kind of hot with his spiky green hair and strong, angular features, but something about him was making alarm bells blare in my head, loud even over the roar from my amplifier.

I don't know what made me notice him. There wasn't anything remarkable about the guy, really. Even the green hair was standard for this place. It was just that he was watching me. Actually, the perv was staring at me, which surely was why my heart was keeping time with the double kick drum. I knew Green Haired Guy had no clue that I was only sixteen, but it still creeped me out when old guys looked at me like that. I mean, the dude looked nearly thirty! Gross! I put him out of my mind and focused on the solo.

When we got to the breakdown, a dancy drums and bass part, I looked up. Green Haired Guy was right in front of me now, uncomfortably close to the edge of the three-foot high stage. His unearthly jewel green eyes were the only ones still on me. There was something about those eyes... intense and focused, too old for the rest of him. That was the only thing about him that stood out. Otherwise, he blended perfectly into the crowd.

Too perfectly.

September Secret Agent #31

TITLE: of oak and daemons
GENRE: urban fantasy

"Sir, you cannot walk these halls without an ID."

The authoritative tone of the male voice sifted belatedly into my brain and with a jerk of my head, I looked at the closed door leading to the classroom hallway. My movement blew the dust on the worktable in the archeology room and made my eyes water. I buried my face into my sleeve to stifle the sneeze that threatened to would follow.

"You have to have permission to be on this college campus, sir," the voice continued.

The other male voice had a note of familiarity. It was a British accent, cool and placating. Asking a question.

'Leah' was the only word I could make out.

A groan escaped my clenched teeth. His cultured voice was not much different from the recording on my answering machine at home.

The rat had found me.

He argued now and security answered with no-you-cannot authority. I heard a radio voice asking if assistance was required. I tried to squelch the hope of cuffs, a scuffle, and the sound of struggling feet dragged along the hallway floor. At least I didn't cross my fingers and say a blasphemous prayer.

If it would help though.

The voices became indistinct, murmurs of questions, answers, and conversation as I hid in the empty workroom. I glanced at the wall clock.

Three wonder my spine was trying to gnaw out of my back. I stretched and felt the complaining joints pop.

September Secret Agent #30


Malcolm Kennett's house exploded while his parents were on vacation.

His mom and dad sipped mai-tais oblivious to the hordes of teens clutching plastic cups full of beer and Everclear-laced punch, infesting their McMansion and spilling out onto the meticulously manicured lawn.

A handful of burnouts huddled around, philosophizing about the benefits of legalizing pot. A large group gathered in the kitchen and dared one another to the beer bong. Clusters crowded the living room--gossiping while grinding to the music blaring through the house. Others stowed away in an upstairs corner, seeking something they were too young and dumb to understand. Malcolm had laid down only one rule: his room and his parents' room were off limits.

Malcolm huddled over his father's desk in the den. He stared at the wildlife trophies and fiddled with the stapler and paper clips until his chest heaved with a sigh. He lifted his heavy lids and peered down the wide arched hall. A dopey grin formed as Malcolm spotted long honey-blonde curls, the gentle curve of hips. He knew every detail of Kat's face--green upswept eyes, the sprinkle of pale freckles across the bridge of her nose--despite her back turned. Blindfolded, Malcolm would know Kat in a crowd of thousands.

A twelve pack sloshing around in him, Malcolm managed to slip out the door and approach Kat with stealth. He grabbed her by the waist, satisfied when his buzzing fingers accidentally slipped to her hips.

"Come upstairs with me."

September Secret Agent #29

GENRE: Young Adult

Sean waited, heart pounding. His breath came out in gasps. A shudder went through him.

They were getting closer. Crunching footsteps, twigs breaking, the rustle of jackets brushing against the vegetation.

He peered around the tree trunk, desperately wishing he'd chosen a bigger tree to hide behind.

He had one chance. Double back, slip from tree to tree, get to his car. But he had to be very, very quiet. Then he saw them. The larger man was in front, head swiveling from side to side. The other guy was right behind him. Sunlight glinted on something in their hands. Guns!

A cold sweat broke out on his face. Move, his mind screamed, move! They would soon reach him. He edged around, back pressed to the trunk.

The big man stepped past the tree and kept going. Relief sang in his heart. He swung around, poised to sprint - and froze. The barrel of a gun pointed straight between his eyes.

“Going somewhere, Mr. Collins?” A mocking smile twisted the smaller man's lips. “Mr. Calvert will be so disappointed.” The breath left him in a whoosh. His heart clenched in fear. “What..what does he want from me? He has my report. Please....” He had to find a way to get out alive.

The man's smile widened. He seemed to enjoy Sean's pleading. Heavy footsteps sounded. The other gunman lumbered into his peripheral vision.

September Secret Agent #28

TITLE: Wayward
GENRE: YA Paranormal

I laid on the throttle and smiled at an answering purr from the engine. My baby was a patch job - all spit and spare parts, mostly junk or stolen.

The two guys on my right were South-side gearheads with shiny chrome monsters that they probably got straight off a dealer's lot. I could take them easy. The last rider had a cherry-red rice rocket, a Ninja maybe. It was hard to tell in the dark.

A girlfriend of one of the Southies walked in front of us, waving a yellow bandanna like a flag. Her arm came down and we were off with a squeal of tires and a burst of engine smoke. The Ninja took an early advantage but I gained on him. I leaned forward and the bike inched closer until we were side by side. Less than a dozen yards from the finish, I took the lead.

Without warning, I hit an invisible wall. I lost control and veered off the street. The race was over. The Ninja was being congratulated by his friends and I was on the sidewalk, my bike overturned. I wasn't even worried about the two hundred bucks I just lost. Or that any minute a Southie would come up and tell me girls shouldn't race anyway. A stench had overwhelmed my senses, strong and acrid, so hot that it seared the hair from my nostrils.

The smell of burning sulfur and ancient spice.

The scent of magic.

September Secret Agent #27

TITLE: The Last Deferred
GENRE: Science Fiction

The Ioi waited, silent, poised. Almost time, came the murmur that rippled through their ranks across the world in the time it takes a thought to spark from one synapse to another. It had been over two millennia since they had last acted, and the design they had woven was threadbare, indeed. When the machines started to churn and the skies blackened with soot, the Ioi began to trace the patterns of life backwards and forwards through time, searching for the right one.

They felt his birth late in the century and they waited, waited for him to ripen. And it was a long time, waiting. Not so long by the way that the Ioi measure time, but rather by the way that humans do.

The tiny being that imagined itself a god came shortly after his birth. What hubris to think that you controlled destiny, when you are but it's lowest tool? They felt the little god's meddling like steel wool upon their skin. They watched though, as it intersected with his life, and had to laugh. In order to have lived as long as the Ioi had among humanity, a sense of humor was imperative. Human beings really were quite ridiculous.

September Secret Agent #26

TITLE: Lost in the Bayou
GENRE: YA Suspense

Something is wrong.

The steady drone of the Lycoming engine has changed. The pilot shoves the mixture control handle forward to the full rich position. The motor responds with a cough and a few sputters before belching out a loud backfire. Then silence as the propeller slows to a stop.

With insufficient airspeed, the Piper Cherokee stalls. The nose drops. Five hundred feet above the swampy bayou, the aircraft rolls over and goes into a graveyard spiral, gaining speed as it descends. Seconds later, the water explodes from the plane's impact as the twilight sky is filled with the feathered thunder of fluttering wings.

The bones in the pilot's right forearm snap in two with a brittle crack! But he doesn't hear it. His head has already crashed into the wheel. On the other side of the cockpit, the passenger lurches forward from the impact while a jagged shard from the windshield speeds toward her forehead.

The plane sinks slowly below the murky surface. A metallic shudder groans through the fuselage as the nose comes to rest on the soft bottom and the ripples head toward the shore. When the movement stops, the only evidence of the event is a few feet of the silver tail remaining above the surface and pointing toward the sky.

From the shadows of the muddy bank, a dark figure slides into the water.

September Secret Agent #25

TITLE: Summer in Cow Central

Jamie stood beside Aunt Jo on the stone porch and waved as her mother, grandmother and sister pulled away in the car. Jamie fought back tears, waving her hand at her sister's head poking out the window. As the car reached the end of the gravel lane and paused to turn, a flash of pink in the car window catapaulted Jamie off the porch. She careened down the driveway, screaming and waving, and then she collapsed in a heap as the car pulled out and accelerated down the main road. Aunt Jo puffed up beside her and bent down, bundling Jamie onto her lap like a small child.

"Jamie, honey, what's wrong? Why did you run off like that?"

"My backpack-my backpack was still in the car. It has my wallet and my cell phone and my iPod in it, and the book I was reading. I forgot to text Shana that I couldn't go out with her tonight. She's going to think I blew her off."

"Well, let's just go in and call her, honey."

"Um, she just got a new phone and I can't remember the number. I had it programmed in my phone. Could I send her an e-mail? Could you show me where the computer is and get me to the internet?" Jamie scrambled to her feet and started towards the kitchen door.

"Oh, Jamie, honey, our computer broke.

September Secret Agent #24

TITLE: Dragonfly: The Beginning
GENRE: Women's Fiction

When Cynthia Marshal was a teenager she devised seventeen ways to kill her mother. Forty years later both of them were still going strong. It wasn't so much that she wanted her mother dead . . . just gone. Red sticky fluid seeped through the bottom edge and dripped onto the kitchen counter. "Damn it." Cynthia smacked the off button of the whirring blender, lifted the leaking glass container from its wet nest, and held it over the sink.

Stupid girl. You're never going to get it right.

She grasped the sopping bottom and twisted it tight.

How many times have I told you . . .

If only she had an off button for that cursed radio in her head where her mother had taken up residence and was broadcasting 24/7. She plunked the slippery container onto the gray tiles, and Minou, her calico cat, jumped up to lap at the generous puddle of strawberry juice and yogurt. Hot tears pushed themselves out. "Damn it. Get a grip, woman! You're fifty-two--fifty-three--years old for heaven's sake." She yanked for a paper towel and pulled the whole roll into the spreading pool of her breakfast drink.

You always were sloppy.

She slapped the tap on full and stuck her hands under the gush. The cold water on her face made her gasp, blocking out her mother's voice, but when she caught her breath . . .

You'll never amount to anything. You--

She slammed the tap off and the cat flattened its ears

September Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Tempest
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Janelle froze in front of the bay window as the breath caught in her throat. Mountains of black clouds lumbered through the sky and the glass buckled against the screaming wind. This was it; she was dead. “Dad, get away from the window. We've gotta get out of here!”

Her father faced her, smiling. “Isn't this exciting? I want you to see this.”

Every palm tree in their yard bent over as if pointing them back to Michigan, to the sanity she'd left behind. Rain beat against the house, adding to the roar that filled the world. The roof creaked like it wanted to peel off and fly away. It probably would, with her luck.

Janelle bit her lip, hugging herself. It was all a dream. It had to be. It was one of those nightmares where only she could see the danger, but no one would listen to her. She'd wake up soon and go to school and attend her Math Whiz meeting and order a pizza with her friends. Any minute now she'd--"

Snap. A tree fell across the street with a sound like gunfire.

Her heart thudded as she moved behind the couch. “Please. I want to go to the shelter!” She'd turned into a bubblehead, but what else would make him listen? She'd cry, and scream, and throw a tantrum if she had to.

Footsteps approached. Eyes shining, her dad spoke.

September Secret Agent #22

GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

A jagged crack opened in the heavens, and I ran for cover, sure I'd be struck by lightning. Raking rain-soaked hair out of my face, I shouted, "Thanks, Mom, for messing up my summer and sending me to Ohio." Not that she could hear me from her Long Island condo.

Thunder rumbled like a freight train, and I huddled under the eaves of the tiny airport. If I didn't win this stupid dance competition, I'd have to join the family mortuary business when I finished high school next year. Life sucks.

I peered down the empty sidewalk. No cabs. No limousines. No wise-mouthed New York taxi drivers.

A ratty station wagon with "Sandy's Transport" printed on the side chugged to the curb and splashed water on me. Good thing I wore my pink raincoat, which my mother made me put after she heard a weather report. Thanks, Mom, at least you did something right.

Another splash of water and a puff of car exhaust later, a tall guy about my age appeared out of nowhere. Each blast of thunder made me wince and shudder, but not enough to miss how the bolts of lightning illuminated the black hair that streamed down his back, his dark sunglasses, and the black cape that whipped around his broad shoulders. His skin looked pale, almost translucent. If I had to rate him on my Dork to Perfect Guy Scale, he'd be in the incredibly good-looking, but strange category.

September Secret Agent #21

TITLE: Seeing
GENRE: YA Paranormal

I've never been with a girl - or a guy; I like both. What I mean to say is I'm sixteen years old and a virgin. That's why I didn't run, scream or call the cops when I walked into my bedroom and she was standing there naked.

I froze. I couldn't think - or move. Well, one part of me was moving, but it was just making my jeans a little snugger (and it wasn't something I was doing consciously).

She was in front of the window with her head cocked to the side. She was looking right at me; like she had been waiting for me. White-blond hair, parted in the middle, fell to her waist. Her left breast was covered, but the other one - I could see.

My pants were still getting tighter, but I hadn't moved. Normally, I'd be kind of embarrassed - getting hard in front of someone - but she was naked; we were past that. Also, I didn't know who the hell she was.

"Don't be afraid, Eden," she said. I glanced up at her face and she smiled, straightening her head. "My name is Alice."

I should have been afraid, but I let my eyes drift lower. Plus, Alice seemed like a nice name. A girl named Alice wouldn't hurt me.

I didn't know her. I'd never seen her before. I knew I should run back out of the room. There were a lot of things I should have done.

September Secret Agent #20

TITLE: The Faithful
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

The bar went silent the moment the whiskey bottle struck the floor.

Raine Morgan lurched away from the table, ignoring the shattered glass in his wake. A shout rang out. Spinning on his heels, he slipped on liquor, avoiding a hard blow to his jaw. He pushed the figure away, turning his attention to the man on the floor. He came to a full stop, preparing for the next attack.

Turrell rose, glass cascading from his suit. "Keir's dog," he hacked blood as he spoke. A growl erupted from his throat as he shot headlong towards Raine. Each sloppy step threw him side to side.

Raine stepped to the right. Jaiden caught him from behind, pushing him back into his friend's path.

Raine slammed against the wall. Turrell drove his fists into the flesh below Raine's ribcage. Raine clenched his teeth as heat rolled through him in waves - larger and faster with each strike.

Raine jerked his knee up, the man's nose caving and shattering with the force. Turrell's head flung back as he recoiled. Raine pulled himself upright.

Jaiden swung. Raine twisted his body, crashing his foot sideways into Jaiden's shin. Jaiden's fist collided with the wall. Plaster and paint flecks exploded onto the wood floor. Raine kicked again, spasms erupting through his leg, and Jaiden collapsed. The sickening crack of bone resonated in the hushed air.

September Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Liza Bird
GENRE: Contemporary Middle Grade Fiction

You would think that going into middle school is the greatest thing in the world. People started talking about it before my seat in elementary school was even cold. But if I had known how hard sixth grade was going to be, I might have rolled in the poison ivy patch out back to get out of going, at least for a while. The result would have been more bearable.

On the very first day of school I begged my mother for the millionth time to let me ride my bike like everyone else. "Liza Dawson," she said, "I told you 'no' and I meant it." She was upset with me for even asking. But she was always frustrated or annoyed or mad at me for something, so I was used to it.

"I promise I won't get lost," I begged, even though I wasn't sure I could keep that promise. I got lost more easily than socks in a dryer. But the thought of getting lost and being late sounded a whole lot better than having my mother drive me to my first day of middle school. But she did.
In the school office I waited in line for my schedule for forever. When it was my turn, a lady asked me my name. She handed me a piece of paper and said, "Welcome to Milton Middle School." Then the next kid in line moved up and I was pushed aside.

September Secret Agent #18

GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

I knew what it was the second I heard the crunch and felt something shift beneath my shoe.

My stomach lurched.

I swallowed, tried to force down the lump in my throat. It didn't budge. A cloud of mist hovered in the frosty air under my nose when I exhaled.

Will they ever leave me alone?

Covering it with my foot again, I looked toward the neighbors' windows, then up and down the street. From what I could tell, no one was watching. With my back to the road, blocking the view just in case, I picked it up.

The flower commanded my attention, standing out against my light skin. Brilliant yellow, bright as the sun, same as always. It didn't help that it was the dead of winter in Shaver. Seeing a lively flower during such a bare time of year only made it worse.

My pocket vibrated, pulling me from my stare. The flower squished against my palm as I grabbed my phone.


"I'm coming."

I kicked at the brown grass, smooshed it into the mud with my toes.

"Where are you? Do you know what time it is?"

"I'm on my way, Eva. Just... stall or something."

"Stall? It's a bookstore, not a party! Hurry up!"

"I am! Give me -- " I looked at my phone. "It'll be less than ten minutes."

"Ten minutes?"

I waited, expecting to at least hear a quick happy birthday. The other end was silent. She'd already hung up.

September Secret Agent #17

TITLE: Hunted, Not Haunted
GENRE: YA Paranormal Romance

My stalker slinked into Cajun Treasures just moments after I did.

Our eyes met. A triumphant look, like she knew she'd cornered her prey, flickered across her face before she looked away. She appeared engrossed in the postcards and magnets for sale, but that was just part of the hunter's camouflage. She inched closer to where I stood, undoubtedly trying to corner me.

I thought about yelling, trying to get someone's attention, but my pride got the better of me. My hunter didn't appear dangerous in the least. She had no weapons, had uttered no threat, and didn't even seem mentally unbalanced.

But I had to elude capture.

I abruptly left Cajun Treasures and stepped back into the thick, humid air stifling Marvel Avenue. Instead of continuing the way I'd been going, I backtracked the way I'd come from. I ducked into Louisiana's Finest, yet another souvenir-selling tourist trap, hoping, praying, that it wouldn't serve as a trap for me. Peering out the front window, I spied my stalker leave Cajun Treasures and proceed in the direction we'd been traveling. As she walked further away from me, she glanced from side to side, obviously hunting me.

When she turned the corner, the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding rushed out. But my relief was shattered with a jolt as my iPhone blared Beethoven's Fifth Symphony -- DUN DUN DUN DA! It's my favorite piece of classical music but when I was already petrified, it was a little too ominous.

September Secret Agent #16

TITLE: Blood Dreams
GENRE: Paranormal romance/urban fantasy

December - Tampa

"Not the face, you stupid shifter-s***! I've got a wedding to get to," Chris snarled as she stopped a clawed hand from ripping across her cheek. Dee would kill her if she showed up with a black eye, bright red gashes, or any other sign of a recent fight. She was standing in as the 'mother of the bride' after all.

She retaliated against the strike with a swift kick aimed for the half-shifted werewolf's knee. It might drop him and get at least one of the creatures off her.

A second werewolf raked claws down her back and she shrieked before tumbling to the side to see both men. Were-creatures in their half animal/half-human forms were hideous. Drool dripped from Stooge Two's curled-back lips as he glided to her left. "Don't think you're gonna make it, vamp b****."

Two more slunk out of the shadows of trees that lined the clearing and she refused to consider the possibility of failure. S***, the bride and groom both would want her hide if she missed their wedding. Granted, their irritation wouldn't matter if she died.

Retreat wasn't an option. If she shifted forms, the creatures would know instantly what she was. It didn't matter what form she chose anyway, the oozing gashes to her thighs and back from the fight thus far would slow her down. If anyone in authority found out what she was, a death sentence would be handed down. Being a mage-vampire sucked dehydrated blood.

September Secret Agent #15

TITLE: Rose Winter, Wolf Spring
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Rose stared resolutely out the bar's single, tiny window, and tried not to think about how thin the roll of bills in her hip pocket had become in only a week and a half. One upon a time, abut ten days ago, coming north had seemed like the best idea in the world. The north was cold, and people wore gloves all the time, and wrapped up tight, so no one noticed a girl who never uncovered her hands. The north, under all it's snow and ice, had seemed safe.

Now, every day, she realized that she would never be safe again.

At first she was surprised they let a seventeen-year-old into bars up here. But as the succession of truckers carried her further and further north, she noticed that the definition of "town" seemed to be the space outside a bar, and there was no place else for people to get together. She was getting used to bars.

This trucker -- she couldn't remember his name -- had come in to do something with his logbook, and buy food. Whatever he was doing took forever, and a hamburger cost seven dollars in this lousy place. Rose sat, staring at her hands.

The gloves helped. They were fashionable brown spandex, and they kept her from touching anybody. Touching was the worst nightmare of all. For a long time she kept hoping she would blink, or wake up, and things would be normal again. Things were not going to be normal.

September Secret Agent #14

TITLE: Gone to Earth

Clouds at Play had the worst reputation of any starship that had ever been donated to the goddess -- it was alleged to be sulky, ungrateful, stubborn, obstructive, and a liar -- but Praluna wanted it. Most donated ships passed through to Mrahara, the home planet of Hanna's Faithful, but Clouds at Play was the first Praluna had ever seen held back, and the first ever to be held due to personality problems.

Praluna shot out of Highside Station in a two-seat shuttle. It was a model she knew from early in her second life, when she had been vehicles officer on a freelance starship that took contracts from Hanna's ligare -- the organization that supported the goals and philosophies of the goddess -- and sometimes from the ligares of the other two goddesses as well. No gravitic thrusters on it, just ordinary newts. It was a long way from the station to the ship, so she let herself play, revelling in the exhilaration of acceleration, the shock of a hard jink, the freedom of freefall.

Rumors had brought Clouds at Play to Praluna's attention, curiosity had prompted her to research the ship's background, and empathy had led her to sympathize with it. Three separate evaluation teams had examined the ship, and all three had declared it beyond salvaging. People had said that about Praluna too, in what she considered her first life.

September Secret Agent #13

TITLE: requiem
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Marissa considers the word, lets it roll around on her tongue like a jawbreaker, the spicy cinnamon kind that burn if they linger against the inside of your cheek for too long. Pregnant. Pregnant. She repeats it to herself as if that somehow makes it more, or perhaps less, real. The nurse hands her a stack of pamphlets, covering everything from genetic tests to her options.

She looks at Marissa with a combination of sympathy and disdain. Marissa's used to this. To people looking at her like she is a person-- or perhaps an object-- to be both pitied and feared. But in this moment, she is grateful for the familiarity of it. As if nothing has really changed even though absolutely everything has.

"You have options," the nurse repeats, placing extra emphasis on the P. Options. Like she's spitting it out. Maybe she used to stutter.

"You mean I can pick the sex?" Marissa asks. She bites the corner of her cheek to hide the curl to her lips. It is her one tell.

The nurse looks at her sideways and Marissa can't decide if she is onto her or horrified. She is, of course, hoping for the latter.

"There's an adoption agency I can refer you to," the nurse continues. "Or if you'd rather talk with the counselor about how to manage your pregnancy, I can schedule that, too."

Marissa wonders about that word, manage. As if this pregnancy requires her to add a person to her payroll.

September Secret Agent #12

TITLE: Real Princes Don't Wear Velvet
GENRE: Middle Grade Fantasy

It was all over in a second, really.

Lord Archibald, younger son of the Duke of Chestershire, let out a not-very-lordly ummmph as a damp rag clamped over his nose and mouth.

Archie tried to hold his breath as he was whisked off his feet with mortifying ease (at thirteen years of age he was, as his grandma put it, "a crying waste of perfectly good veal"). Kidnapping tricks hadn't changed much from the Stone, Dark, or Middle Ages, but they'd definitely improved the potion. The chemical scent flared up his nostrils and burned straight to his brain.

Everything went black.

When Archie opened his eyes, groggy and sick, the ground was galloping away under him. His hands were bound and his head was inside a sack, and his first thought was: Wonder what was in here before this?

A breath, then: I don't think I want to know.

That wasn't all.

Did he mention he was wearing a dressing gown? And it wasn't the normal one he brought to boarding school, made of exquisite hand-woven silk and entirely befitting of the son of a duke. But no. He was wearing his favorite cotton dressing gown, which he loved to wear back home. The one with little green clovers on it. And--small cornflower blue unicorns.

Archie cringed. At least they were blue. Blue unicorns were all right--weren't they? And no one would laugh if his body turned up somewhere in them.

September Secret Agent #11

TITLE: God's Girl Friday
GENRE: Urban Fantasy

Yuri leaned back against the building. The chill of the gas station's stucco bit through her Columbia windbreaker and the black tank top beneath. The early-morning May sun peaked over the top of the one and two story buildings lining the street. She pulled her sunglasses from inside pocket of her tan jacket, donning them before her pupils could adjust to the post-dawn light.

She checked the abused but well maintained Chronoswiss on her wrist: oh-six thirty-three. Her contact was scheduled to arrive in less than a minute. Sighing, she shoved her hands in her jacket pockets, grateful she'd dumped the manicured fingernails after her last job and didn't have to worry about breaking them on her MP9's four extra magazines. She wondered how long she would be waiting this time.

They're on time? That's new.

A van approached, the cracks in its navy paint merging with heavy rust. The sun winked off the chipped blue and chrome oval on the hood as the vehicle pulled into the convenience store's lot and came to a gentle halt next to one of the pumps. Through the windshield, she saw the agitated driver struggling with what she assumed was the shifter on the steering column. A series of grinding clunks groaned from beneath the extended-cab van.

A thin man stepped from the driver's side, pausing to remove his blazer. He walked with a long gait to the dumpster on the north side of the lot and gave the refuse a quick once-over.

September Secret Agent #10

TITLE: Unvisible
GENRE: YA paranormal

I hated this part.

The bell rang exactly four minutes and forty-eight seconds ago. Which meant I had twelve seconds to get through the next door. I was a hundred yards away, the hall was too crowded for me to run like a normal person, and with AP calculus, I had little hope someone would show up later than me to slip in behind.

Perfect attendance record, gone. Not that anybody would've given me a certificate.

I skidded toward the door. Closed, of course. Mrs. Harper always closed the door, like she worried someone would want to spy on her lesson. Not likely. Except, well, for me.

Eighteen days without a missed class. Not bad, but nowhere near last spring's stretch--forty-seven days--lots of art classes and two P.E.s. That's what I got for challenging myself this semester ... and drinking two cokes at lunch. I knew better than that.

I couldn't pick up Mrs. Harper's monotone through the thick walls, but stuck around for a few minutes anyway, hoping for a straggler. No luck.

Of course it was this hour I got stuck. The worst hour. The last hour before the seventeen I had to spend alone. Maybe I'd go out tonight. I peeked out the nearest window. It didn't look like rain. Probably safe.

Probably wasn't good enough. I'd have to check the weather forecast. I practically drowned last time. Ha ha. Drowning.

Nothing about it was funny though.

I hurried to the library.

September Secret Agent #9

TITLE: Shifter
GENRE: Science Fiction/Paranormal

The big cat wound through the thick forest, his powerful body twisting gracefully as he slid beneath low-hanging branches and maneuvered through thick foliage. Mammoth trees towered above him, the giants among them soaring more than five hundred feet toward the heavens, while their lesser cousins crowded beneath the high canopy, yearning for a ray of sunshine, a hint of moisture. Every imaginable size and shape could be found, a riot of growth that spread across the land in a dense green swath.

It had rained two days ago and the soil beneath the cat's feet was still damp, thick with centuries of deadfall. With every step of his enormous paws, the ground released a rich, pungent scent that filled his nostrils and told him which creatures had come this way, and when. Leaves and branches drifted over his sleek, muscled back, streaking his black pelt with rainwater. He moved faster than the eye could follow, the dappled sunlight transforming nearly three hundred pounds of hunting cat into a shadow among shadows in the dense growth. A wave of panicked prey fled ahead of him; a pool of cautious silence followed in his wake. But he had no interest in food this morning. This race was of a different sort.

With a thrust of powerful hind legs, the great beast pushed off from the forest floor, hitting one of the giant conifers in his path with a dull thud.

September Secret Agent #8

TITLE: Finding the Beat
GENRE: Young Adult

RIC: Radical, interesting, cool. That's me when I climb into the passenger seat of Jason's car. I tighten the safety belt across my body, cram my knees under the dash and lean back into the dark leather.

Jason opens the door slowly. He winces and rubs his forehead. He grips the steering wheel hard, and uses it to pull himself into the driver's seat. He groans with the effort, and his eyes burn like downlights from a white ceiling. "Stop... frowning, Ric." He squeezes the words out
between quick shallow breaths.

"Are you sure you're up for this? You look shocking."

Jason grins. "Look...
pretty bad...

I fold my arms across my chest. "I'm not the one with cancer."

He punches me on the shoulder, but his fist doesn't have strength and it bounces off me. "Tomorrow... I get your bone marrow."

I wait for him to draw each word out and I grin back. "Yeah, tomorrow, you start getting better. But today you look like s***. Don't reckon we should be doing this."

Jason pouts. "You promised...
one last race. You promised...
help me
through." He settles back into his seat, his pale face shiny with sweat, his eyes pleading.

He's right. I swallow my doubts. "I'm good to go." I give my brother the thumbs up.

Jason slept all day so he'd be ready for this. Beast and body primed, he turns the ignition and the engine bursts into life. We speed away, spreading smoke and sound in our wake.

September Secret Agent #7

TITLE: Day 10K
GENRE: Science Fiction

Shushan ignored the voices of the two grown women behind her as she grabbed the rungs.
"Hey girl, that steel ladder doesn't look safe."

She turned to give a reply. "No one said it was against policy to climb the emergency backup generator." The motion shifted her backpack to the left, forcing the hard rungs against her palms. But she wasn't some little girl who would fall off -- she was fourteen in Earth years, not the stiflingly normal years of this world she had grown up in. "It's my last day working here before all the banks collapse, so let me do something mischievous!"

The two women laughed. High-pitched, nervous laughter. Shushan wasn't afraid. She looked up, beyond the eight foot tall housing for the generator, scanning the skies for the ship that had come to their world. It was somewhere in orbit beyond the clouds, here to help prevent the collapse.

No fear. Shushan knew her world was turning -- turning into something with endless horizons and scintillating challenges that beckoned her to climb higher and higher. She was ready to burst out of everything that was known and comfortable, just as her own body had practically burst out of her old clothing in the past year and demanded things like a larger denim jacket and rougher roads to ride on.

September Secret Agent #6

TITLE: Hound in Blood and Black
GENRE: dystopian sci fi

Last tank of gas, Kumari thought as the Jeep engine spit out a black cloud before picking up speed. It meant one thing: Last chance to make a catch. And that meant last chance to stay alive.

"Harder!" Kumari screamed over the battered engine's howl. Bastion punched the gas, pebbles spraying the old army Jeep. Dirt clawed her cheeks and scratched the surface of her shades. She adjusted the bandana across the lower half of her face. The air was murky, but she saw her shambling target.

"Left!" she shouted. The Jeep veered hard, tires skidding over the rocky desert. Kumari caught herself with a hard foot to the wheel well, steadying herself as the vehicle sped across the plain. The undead stumbled as they cut in front of it. "Damn it, Bastion. Don't run it over."

The Jeep jerked again, right, spewing more dust into the air. Her throat was dry. Only daybreak, and already hot as hell. Best to finish the hunt and get home before noon.

No pressure. People would only starve to death if she didn't.

She shook her head; enough thinking. "Focus, Kumari."

Handgun, kukri, boot blade and collar - all the things she never left home without. Kumari flexed her hand around the collar, the most important part of her arsenal. A wrangler's prime tool, the seven-foot pole's horseshoe-shaped tip was the best way to pin an undead; at an arm's length away and with minimal damage to the future gladiator.

September Secret Agent #5

TITLE: The Ramp Less Traveled

We sat around the breakfast table chasing our boiled eggs around the plate when my father declared: 'I have made a decision.'

I groaned. He may as well have grabbed my hair by the roots and dunked my head under water ten times. His "decisions" invariably drowned me in more misery than I already suffered.

Before we could interrupt him, he said, 'I have decided to send Mili to IIT for her education.'

'What's IIT?' asked Saurav, before gulping down half-a-glass of orange juice. My dear brother could dredge up the name of his kindergarten girlfriend on demand, so I doubted he'd forget his alma mater, as he was pretending to do.

'Don't be silly, Saurav,' said Mummy, rapping him on the wrist. To my father, she said, in her usual honeyed voice, 'Are you sure about putting Mili in IIT? She may not be able to handle it.'

'I know,' Papa said. 'But Mili must learn to stand on her own two feet and not depend on her mother for everything. An engineering degree will change her life for the better.'

He set down his fork and turned to me. 'What do you think, Mili?'

Apart from the teeny little problem of having no brains for IIT or any college whatsoever, I thought Papa's plan was quite brilliant, actually. I'd merely have to sign up for engineering, move in to the campus hostel, and within a few days they'd discover me hanging from the ceiling fan.

September Secret Agent #4

TITLE: Fey Moon
GENRE: Fantasy

Marian knelt by the narrow stream, watching the puddle jumpers. The blue sparks danced just out of reach as she dipped her hand in. The playful creatures didn't cheer her, nor did the trickling of the stream or the pair of whistler birds singing courtship. The sounds of the forest were eclipsed by weeping. Usually the ethereal crying was contained to one clearing, but now it resonated through all the trees.

She stood and wiped her hands on her knee-length tunic. Why was the sorrow so powerful today? She caressed the smooth bark of one of the oaks, fighting off the urge to add her own tears. "My own burdens seem lighter, knowing even the woods have their own sorrows. I wish you could tell me your story." Maybe she was crazy, talking to trees. Nevermind the weeping.

A branch snapped in the distance. Marian quickly pulled away from the tree and looked to the noise. If someone overheard her, the rumors would start again.

Voices came from the direction of the village.

Slipping quietly through the trees, Marian strained to hear through the underlying noise.

A husky male voice came through clearest. "Quit jumping at rabbits and get back to work."

A few more steps and she should be able to see them, but still be hidden in leafy shadows.

A loud thwack jarred her to a stop. It sounded like someone cutting firewood. But why would she hear that now? In the woods? No one cut down healthy trees.

September Secret Agent #3

TITLE: Finders Keepers
GENRE: Young Adult Urban Fantasy

Ellie's mother was insane. Completely, totally, and should be institutionalized no questions asked. Because only if Ellie were Glinda the Good Witch of the North, then the dress she was currently and unsuccessfully zipping up in the back could be considered in any way warranted. But as she was just a normal sixteen-year-old girl with absolutely no intention of going to prom...

"Nonsense dear. Everyone goes to prom. And you're sadly mistaken if you think pink hair is normal."

Oops, Ellie had said that out loud. She yanked on the zipper again but didn't have the leverage to get it the rest of the way up. Oh how she couldn't wait to get out of this store. The musty smell of used, unwashed clothing turned her stomach. Not that she didn't appreciate vintage; she did. But this particular store would have been more appropriately named Grandma's Underwear Drawer.

"It doesn't fit. Can we go now?"

"Wait, come out and let me see it."

Ellie held the back of the white satin together with her left hand and opened the peeling dressing room door with the other. She was greeted with a gasp and jaw drop so large from her mother that she was sure she could fit a Big Mac into it. There was a reason her dad had given her mother a keychain that flashed Drama Queen in pink lights for Christmas last year.

September Secret Agent #2

GENRE: YA dystopian

The principal's office was bad, but the principal's office waiting room was much worse. Seth shifted in his toothpaste-colored seat and tried to concentrate on his homework (Problem number eight. Find the limit as x approaches e of the natural log of x, b-Reader droned inside his head), but his own thoughts were so loud he could barely hear the words.

What could Ms. Mahoney possibly want with him?

The secretary looked up then, almost like she'd read his mind. "Sorry for the wait." She flashed him a phantom grin. "But I think you'll find it worth your while."

Problem number eight. Find the limit as x approaches--

Seth pushed the words aside, out of thought. "What do you mean?"

She cupped one hand around the corner of her mouth. "Don't tell her I said anything, but ... congratulations."

Problem number--


"Not so loud!" The secretary leaned over her laptop, bleached blond curls bouncing stiffly, like she was going to say more. But then something on the screen caught her attention, and she didn't.

Problem number eight. Find the limit as--

Seth closed the calc book with a thought and exited b-Reader with another, but that only made way for a new flood of sounds and pictures, which burrowed into his brain with almost no thought at all. In the quiet of the waiting room, Stream Surfer's smooth-talking voices were impossible to ignore.

September Secret Agent #1

TITLE: The Earl's Fantasy Lover
GENRE: Regency Romance

The blackmailer claimed to know her secrets. Did he know about her daughter?

Miss Carolyn Wescot drew a calming breath, her fingers straightening the feathered mask over her cheekbones. She inched out of the shadows, squinting against the light of the chandeliers, and crossed the gallery of the mahogany staircase. The smell of alcohol and cheap perfumes mingled with the cigar smoke rising from the card room below. One of the more pleasant odors, considering this huge beehive was a brothel.

Hands trembling, she grasped the railing and surveyed the crowd. Scantily-dressed serving girls and card dealers wore masks as if part of a uniform. Those who worked and played here were masters of disguise. Only a handful of gamblers didn't hide their faces, and the Earl of Greybridge was known to prowl the hells of London utterly shameless of his sins.

She knew better than to depend on a gambler and drunkard like Greybridge to help. But she needed a fortune, and over the last fortnight, he had been tossing money about to find her. Why?

Anxiety thudded in her chest, stealing her breath. She forced air into her lungs and leaned over the railing. Where was Greybridge? Sharpening his horn at some other whorehouse, where else? God, she'd already wasted two precious nights waiting for Greybridge to appear, and she couldn't afford to leave tonight empty handed--

"One of your old regulars is being shackled," the House Mistress' husky voice said from the
stairs, to Caro's left. "Interested?"

Time To Jump In!

And another round begins. Nice variety of offerings--I'm sure you'll enjoy critting!

Entrants, please remember to critique a minimum of 5 entries.

And please don't choose the "ANONYMOUS" setting for your comments. There are four choices for signing your comment. The THIRD choice is "NAME/URL." Please use that one. Type in your screen name; the URL is not necessary.

I've set up the blog to accept all posts, including anonymous ones, to make it as unrestrictive as possible. But please use a screen name--any screen name.

Have fun! Posts will start appearing at 10:00 Eastern.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Hooray! Friday!

I'm especially bubbly today because I've got six hours to write. SIX DEDICATED HOURS!

I'm already camped out at a local bakery/sandwich shop in a cozy corner near an outlet (naturally). Beatrice is charged and ready to go. And my French toast has been ordered.

Oh, if EVERY Friday were like this! Of course, it remains to be seen whether I actually accomplish three times as much in three times my normal writing time.

We'll see! I'm focused and ready to go.

I hope your Friday is happy and productive, too!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On The Do-Nothing Hero and Why He Kills Your Story

Blake Snyder, in Save the Cat, states it concisely:

A common mistake in a lot of rough drafts is the problem of the inactive hero.

Not that I wasn't already aware that the main character in my YA Dystopian needed to grow parts. I had that revelation a few weeks ago. But for some reason, when I read the above sentence, it really hit home. REALLY.

It's one of those things you don't necessarily "hear" in the feedback you're getting. Or if it's pointed out directly, it may not resonate. "What do you mean, my hero is inactive?! Did you see what he had to go through? All that angst and pain and fear and struggle?"

Well, yeah. But in the course of the story, did your hero propel things by his actions and decisions? Or was he sorta...dragged along?

It's ironic, really. My belief that I couldn't write a novel (being a self-proclaimed anecdotal essayist) was shattered as I read The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge and thought, "This is bad. I think I could write a better story." My reason? The heroine is propelled through the entire story by external circumstances! Everything is convenient, pat, and painfully predictable.

It's accurate to say, I think, that the heroine really doesn't do anything except REACT. A truly disappointing read.

So what have I gone and done? I've written a novel with an inactive hero! Over the past eight months, I've received all sorts of feedback on the story, touching on everything from worldbuilding to character development to voice and back again. But woven throughout those comments was a thread of "Eric needs to be active" that I totally missed.

Until now.

Here comes the bare-nekkid part--actual agent comments on my manuscript. Some of these are from revision requests and some are from rejections on fulls. One was even from an extreme-near-miss, I-almost-offered rejection. And ALL of them point to an inherent activity problem with my hero:

I found myself less engaged by the character.

It was difficult to concretely understand what the characters were fighting for.

I couldn't get Eric to resonate as a stand out for me. Part if this may have to do with his lack of evolution as a character.

I worry that you get to be almost half way through before you get a sense of where the book is going.

Eric never really has it out with Vann--you're kinda hoping at some point that they'd have a real conversation.

And my all-time favorite, which pretty much says it all:

Eric is inert the first half the book.


Well, she was right. One day, I'll tell her she was right. And thank her.

So now I've begun what can only be described as an exhilarating revision journey. Truly. Eric is going to DO things. Right from page one. As in, the story has opened and he's got a knife in his hand.

And it ain't a butter knife.

What about you? Is your hero the true leader he needs to be? And how can you be sure?

Blake Snyder offers a four-item check-list:

1. Is your hero's goal clearly stated in the set-up?

2. Do clues of what to do next just come to your hero or does he seek them out?

3. Is your hero active or passive?

4. Do other characters tell your hero what to do or does he tell them?

(And yes. I really do recommend you read the whole book. It's that good.)

No one wants to read a story with a main character who leaves us with a "what's the point of all this?" feeling. Action, fueled by clear motivation, will drive our main characters--and our readers!--compellingly through the story. We'll want to cheer for him. Because he'll deserve it.

Here's to your next, awesome, unstoppable hero!

Monday, September 13, 2010

September Secret Agent Early Info

It's that time again!

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open NEXT Monday, September 20.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (please read carefully):

* There will be TWO SEPARATE SUBMISSION WINDOWS. Each window will be open for 2 hours and will receive a maximum of 25 entries. This is to accommodate my other-side-of-the-globe readers.
* SUBMISSION WINDOW #1: Monday, September 20, NOON to 2:00 PM EDT or 25 entries, WHICHEVER COMES FIRST.
*SUBMISSION WINDOW #2: Monday, September 20, 7:00 to 9:00 PM EDT or 25 entries, WHICHEVER COMES FIRST.
*2 alternates will be chosen from the second submission window.
*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 received before the contest opens will be rejected.
* 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.
* Manuscripts THAT HAVE BEEN IN A SECRET AGENT CONTEST DURING THE PAST SIX MONTHS (March-August) will not be accepted.
* You may submit A DIFFERENT MANUSCRIPT if you've participated in any previous Secret Agent contests.
* Only ONE ENTRY per person per contest. If you send more than one, your subsequent entry(ies) will be rejected.
* If you are a PAST WINNER, please DO NOT ENTER THIS CONTEST. (Unless it's a different manuscript.)
* Submissions are for THE FIRST 250 WORDS of your manuscript. Please do not stop in the middle of a

Your submission for this contest should be formatted as follows:

SCREEN NAME: Your Screen Name Here
TITLE: Your Title Here
GENRE: Your Genre Here

(Followed by the excerpt here.)

* No "chapter one," chapter titles, etc.
* You will receive a confirmation email with your post number.
* Submissions go to authoress.submissions(at) They DO NOT GO to my facelesswords address. Or any other address.
*PLAIN TEXT is your best bet! And if you receive a rejection notice that claims you didn't include TITLE, etc., please TYPE THE SCREEN NAME, TITLE, AND GENRE BY HAND and resubmit. (In other words, don't copy and paste that part.)

This month's contest will include the following genres:
  • SF/F
  • Historical and paranormal romance
  • MG and YA (including all subgenres)
Shoot your questions below!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Fricassee

Happy Friday!

My apologies for the lack of bloggage this week. Other than the very fun interview with Denise Jaden (which was completed weeks ago), I haven't said much.

Okay, I haven't said anything. But I've been hard at work behind the scenes, preparing a Very Special Fun Thing for December.

That's all I'm saying. More in the weeks to come.

*big, evil grin*

Taking into consideration that I might be easily amazed, I find that I amazed myself yesterday. I worked on two novels in one sitting. And it WORKED.

Mind you, I wasn't writing. I was storyboarding. Lots of thinking, lots of reading Scrivener note cards, lots of bullet listing of scenes. Rearranging, eliminating, and--gasp--creating new ones WITHOUT HAVING WRITTEN THEM.

For me, that's just...odd. But having a story framework already in place made it easier.

They are two vastly different projects. One is my shiny-new, just-hit-40K-on-Wednesday WIP. The other is a completed work that's getting a huge overhaul.

I haven't "arrived" or anything (do we ever?), but I feel like I hit a milestone yesterday. So many of you were SO GRACIOUS to offer your advice to me a little over a month ago on how to tackle two things at once.

For a while, I simply couldn't do it. I went with my gut and focused solely on my WIP. And it was the right thing to do, because I wasn't ready to tackle the Huge Revision. Didn't have the vision for it. Not clearly. Not even through a dim haze.

Now, I've got it. And if I could just learn to exist on four hours of sleep, I could continue to work on both with equal gusto.

Instead, I will most likely be revisiting your comments about choosing play lists and taking a break between projects in order to "switch mindsets." I remain so grateful for everything you pour into this community!

And you know how, after a real writing high, you don't want to do ANYTHING else but write the next day? That would be me, today.

Alas. Life doesn't work that way.

But hey! Let's all dream that some day it WILL. Oh, to live our passion! Gives me shivers, just thinking about it.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Author Interview: DENISE JADEN

It was my great pleasure to interview Denise Jaden, author of LOSING FAITH and one of our MSFV "success stories."

AUTHORESS: Can you share with us how your participation in Secret Agent contests played a part in your ultimate success?

DENISE: I believe I entered 3 secret agent contests (with 3 different novels) which all helped me along for sure (and I won the first secret agent contest with Holly Root – unfortunately she was super busy and wasn’t able to get back to me in time – that’s why I ended up going with Michelle). I had entered LOSING FAITH in a secret agent contest, but ended up pulling my entry when I signed with Michelle before the entries went up. It was so useful to me to see how my first paragraphs were perceived ( line by line) by not only the secret agents, but also by multiple readers. There is simply nowhere else to get feedback like that, and as an author I know that often times my perception of my own work can be off.

AUTHORESS: What did your journey look like before LOSING FAITH's success? How many novels had you written prior to the "one"? And what do you feel makes LOSING FAITH different than its predecessors?

DENISE: Prior to LOSING FAITH, I had written one novel for the adult market (which I’m still hoping to revise to YA one day), one other YA novel and one middle grade novel. My earlier YA novel is now with my agent and I hope to be able to sell it soon. And as I mentioned, I still also have high hopes for that first novel. I’m a big believer in putting writing aside for long stretches of time and coming back to it with fresh eyes. I think by the time I wrote LOSING FAITH, I had become better at finding flaws in my work and solutions of how to fix them. I also have a much more suitable network of critique partners, and they deserve a great portion of any glory my writing ever receives.

Since writing LOSING FAITH, I have written two other YA novels, which are in different stages of revision.

AUTHORESS: So, every aspiring author loves to hear stories about "the call." Can you share yours with us?

DENISE: “The Call” is such a fun topic to reflect on! I assume you’re talking about the agent call (my editor deal was actually through email) so I’ll go with that.

I actually received more than one offer of representation. My first call came when I was sitting at my kitchen table, in the throes of my latest work in progress. I heard the phone, and as I always do, I let it go to the answering machine. I guess I didn’t have the volume down though, since seconds later my recorded message started babbling through the house. I considered going to turn down the volume, but instead figured I’d just listen to who it is quickly and then get back to work.

Well…as soon as the agent said her name and agency name, I froze in place. She went on to say she’d read my manuscript and loved it (the first time I’d ever heard an industry professional use the “L” word about my writing) and she wanted to offer representation. I did not rush to pick up the phone, as I could hardly breathe at the time. After she hung up, I started to shake and cry and hyperventilate for a few minutes. I wrote a little freak out email to a couple of critique partners and finally called her back. The rest, as they say, is history!

AUTHORESS: So my first reaction is, "Huh? You still have an answering machine?" :D But what a fun "first contact."

Is your agent a hands-on, editorial type who required lots of grunt work prior to going out on submission? Or was your manuscript pretty much "ready to go?" How did it feel to watch your baby fly into the (scary) yonder?

DENISE: Yes, we still have an answering machine. We’re very old school (aka – my husband doesn’t like change). I do have voicemail on my iPhone.

When first chatting with my agent, I asked her about whether or not she’s a “hands-on” agent. She assured me that yes, she is, but that LOSING FAITH, in her opinion, needed very little work. She did a line edit on the manuscript for me and then we sent it out. It wasn’t until I sent her my NEXT book that I got to see just how hands-on she really is! She sent me back a thorough editorial letter with eleven points of very large changes (including re-working the entire last section of the book). She definitely has a keen eye for what is working and what isn’t, and a great ability to communicate it in a way I can understand.

I’m still in the process of watching my baby fly, and to be perfectly honest, I think it gets harder every day. At first I was nervous if I knew agents were reading it. Then my nerves hit a new level when I knew it was being scrutinized by editors. But on all these levels, I think there is still a reasonable level of respect between professionals. Now that my book is hitting reviewers, and about to hit the public, people willing to speak their minds without reserve, my nerves are in full force. I know that people will be honest and tell me if “my baby is ugly,” or “a babe only a mother could love.” Reading is very subjective, and I think I’ve prepared myself for all possible reactions, but it is still scary.

AUTHORESS: You have such a good attitude about the reviews and subjectivity. This is something all authors must embrace!

DENISE: Yes, well, I think it’s probably easier to have a good attitude BEFORE the reviews start rolling in. But thanks. :-)

AUTHORESS: It's an undeniable truth that authors must be willing to self-promote/market. What is your approach? Is this something that's difficult for you? If so, how are you overcoming the quintessential "author introversion"? If not, share the secret of your strength!

DENISE: I think it’s unfortunate that authors are expected to be excellent at so many things besides writing. To be honest, I’ve been a performer since I was very young, so being in the public eye doesn’t really bother me. But I am still a bit of an introvert, especially when it comes to speaking in front of people.

I think one thing that has made the promotion/marketing endeavor a little easier on authors, though, is social media. When I first started to seriously pursue publication, I also started to dabble in all kinds of social media—blogging, twitter, facebook, youtube. I’ve always hit every area of marketing with the idea that I’ll give it the good ol’ college try, and if after a few months it really feels wrong or difficult or like I’m constantly working it, I’ll drop it and pursue something else. I must say that none of the social media has turned me off so far. In fact, it’s often something I have to restrain myself from.

AUTHORESS: As a die-hard Twitter addict, I hear ya!

So tell us a little about the story! Tantalize us.

DENISE: Tantalize? Yeah, no pressure or anything. :-)

Losing Faith is about sixteen year old Brie Jenkins. She’s the black sheep of her religious family, until her older, angelic sister dies in a fall from a cliff. Through the process of grieving, Brie discovers that her sister Faith had a dark and twisted secret… a secret that may put Brie’s own life in danger.

AUTHORESS: Yay! I absolutely want to know what the dark and twisted secret is.

So, what are you working on right now? How do you envision your long-term career? Are there different genres you'd like to explore? And how has having an agent and signing your first deal affected the way you approach your work/perceive yourself as a writer?

DENISE: At the moment, I’m working on another YA contemporary, called PERFECT AIM. It’s about a teen archer who shoots way off target when she tries to unite her family, and instead instigates family war. And in the midst of all that, she slips into the wrong crowd and falls for the wrong guy. She has a pretty big mess to pull herself out of!

As far as my long-term career, I probably approach this differently than most authors. Most of the time, I don’t really think of my writing as a career as much as a hobby. This is not because I wouldn’t LIKE it to be a career, but I just feel this attitude gives me a bit of sanity. So much of this business is out of my control, and the idea of it being my hobby takes some of the pressure off, at least for me, and helps propel my creative side.

Most of my story ideas fall into the category of YA contemporary. I think that’s just the way my brain works. If I explored any other genre, I think it would be dystopian, though still with a very solid real-world bent.

At first, having an agent and then selling a book were huge confidence boosters. Now that the dust has settled, however, I don’t think I see myself much differently than before. I still remind myself regularly that I write primarily for me, and if my critique partner or agent or editor doesn’t like what comes out of me, it’s not the end of the world. I think I have learned a big lesson in subjectivity through the whole process, though. I only hope I can retain it!

AUTHORESS: I'll admit that your outlook is unique--but obviously working!

So what about the non-writing bits? Aside from your "hobby" (hee!), what else do you pour your passion into? Where might we find you on a sunny afternoon? A wintry evening?

DENISE: Aside from writing, I’m also a professional Polynesian dancer, which I love. I’ve danced since I was eight and the troupe I dance with is a group of very committed and passionate individuals. It feels so great to work hard at something as a team and make it excellent.

I’m also a homeschooling mom. My son is six, going into second grade, and for the most part, we both love doing school together. We spend lots of time figuring out “field trips” where we can learn on the fly, and this can also be almost a full-time job at times.

On a sunny afternoon, you’d probably find me at my computer writing, as you would on most afternoons. Regardless of the weather, I’m pretty committed to writing every day, and it usually works out best in the afternoons. I love being outdoors though, and try to get out there, to the park or for a bike ride, as often as possible.

On a wintry evening, you’d most likely find me at home with the fire on, watching a movie with my husband.

I also spend about 5 mornings per week in the gym, and have done that most of my life. Many years ago (in what feels like another life), I used to compete in fitness and strength competitions.

AUTHORESS: All this, and you WRITE, too? What a unique and fascinating life!

So share with us, please, your words of wisdom/inspiration/encouragement to aspiring authors who are still in the trenches.

DENISE: Read a lot, write a lot. Don’t allow rejections or bad reviews or harsh critiques to alter what you’re passionate about and who you are. Only you can tell the stories that are inside of you. Don’t compare yourself with others, no matter what stage of the process you’re in. Even with the same editor or agent, it’s really all apples and oranges, and comparison is just one big recipe for crazy-making.

AUTHORESS: Denise, it's been wonderful getting to know so much about you. Thank you for your time!

DENISE: It was lots of fun doing the interview with you too! Thanks again for hosting me – I hope it will be something others enjoy reading.

Denise Jaden is represented by Michelle Humphrey from the Martha Kaplan Agency. LOSING FAITH releases from Simon Pulse / Simon & Schuster TODAY!


LOSING FAITH at Chapters