Monday, April 30, 2012

May Secret Agent Early Info

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open next Monday, May 7.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (please read carefully):

*There are TWO WAYS to enter: a) via email to authoress.submissions(at) OR via web form at
* There will be TWO SUBMISSION WINDOWS:  9:00-11:00 am EDT for the first 25, and 7:00-9:00 pm EDT for the second 25 plus alternates. (This is NOT a lottery.)
* 2 alternates will also be accepted, for a total of 52 entries.
* 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 (October-March) 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 WON A CONTEST WITHIN THE PAST 12 MONTHS (i.e., offered any kind of prize from a Secret Agent), 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 GO HERE to submit via our web form. If you choose to submit via email, your submission for this contest should be formatted EXACTLY 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 lottery number.
* Submissions go to authoress.submissions(at) They DO NOT GO to my facelesswords address. Or any other address.
*It doesn't matter what you put in the subject line. The only thing you MUST NOT do is to use "RE:" The bot will think you are attempting to respond to an email, and will reject you. As always, there is no fee to enter the Secret Agent contest. This month's contest will include the following genres:

  • Dystopian
  • Fantasy
  • Paranormal
  • Cozy Mystery
  • Steampunk
*** Please note that this genre listings has been updated to include ALL GENRES of YA ***

Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Fricassee

Aaaaand it's the last Friday of April!

So this has been a week of affirmation and encouragement all around, and I'm feeling glow-y.  Next week will bring info for our May Secret Agent Contest and a small in-house critique, because we need one of those, don't you think?

Several hours after posting yesterday's "87 Hearts" (in which I waxed dramatic about the black state of my own heart), I received a finished critique from Adam Heine, the newest addition to my crit partner brigade (well, it IS a brigade).

"Don't read it until you're ready," was Jodi Meadows's sage advice.

Forget "ready."  It's been a crappy few weeks and I needed something--ANYTHING--to sink my teeth into.

I don't know if any of you have ever had the experience of laughing your way through in-line edit notes.  All I can say is--Adam is a master at weaving insightful, DEAD-ON suggestions with the most hysterical side comments I've ever seen in a Track Changes bubble.  We're talking fake dialogue and everything.

I tore through the entire thing (yeah, there were A LOT of notes), and now I've got a wonderful document  titled "Adam Notes" for easy reference when I finally sit down to revise this puppy.

(No, you can't have him.  Go find your own endlessly witty critique partner.)

Anyway, it was such a turning point in my month that I wanted to publicly praise him.  (Just don't press too close.  He doesn't like crowds.)

Thank you, Adam!  You're a genius!

As for the rest of you -- what wonderful experiences have you had with edit notes?  Any huge eureka moments?  A life-changing comment that shone sudden light on exactly what was wrong with your story?  Funny typos?  A crit partner who proved to be the first person to really GET your story?

Or do you really hate edit notes and dread them like acne on prom night?

Looking forward to your comments, as always.  And have a delightful weekend!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

87 Hearts

I'd have to say that the meat of this week's blog content has come from you.

First, you responded with grace, strength, and the wisdom of experience to my OUCH post.  Here I am, being all protective and believing I'm doing some damage control, and you all rise to the top like sweet cream, muscles rippling.

I am so proud of you.  I am so blessed to be part of a group like this.

Then, you responded to my birthday request with a glorious assortment of personal stories, each one detailing at least one way in which this blog community has affected you.  Aside from the more obvious things like landing an agent and/or a book deal, you mentioned things like:

  • procedure
  • perspective
  • perseverance 

(The 3 P's of MSFV?)

And, threaded thickly throughout the 87 comments:  ENCOURAGEMENT.  And oh, how important that is!  We all need it desperately--daily, when things are rough.  And it's hard to describe how humbling, and how profoundly gratifying, it is to know that, even on days when I feel like I have NOTHING to give, somebody is feeling encouraged by something I wrote.

Encouraged that their writing IS getting better, after all.

Encouraged that they are not alone on their journey.

Encouraged to know that others are succeeding, which makes success feel somehow less elusive.


Because sometimes it's a day to day struggle, right?

Thank you, Oh Eight-seven, for taking the time to comment your hearts.  They are like food and drink to my spirit right now.  (I can wax dramatic when I really put my mind to it, huh?)  But seriously, I have felt so drained; so tired of the long, black wait.  So tired of how slowly things move, how so much work and energy and lifeblood comes to a screeching halt while you are forced to Simply. Wait.

And sometimes it makes me want to run away to the ocean and never come back.  And never write another word.

Know what stops me?  You.  Sure, I'm feisty as all get-out, and I'm NOT a giver-upper.  But even non-giver-uppers scrape bottom sometimes, and I know I have to crawl back up again because your collective eyes are on me, and your collective journeys are part of mine.

And I LIKE it this way.

Thank you for being a lifeline for me.  I've said it countless times, but this is truly a remarkable journey, and I'm convinced that each stage has a precise purpose (even if we can't see it at the time).

Last night, my husband looked into my eyes and said, "I believe in you."  And that's the way you all make me feel, too.  Like you believe in me.  And this sense of believing-in-each-other is what keeps this blog alive and well for all of us.

Rock on, everyone!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Your Birthday Gift to Me

Yes, it's the Big Day (not so "big", really), so I'm treating myself by not hanging around here much.

(Don't take that wrong. You know I love you.)

So while I'm busy eating cupcakes and pondering the direction of my life and all that, I have a small request.  Will you share ONE THING you've received from this blog community?

It can be something big, like an agent or a book deal.  It can be something that SEEMS smaller than that (like the courage to do a revision or a renewed faith in what you're doing), but that will potentially have a huge effect down the road.

Maybe you found your crit partner here.

Maybe you learned how to critique.

Maybe you grew the first layer of your Thick Skin here.

Maybe it occurred to you, after two years here, that you actually want to be a taxidermist instead of a writer.

Whatever your story--whatever way you've been touched--please share!  Even if you've already shared it (or even if I've already showcased you as a success story).  It will be the best present ever.

Monday, April 23, 2012


Just a wee love note to the entrants of our Mystery Contest.  Because, yanno, Ms. Svetcov didn't mince her words.

Fact is, lots of people in this business won't mince their words.  If it's something you're not used to, it's time to get used to it.

It doesn't mean you suck.

It doesn't mean you should give up.

It doesn't mean the universe is ending.

What it means is:  Some people won't mince their words.  That is all.  You may be expecting something other than what you receive.  You may feel stunned or numb or flabbergasted when you read someone's response to your work--especially if that "someone" is an agent or editor with whom you were hoping to find some level of favor.

Welcome to the World of Showing People What You've Written.

It's not fun.  It's not something that most of us can get used to overnight. But the Thick Skin is an important part of our journey, so if you haven't started growing yours yet, now's the time.

Rest assured that I will never allow trolls or snarky readers or embittered writers to publicly tear you apart.  I will continue to do everything in my power to keep this a safe environment for you to continue to grow in.  But I don't have a big magenta eraser for editing less-than-tactful critiques and comments.  I may not like them, but they are a reality for us as writers.

We need to reel them in with the rest of the fish, and cast them away if they don't serve a purpose.

Interestingly, often they do serve a purpose--if only to teach us to rise above our emotions and keep pressing on.

So there you have it.  I'm sorry if some of you felt the sting.  But I'm not sorry for this wonderful opportunity for you to gather your wits about you and PUSH VALIANTLY FORWARD.  Because that's what I want you to do.

Okay?  This is the life we've chosen.  It's not all daisies and fluff-ponies.  But we're in this together, and I AM ON YOUR TEAM.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Friday Fricassee

Good morning!

I'll admit to a few moments of panic yesterday when the critiques were slow to begin.  "Oh, no!" thought I.  "This is such a small cross-section of my readership that the response is going to be lame!"

I shouldn't have worried; the critiques have been rolling in.  It's admittedly to a lesser degree than our across-many-genres crits, so I want to encourage those of you who are non-mystery-writers to try your hand at critiquing one or two of these.

Also?  If you are one of the entrants, please remember to critique a minimum of 5 other entries.  It's your way of saying "thank you" for the critique you'll be receiving on your own work.

Here's the scoop on Danielle Svetcov:  Between now and Wednesday, she will be reading and critiquing all the entries.  If she'd like to request anything, she'll let me know.  I will post a list of requested items on Thursday, similar to the way I do it for Secret Agent contests.

And there you have it!  I've got a weekend-of-houseguests ahead of me, so I'm thankful I'm not drafting right now.  (I mean, I can't stand trying to figure out how to get my 1000 words in on days that require me to, yanno, talk to people.)  Also?  Someone in my Real Life has offered to make cupcakes for my birthday next week--and I get to choose the flavor.  Will you help me decide?  It's down to two:

  • Vanilla pound cake with chocolate buttercream frosting
  • Fresh pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting

This is apparently the biggest decision in my life this weekend, so please cast your votes below!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #27

GENRE: Traditional Mystery

Identity theft, computer hacking, and murder—and it’s only Monday.

Cooter Ferry’s top news jockey, Quindley Dempsy is a transplanted Yankee with a penchant for interfering in police investigations and a knack for solving murders. The former embedded war reporter has raised a mountain of cash to build a high-tech rehab clinic for injured combat veterans. When a body drops from the rafters during the clinic’s dedication, Quindley sets out to nail the bastard who killed her best friend—the chief finance officer of her mega-bucks foundation.

The first time I fired a gun, I killed six people—and all I got was a lousy t-shirt. Actually, a shirt and a three-inch titanium screw that holds my right ankle together.

I’m Quindley Dempsy, Eagle 7 News feature reporter, and I’ve learned there are only two rules in deep-pocket fundraising. Rule 1—reel in as much loot as possible at each event, and Rule 2—repeat Rule 1, as needed. I’m a Rule 2 Goddess. Good thing, too. Because my Global Warrior Foundation needs more scratch. That’s why I decided to dangle another money-raising shindig alongside the dedication of our new veteran’s rehabilitation center.

I funneled a Diet Mountain Dew, held back a belch, and strutted to the microphone. “Ladies and gentlemen.” The gala’s velvety hum subsided. “Your generous contributions made Five Angels a reality.” I swept my arms around the atrium connecting the new rehab clinic with the vets’ medical center. “Tonight, we’re dedicating this miraculous facility. But our work is unfinished.”

It was one of those blithe, sultry Lowcountry evenings. Bow-tied waiters, proffering trays of champagne and canapés, slalomed through the crush of moneyed-elite, noted philanthropists, and local celebrities eager to donate to my cause.

“The war has created a painful and expensive legacy—brain-injured and limbless young bodies—who will challenge our ability to care for them for decades to come. And Government resources for prosthetics and specialized medical attention are at a breaking point. One high-tech leg starts at sixty-thousand dollars. Cheers to each of your two good ones. Now, how many limbs will you buy tonight?”

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #26

TITLE: Uncertain Justice
GENRE: Mystery

After Austin, Texas, Assistant D.A. Elyse Grove resorts to prosecutor office cutthroat tactics to get her first high-profile homicide, the more she looks into her prize case, the less she is convinced of the guilt of the defendant, a Junior Leaguer of a certain age who has much to gain by her husband’s death. Another young, up-and-coming assistant D.A. talks her way into becoming Elyse’s second chair for the trial, and they become embroiled in a competition for the attentions of the same police investigator, until the second chair’s secret addiction promises to blow the case wide open.

I parked down the street from the flashing-light entourage on Barton Skyway Drive, wondering what justified this many emergency vehicles. A blast of heat, like the 425-degree oven that heated up my frozen pizza earlier, hit me once I stepped out of the car. I wanted to cast off the linen jacket, but my outfit needed dressing up with authority.

As my heels tapped across the reflections of blue and red on the road, I scanned the body types of the police milling outside the mansion. No Sergeant Jackson Barnes, although he’d told me he’d meet me outside to explain. All the men were, in comparison to him, “shambly,” a word my high school friends and I had made up to describe baggy outfits around shapeless bodies. I sighed inwardly, disappointed, then mentally kicked myself. I was no longer in high school, although the dating life did reduce me to that. Just when I thought I’d finally escaped it, I was starting all over again.

And I was at a crime scene. Time to pay attention. An officer was winding police tape around the perimeter of the neo-classical columns of what could only be called a mansion. He did his best to ignore my approach. This was not the kind of neighborhood where people gathered around a crime scene, although I had seen a couple of bobbled heads in windows.

Marching past prompted his response. “Ma’am, you’re going to need to step back.” He wiped the sweat from his brow.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #25 (removed)


Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #24

TITLE: Lygos
GENRE: Supernatural/Paranormal Adult

Adella Dowling has seen a lot in her 200 years. She knows she’s different, even from her own kind, the Lygos. When love finally finds her in the form of Ian Walsh, she must find out all the answers to her past. She races against time and secrets from her past as she struggles to save not only her kind but that of her enemy, the Misolygos. It’s the only way she can save Ian, a Misolygos himself.

Adella – 1887

I drifted in and out of consciousness.

Nathaniel held me, kissing my cheeks, my hair, my lips, my body shivering with pleasure.

“Love you always.”

“Do not say that.” I smiled coyly.

“I will. Nothing could prevent my feelings for you. No matter what my father says.”

Warning bells going off in my head. Unable to move.

The magistrate with an evil grin. What was happening? Arms like lead. Legs too.

“I have been waiting for you.” His laugh I had always hated bounced off the walls.

Where was Nathaniel? I could hear him. He was saying…what was he saying?

“No. Not her. She is not like the others. You are wrong.” He shouted. He begged. He was silenced. Tears filled my eyes.

My knees drug against the cobblestone path as two guards held me under my arms. I tried to cry out but my tongue was a heavy as my legs. It felt as if my lips were sown shut. Please. Please help me! Nathaniel!


I was weak but could move on my own. I had no energy to compel a guard, even if I had seen one. No one came near me. I knew why. The magistrate had ordered me left alone. The girl who had told him of my gifts rotted two cells over. I plotted her demise to take my mind off my own.

I sat on the cold damp floor. Snippets of the past fell away as I became aware of my surrounding for another miserable day. Rats scurried about waiting for tiny morsels of food to be left behind or a withering body to drop dead.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #23

TITLE: Hair Sprayed Hard and Put Away Forever
GENRE: Adult Mystery

A hairstylist turns detective to find out who killed a celebrity stylist at a Las Vegas hair show when her best friend is arrested for the murder.

It was like being drop kicked into a Lady Gaga video.

Although I’d never actually seen a Lady Gaga video, I was pretty sure the freak show I was currently witnessing would measure up.

Techno music pulsed from over-sized speakers, competing with the fevered, carnival barker voice hocking the latest, state-of-the-art revolution in hairstyling. A string of models, looking like refugees from the forest scene in the Wizard of Oz, shuffled past where we stood at the back of the room. Wearing form-fitting bark dresses, their hair had been wired and twisted to resemble bare tree branches. Lights flashed on the main stage, slicing across the gender neutral forms posed Martha Graham style, their hair geometric origami, symbolizing the effect of time and space on society or some such ridiculousness.

Gripping the hands of my two best friends, Vivian Moreno and Juan Carlos, I tried to suppress the excitement rising up the back of my throat. We were in Las Vegas! Far from our home in California where I, Azalea March, co-owned a salon with Vivian deep in heart of overly-highlighted, under-styled Orange County. And we had four whole days of nothing but free casino booze and sacrificing sleep for parties ahead of us.

The real reason we were in Sin City was to attend the North American Salon Trade Expo, or NAST-E as Juan Carlos called it. As hairstylists, this event was our Cannes Film Festival, if the festival were held at the overblown Las Vegas convention center and the movies were hairstyling presentations so ludicrous it was like New York fashion week threw up, then rolled around in the notions department of a craft store.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #22

TITLE: The Exitor
GENRE: YA Paranormal Mystery

When Phoenix Wack discovers she can manipulate death and send her soul out to spy on the neighbors, she stops worrying about her ridiculous name and starts uncovering the town’s darkest secrets.

Nix hated throwing up. Especially on someone else's front porch. Well, technically she'd leaned over and fertilized the flowers, but it wasn't a proud moment.

What a stupid idea it had been to run six miles uphill. Jordan had better be grateful for what she was going through for him. Nix wiped the sweat from her temples and knocked on the enormous oak door. Somewhere inside, a dog began barking.

Until that moment Nix hadn't realized how quiet it was. The darkened grounds seemed completely deserted. Weird. She'd never actually been to a party, but she'd imagined it with music, and...people. Could this be the wrong mansion? She stepped off the porch and looked around. Maybe it would be best to just slip into the forest and make her way home. But as Nix turned toward the surrounding trees, a dark shape caught her eye. It stood motionless for a moment and then disappeared into the shadows.
Before she'd even had a chance to process what she'd seen, the front door opened and an attractive blonde appeared on the porch. The girl held a tiny dachshund that seemed to be all gums and teeth.
“Can I help you?” she said over the dog's high-pitched yapping.

This must be Sara. Nix had seen her around school, but they'd never really spoken. Why would they?
“I thought I saw...” Nix began, but hesitated. What was the point of telling her about the shadow? It was probably just a raccoon. And anyway, the important thing was to find her best friend.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #21

TITLE: Opelika Ladies Murder Society
GENRE: Cozy Mystery

When the Alabama Azaleas Book Club decides to read only Agatha Christie novels for a year, townspeople start showing up dead, murdered the same nights as book club and in the exact same manner featured in the month’s selection. The women must work together to find the killer before the next murder takes place — even if that means implicating one of their own.

Annelle grunted as she pushed Myrtle’s wheelchair off the cart path and into the rough near the last hole of the Grand National golf course. Ned Pinckney’s casket lay open in the hot Alabama sun, the flag of the 18th hole directly at the foot of the coffin.

Years ago, that rich SOB had somehow convinced the golf course owners to allow his funeral service to be held on the pristine green when the Lord finally called him home. Annelle heard he paid a pretty penny for this spectacle. She hoped he was at least enjoying it from wherever he now resided.

Myrtle and hundreds of other Opelika residents flocked to the funeral, most out of perverse curiosity, Annelle suspected. As much as the town despised Ned, they couldn’t take their eyes off him, especially as a murdered corpse.

“Outrageous,” Myrtle murmured loud enough to let a few people hear her without disrupting the entire funeral.

Annelle refused to engage.

“Look at that rouge! And who dresses a man in plaid pants and golf shoes to meet his maker?” Myrtle had always taken great offense at attire not suited to the occasion. Ironically, she’d resorted to favoring primarily polyester mu-mus in large Hawaiian prints after moving to Northridge Assistive Living last fall to recuperate from hip surgery.

“It’s his funeral,” Annelle said. “And anyway, his attire is probably appropriate given that we’re on a damn golf course.”

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #20

TITLE: Dear Departed
GENRE: Paranormal Cozy

While detective Tom Franklin sizzles his way into the heart of murder victim Caroline Nancel, she uses her new ghostly wiles to haunt him into love. If he accepts her spirit is with him they can work together to find her killer and perhaps some of the peace each of them crave.

I woke up on the ceiling the other morning. Thank God it wasn’t an instantly alert “My eyes are open, I control my destiny!” wake-up, but a fuzzy, easy kind of “I see light, it must be morning.” wake-up that gave me a few moments to puzzle out my location before I freaked out.

The sun was peeping over the mountains that cradle our beautiful valley in central California. As the light bloomed the details the darkness had shrouded came into focus. I looked to my left and noted I should have a word with my cleaning lady about her attention to corners, high as well as low. A frail and floaty spider web waved, stirred by air coming out of the heating vent. Was I only noticing it because it was moving, or was it because I was so close to it? Close . . . why was I close to a spider web on the ceiling?

Prompted by this thought I looked down and saw my body, eyes open and staring, lying in blood-soaked sheets. That’s when I lost my composure completely, and a fifty-one year old woman flipping out at this magnitude is not a pretty sight.

I screamed, I cried, I thrashed about; it didn’t change a thing. Calming a bit or perhaps getting tired, I tried bargaining with Fate and God, making loads of promises and offers I never could’ve made good on. The Universe, in its infinite wisdom, ignored me.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #19

TITLE: The Present is Past
GENRE: YA Mystery

For Ro, order is the only control against chaos, and it comes with the price of her sanity. No one understands this better than her big sister Athena. Athena and Ro tiptoe around the unsolved mystery that scarred them both early in their childhoods. When Athena vanishes, Ro is determined to find her at any cost. Even if it means remembering.

It was pitch-dark. Enclosed. They could have been in a closet, maybe in an overturned box, under a bed. Wherever they were it was dark. The two sisters couldn’t see so they clung to each other tightly. The big sister’s auburn curls entwined with the younger sister’s ebony locks, much like their fingers were laced together.

“Do you think she’s asleep?” the younger one asked.

“No, I don’t.”

“Do you think we can get out of here?” Her voice quivered.

“No. Not for a long, long time.” The older sister answered and squeezed her fingers hard. The younger sister relaxed into the pressure, feeling worried but safe. The darkness swallowed their small frames, huddled together like shadows scared of reality’s bright glare. Finally, the older sister screamed.

Fourteen years later

Ro was a fine example of a person trying to be good. Despite it all. Or maybe because of it all. Either way she tried. No more than two drinks a night no matter how sharp the wind blew through the poorly insulated thirteenth-floor apartment she called home. Never more than one sick day a month from her roach infested high school and absolutely only one crying jag per week. Usually she scheduled this in after a phone call with her father. One had to have limits, however self-imposed: to cope, to manage, to survive. Or so Ro thought.

Why it was so important to be good was something any person suffering from depression, anxiety and a crushing obsessive complex would understand. But Ro knew no one else with this constellation of traits. Her sister understood. Athena and Ro were tight, maybe because of the murder. They never spoke of it. In fact, they told people their mom died of cancer.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #18

TITLE: A Place to Live
GENRE: Mystery

A sixty-year old American woman has found her ideal attic apartment in Vienna, a perfect place to live, but her equanimity vanishes when a neighbor across the hall is found dead in her bathtub. An eccentric Viennese detective carries the search for the murderer across Vienna, then on to Berlin and back, while the American woman is trapped in the macabre events in her paradise.

The apartment was small, what the Viennese call a garçonniere, a bachelor apartment; this one was a divided attic room with sloping ceilings, a wood-burning tiled stove and a balcony. That was the real selling-point, a big balcony, big for the size of the garçonniere, with seven big planters in place of railings, like seven tiny gardens. Now, at the end of March, the daffodils in the planters were catching the sun and blowing, as they always did up here, in the wind. The house was very quiet on a Sunday morning. The house was usually quiet; the only disturbance was when the landlord, Herr Zimmermann, was shouting on the telephone, or yelling at his lady-friend, or playing his TV loudly—he was deaf and frequently forgot his hearing aids. He lived in the middle of the house, and he was surely the center of it. But apart from him, it was a very quiet house. On this particular Sunday, the peace of the house was shattered in a way no one expected in the residential district called Döbling, known locally as a “noble district,” the word “noble” nowadays having a mocking sound, used less by residents of the area than by those who could not afford to live there. And what turned up in that quiet house on that perfect Viennese spring morning was surely anything but noble.

Eleanor sat at the table in her window looking out at her daffodils.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #17

TITLE: JAP Jeopardy
GENRE: YA Mystery

Ready to show her family that she's not a brainless JAP in need of micro-management, 17-year-old Rachel’s chance comes when Granny’s shady cousin Ren asks her to sign over her interest in a worthless Lithuanian property—the ancestral farm, supposedly given away before WWII. Eager to prove her smarts and get away from home, Rachel finds herself matching wits with corrupt Lithuanian police, unwinding decades-old clues from dead relatives, and ruining her nails in the process. Jeesh. Being smart is hard!

I hadn't expected Mom to go all cheerleader at the news of my weekend date with Tommy Arndorfer. In fact, I expected her to ask, "Is he Jewish?" like she asked about every guy I ever dated. All five of them. Instead, she said, "You're not going out with any boy this weekend. Not that I’d allow you to go out with Tommy anyway. Granny has an emergency.”

“What kind of trouble could Granny have that we couldn’t solve over a manicure? I’ll need one for Saturday night.”

“With Papa still in the hospital, Granny wants you with her. . .”

“Not a chance. Love Granny and all, but she can be home alone . . .” Mom looked like I'd slapped her. Big red splotches grew on her cheeks like Diablo sauce on pasta, blurring together until I thought her head would explode.

Through compressed lips, she continued “. . . when her crooked cousin Ren comes from California.”

“Seriously? You’re ruining my weekend for this?”

“Rachel, let me get through that kugel-like brain of yours. Ren just announced his travel plans by fax. This morning. He sent papers for her to sign relinquishing her rights to the family homestead in Lithuania. Which she never owned. He’s up to no good. You know Granny won’t take my help. I’m sorry your brother can’t get back from Wash U this weekend—no doubt he would take care of Ren—but you’re here so suck it up, and do your best."

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #16

TITLE: Necessary Action
GENRE: Mystery / Suspense

Two events altered Nicholas Marek’s future: his father’s assassination and seeing the cross hairs settle on ex-girlfriend, Agent Nailah Tengelei.

The line drive punched through a spray of blood sixty feet from where Nicholas Marek hit the baseball. He flung aside the bat and ran to the makeshift pitcher’s mound from where his father delivered the curveball. He reached his father’s side before the twitches stilled in his body. Something had obliterated the top of the senator’s head. Nicholas knew damage of this magnitude did not result from being struck by a ball.

The person Nicholas admired more than any other lay supine in a Wyoming field. The rush of blood out of the head wound lessened to a steady flow. Someone had assassinated United States Senator Ben Marek.

Nicholas dug his fingers into soil dampened by the afternoon rain. He bowed forward and rested his head on his dad’s chest. This time there was no rhythm of heart beat; no strong arm wrapped around his shoulders or deep tones in a voice that for more than twenty-six years provided guidance and instruction.

The father-son relationship they enjoyed ripped apart without warning.

Scents of blood, dirt and manure merged with his father’s cologne. They screwed into his viscera. The stench nauseated him. Nicholas closed his eyes and fought losing the last meal they shared--elk medallions, roasted red potatoes and asparagus--at one of the local ranches near Jackson Hole.


Something thumped his dad’s chest. The way it jerked reminded Nicholas of a hiccup. Air rushed out of the left ribcage.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #15

TITLE: Tourist Town
GENRE: Upmarket mystery

A pregnant homicide detective works her first big case, investigating the murder of a woman who recently gave birth.

I root through the coat closet for my soccer ball. In the confines of my tiny kitchen, I kick the ball. Left foot, right thigh bounce, right foot kick, left thigh bounce. The cat scampers from her post atop the stove.

The plan is my partner comes over any time now, and I calmly tell him I’m pregnant. We argue that yeah, it’s unbelievable because even though the air’s electric between us we only screwed that once two months ago. Maybe we have a conversation about which one of us will leave the police department. Then he goes home, and tomorrow comes.

The polyurethane ball swirls the green and brown stains from the field as it rotates. It’s already past 10 p.m., but across town they’ll have the stadium lights switched on for another hour. I could go there right now.

I lean forward, get my head in front of the ball to catch it between my shoulder blades.

If the plan’s so simple, why did I stash my weapon away in the lockbox like I might have some freak compulsion to use it?

I shake my head, and the soccer ball rolls off me, bounces against the oven door, writhes torturously on the floor, settles into a corner.

The doorbell buzzes. Heart racing, I jerk the apartment door open, and it’s so light, made from plywood and veneer – not up to fire code – that it slips from my grip, and bangs against the wall only to slam shut again immediately. I take a deep breath, exhale through my mouth. Open the door.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #14

TITLE: Freedom and Magnolias
GENRE: Mystery/Suspense

CIA Agent Reese Trenton's life was simple—dodge bullets, make reports, stay alive—until almost being run down by Maggie Donovan, a woman who makes him consider a life without secrets. When a vengeful perp from Reese's past targets Maggie, he realizes the only way to keep her safe is to leave, but first, he must fight to keep her alive.

The gas pump icon on the instrument panel of Maggie Donovan's SUV flashed a bright red warning. Now what? She flicked the display panel with her finger. No change. How long did she have before she blocked a Chicago thoroughfare? Got arrested for creating a disturbance?

A small panic stirred her insides, churning into light pain. She didn't like cars, didn't like to drive, and didn't like traffic. The past few years, planes, taxis and the occasional rental car served her travel needs. Early this morning life had changed when she bought a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee. Now, less than five hours later, she couldn't remember ever seeing one solitary gas station in her neighborhood.

For being mid-afternoon, the traffic on Michigan Avenue moved at a good clip. A gaggle of pedestrians packed the sidewalk with an occasional power walker pushing their way through the mass. Out of nowhere, a man catapulted from between cars parked at the curb. He grabbed over his shoulder for empty air, his legs stumbling over each other as he fell in front of her.

"Noooooooo!" She crushed the brake pedal to the floor bed. Her breath hitched inward with each jerky pump of the anti-lock brakes. Fingers vice-gripped the steering wheel as the screech of tires against pavement wrapped around her brain. She shut her eyes. Braced. Stopped. Exhaled.

Had she hit the man?

No thud. No scream. No dead body on top of her hood. Had to be a good sign. Right?

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #13

GENRE: Paranormal Mystery

When Veronica loses her boyfriend, career, and condo in one record-breaking bad month, she agrees to house-sit her uncle’s seemingly tranquil home on the water while she recuperates. But when ghosts appear in her bedroom, a body floats in with the tide and a friend is accused of murder, Veronica must use clues from the ghosts to track down the real killer, before the killer finds her first.

On the Suck-O-Meter Scale of Life, my month had been hovering around a 9.2, and I was about to score a perfect 10.

I was okay about losing my boyfriend, because let’s face it, as nice as he was, there was never any “zing” with Ben. Nice guy, no zing. It would have been better if he told me he wanted out instead of me walking in on him playing doctor with that slutty student nurse, but looking back, I think he did us both a favor. Now I kinda feel bad about stuffing mashed potatoes in the tailpipe of his expensive “I have a small p**** so I’m overcompensating” Beemer ragtop. Not bad enough to admit I did it, but wondering if he was worth wasting good mashed potatoes on.

Losing my job-- now that hurt. I loved my job, lived for my job, even moved for my job. And then I was dumped, like a CEO starter wife. With this economy there was no way I could find another job that good, or even a crappy one for that matter, and without a job, there was no way I could pay my rent. So it was no wonder when my Uncle Fred called to ask if I wanted to house-sit his weekend home rent-free, I jumped on it. Free, as they say, is a very good price. Looking back, I should have asked a few more questions, like where the house is and what it is.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #12

TITLE: The Interim Solution
GENRE: Mystery

The Interim Solution is about Tom Stinson’s plan to replace his depressed, troublesome wife with a more pleasant woman who is easier to manage. Tom is a member of a storefront cult and he relies on the technically savvy pastor to manage his wife’s removal and to provide a suitable replacement.

They parked around the corner on Kimbark Avenue. Nobody parked on 55th since the city put in the meters, except people too lazy to walk a few steps. Karen usually enjoyed this street. At least once a week, she walked to Ribs ‘n’ Bibs, lunched at the window counter, and then walked to the hardware store.

Karen spent time learning how to fix the fading elements of the house. They had enough tools for basic repairs, but Tom reacted when she suggested they buy more. “Repair isn’t ladylike. I’ve told you to take golf lessons. Why is it so hard for you to follow simple suggestions?” He didn’t know about her accomplishments. Ken from the store loaned her tools for big projects.

Karen wondered if she was starting to slip. That’s the thing about being crazy. You don’t know if you are sliding into the hell of another episode, or if you are just having a bad day. Which this was shaping up to be. She’d accepted Tom’s devotion to this church; it improved his behavior, but brought other challenges. Each day was becoming more difficult. Tom was not what he seemed, but few people saw through the flawless manners, the natty attire, and the sweet good looks that still thrilled. Occasionally.

Karen checked her reflection in a storefront. Her hair was a little wild, maybe a cut next week. Her slacks were too short, and the waist pinched. All from the recent forty pounds she’d gained. It just happened, sitting alone all day.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #11

TITLE: Dead Like Me
GENRE: Adult Mystery

Homicide Detective Kate Springer discovers she has something in common with the thirteen-year-old female victim in her latest case—the man the teenage girl cleaned house for is the same man who molested Detective Springer as a child.

Swiping a last tear from my cheek, I forced a smile which was becoming increasingly harder to fake. I nodded to the officer standing guard. Afraid to speak, my voice would hold too much emotion. I signed my name into his logbook.

“Two more miles to the north, and all of this would have been someone else’s problem,” he said, barely containing a yawn.

After a second nod, I ducked under the yellow crime scene tape strung between two ancient oaks, towering on either side of the driveway's entrance. Early this morning a call came in from Thonotosassa, a small city bordering Tampa on the northeast side. Just on the fringe of our jurisdiction. The body of a young Caucasian female had been discovered by a neighbor walking his dog.

Following the dirt driveway, I arrived at a vacant, single-story house. Scratch that. Make that a rotting, vacant house. The weather's so different in Florida compared to where I grew up in the burbs of Chicago. Up north the drastic temperature changes make paint peel away from the houses. Down here, the paint stays intact, but left unchecked a black mold can devour a home. Consequently, you got a place that looked like the one standing in front of me—as if some disease ate away at it from the inside out. I estimated the bungalow stood on three acres of land. Although there were neighbors on either side of the property, the trees surrounding it gave it a secluded feel.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #10

TITLE: The Tip of A Bone
GENRE: Mystery

In a small town on the Oregon coast, feisty waitress Maya Rivers tries to prove her brother innocent of arson—only to discover he may be responsible for a young woman vanishing from the woods.

She’d told no one where she was going tonight. Not one soul. So when the branches rustled in the woods behind her, Sara Alvarez flicked off her headlamp quickly. Darkness. Even the moon hid behind a gray shroud.

Another rustle.

Animal? Human? Sara’s heart hammered, pulse jumping, before her training kicked in. Stay calm. Identify the threat. She forced herself to breathe deeply, inhaling the forest’s cool, damp tang until her heartbeat slowed. Rain dripped onto mossy ground.

Rustle. Scrape.

Shivering, Sara slid a hand into her jeans pocket and pulled out a Swiss Army knife. She clenched it in her fist as she reached for her headlamp. Flick. The beam sliced through the shadowy spaces between trees. No birds. No scurrying animals.

Just a whisper of movement.

Her light dipped, washing across gnarled roots and low shrubs—sword ferns, evergreen huckleberry, salal. Nothing there. She tilted her head up, searching the canopy, but all she saw were towering spruce and hemlocks. Their branches swayed in the breeze. Rustle, rustle.


“Nice going, nature girl,” Sara grumbled as she slipped the knife back into her jeans. She’d survived the group’s “wilderness immersion experience”—foraged for bugs and berries, dug latrines, scrounged up leaves for toilet paper. She’d gone face-to-face with cops in riot gear, dodged pepper spray, and resisted arrest with style. So why the hell was she so spooked tonight?

Because from the moment she’d found that bone here…

Get a grip. Sara tapped her GPS watch. Nobody’s coming before dawn.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #9

GENRE: Mystery/Suspense

Fire-fighter Jo Woods’ life stopped the day her husband and daughter died. Discovering they were murdered just kick-started it again.

Death approached, not with a scream, but a whimper, as six-year-old Lucy Hamilton’s thumb slipped from her mouth. She sat up in bed and peered into the darkness, wondering what had awakened her.

Outside, the wind whistled and screamed, and she shivered as the branches of the old oak tree tapped against her window, like brittle knuckles rapping for entry. She reached for her Barbie, but found the bed empty.

Taking a deep breath, Lucy slipped out of bed, legs trembling beneath her bright pink nightdress. Determined not to cry, she held tight to the mattress with one hand while the other groped shadows until her fingers found the smooth curve of a plastic leg. With a relieved sigh, she clasped the doll to her chest and clambered back into bed.

A loud thump came from the direction of her parent’s room and Lucy froze. She heard a cry, quickly muffled, then a thud, as if something heavy had fallen. She waited, but the sound wasn’t repeated. ‘It’s okay, Barbie,’ she said, arm tightening around the doll, ‘there’s nothing to be afraid of.’ She dipped her head, nuzzling its fine blonde hair. The wind eased, silence descending once more over the house. Safe and warm in her bed, with Barbie to keep her company, Lucy was lulled by its gentle whisper. Her eyelids drooped.

‘Little bird?’

Lucy bolted upright. ‘Who’s there?’ she asked.

Her answer was a laugh. A laugh so cracked her skin shrank in protest, shrivelling until it felt much too tight for her bones.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #8

TITLE: Lex Talionis
GENRE: Science Fiction Mystery

In a dystopian future, a young girl tries to remember her past while searching for the identity of the men who raped and murdered her. The only one that can help her is the mute alien that raised her from the dead.

Death came for Michael while he slept.

He woke, gasping and trembling, from a dream of being pushed out the airlock. His hands were on his neck, his throat sore beneath his fingers. He released stiff fingers and with the heel of his hand, wiped sweaty strands of hair off his forehead. Shifting his feet out from under him, he cursed as pain lanced up his leg.

S***. You fell asleep. You can't sleep. There's no time for sleep. How long was I out?

He started crawling toward the grill that covered the entrance to the vent, stopping once for just a second to catch his breath. Despite having dozed, he was exhausted and cold. The air in the vent left a metallic taste in his dry mouth and he couldn't seem to stop trembling. The wound in his leg, which he'd bandaged with cloth ripped from his pants, made a white-hot line down his shin.

Don't have much time. It hurts too much. If I don’t find some meds soon…

He had to figure a way out before he was incapable of going on, or lost consciousness again--maybe for good. Michael pulled himself onto his knees, inching his way toward the harsh light that fell in squares into the vent.

Then he heard it.

Faint, a mere whisper: the brief sound of air being expelled from lungs. And it came from outside, from the corridor below the vent. A freezing sweat broke out all over his body and his mouth suddenly tasted of copper.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #7

TITLE: Candy, Murder, and Me
GENRE: Cozy mystery

While munching on story-relevant candies and providing mouth-watering recipes, Cookie Berelli, dress designer for full-figured women and her dachshund, Sigmund Freud, investigate who killed her PI. When the murderer sets his sights on Cookie, she must race to get him before he gets her.

I should have sensed something was dreadfully wrong when my assistant squealed to a halt in the corridor of Florida Fashions at the entrance to my Queendom where I design the line for full-figured women, including me.

“Watch out, Cookie,” Eugene Gemstone warned me that warm February morning as he opened the door to my design studio for me. He's my assistant, number one fabric cutter, and barometer for strange and off-the-wall happenings. Ever since he wore one of the dresses I designed into the ladies’ room at Chez Riso and got arrested, he's been tuned into things gone awry.

Upon completion of 100 hours of community service for his indiscretion in the ladies' room by helping out Gretchen Peppercomb and her Pancake, Yoga, and 12-Step Program, I'd promoted him to my assistant.

“What now?” Visions of a disastrous spring line flooded my brain. My imagination had nothing on what I saw when I stepped inside. Streams of taffetas and silks unwound from their bolts. Tipped over, half-clothed steel-mesh design models lay on their sides next to knocked-over cutting tables.

“Somebody's been in here.” Trust Eugene to mention the obvious. He grabbed hold of a model on wheels and cradled it in his arms. “Be careful of Gladyce.” He loved the thing as if it were alive. She wore a silver satin dress he’d been begging me to let him borrow.

“I always watch out for Gladyce,” I said in a snippy voice. Disorganization always rattles me.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #6

TITLE: The Seven Day Bad Date
GENRE: Mystery

Ali Mallick never thought dating could be dangerous; that is, until she meets up with her long- distance boyfriend for a road trip and he ends up dead. With no alibi and committed to a psychiatric ward, Ali must battle more than her personal demons to discover the truth and clear her name.

Safe safe safe safe safe. I have to get safe. It is the only thought that cycles through my brain as I drive through the night; through the rain. Safe. Safe. The staccato words blend into the sound of my windshield wipers, working against the torrential weather of the Pacific Northwest. The rain is unrelenting - or are those tears? I can't distinguish the blurry liquid in front of my eyes. I wish fervently for calm but my brain is too panicked, unable to process - unable to shut down.


"Just get here,” She says, and even through my own panic, the fear in her voice registers, “You'll be safe here. Put the coordinates in your TomTom and get to the ferry. The next boat to Winslow is at 9:12pm. You can make it. You'll be safe here. For God’s sake, just get to that ferry."

I negotiate the massive road construction that renders my GPS useless. Each time the automated male voice of my TomTom adjusts my route I feel the claw of anxiety tighten further around my throat. I have to get to that ferry. I have to get to my sister's house on Bainbridge Island. I have to get through the construction in downtown Seattle. I have to get safe. I turn blindly onto yet another unlit street - just my luck that the sidewalks have been ripped up and there are no street signs visible. The next corner takes me by surprise and I take it a little too quickly.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #5

TITLE: Tomorrow's Shadow
GENRE: YA Mystery

Sixteen-year-old science prodigy, Camilla Harbinger, agrees to trade places with her twin sister, Kaity, for one day in order to take a school test. Two kidnappings and an extended case of mistaken identity later, Camilla finds herself fully submerged in her sister’s secret life, where a really cute boyfriend might be a terrorist and deadly new plague threatens more than just wayward streetwalkers. If Cammi doesn’t unravel the mystery of her sister disappearance before the FBI stops her or her school expels her, she might never see her sister again.

I knew what waited behind the curtain in exam room three. Dread coiled up inside me and turned my feet to lead. Each step took a deliberate effort. Around me my classmates rushed down the hall, eager to be first or just to get it all over with. I didn’t know which, but I envied their ignorance. Upon their arrival, the gasps of exclamations and moaned disgust made my skin prickle with anticipation.

Dr. Rivers’ last minute lesson would be torture.

As if summoned by my thoughts, my teacher’s hand landed at the center of my back, propelling me those last few steps through the door and into the room. And there she was. The victim. Laid out like death’s forgotten plaything, all bruised and battered and left for us—a bunch of teen-aged wannabe doctors and scientists—to poke and prod and try to make sense of it all.

In the back of my mind I knew of the festering odor, heard the shuffling feet, the gagging; someone ran for the trash can. Deep in my heart it made me sick too, but I kept looking, staring. We would take her blood, put it under glass, run a thousand tests, but it wouldn’t matter. I couldn’t save her.

I wanted to forget the scene, just wipe it from my mind and pretend it never happened. Only I couldn’t. Her face was already carved into my dreams: my first living case of Shadow Disease.

“Miss Harbinger?”

The sharp sound of my name brought me back to the exam room.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #4

TITLE: Transmigration
GENRE: YA Mystery

When 17 year old Anna pieces together her nightmares and uncovers a past life that ended in her horrific death, she and her friend race against time to solve the mystery of her murder before the man who once took away her future comes back to finish her once and for all.

I first saw him as I entered my first period class; intermediate algebra. If you were a Junior and somewhat smart, you were placed in an advanced trigonometry or calculus class. If you simply needed to fulfill the math requirement but had absolutely no interest of ever using complex math as an adult, intermediate algebra was the class for you. It was the class for me at least.

But there he was, sitting in MY seat with a blank face, staring at the doorway as I entered. I didn't have any competition for the desk in the very front center when the school year began, and I refused to allow anyone to steal it now. At least, I told myself I wouldn't give it up without a fight. In reality, the seat was already his.

I didn't have any fight in me this morning. I was awake before the rooster cock-a-doodle-dooed, unable to fall back asleep after my nightmare. And I was pretty certain my exhaustion showed through the pale skin of my long face, down to the tips of my limp hair. The other girls in my class looked near perfect in their short skirts that constituted a uniform, no doubt having awoken early to shower and prep. I was different, as always. There was no hiding my bags. No amount of concealer to douse the pain that came from a nightly nightmare ritual. Nor did I bother to even try anymore.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #3

TITLE: A Rip in Time
GENRE: Mystery/Romantic Historical Time Travel

Modern America's CSI meets Victorian England's JACK THE RIPPER. Rachael and Alex time travel to 1888 to identify the Ripper and risk becoming become Jack's next victims.

Whitechapel District, London, England
August 7, 1888

Martha Tabram rubbed her aching temples. The pain wasn't from cheap gin. Too many years patronizing the Ten Bells Tavern had increased her tolerance. Besides, she needed drink to file off the sharp edges of her hopeless existence.

Afternoon rains had set a chill to the air and the night's shadows deepened. She trudged, head down, hugging the building's soot encrusted brick wall.

Three lads staggered toward her along the stone pavement. The young men were likely on a weekend bender and locals by the looks of their worn clothes.

Martha's heartbeat quickened as her mind flashed back to her friend, Emma Smith. Four months ago, young men, thugs from the Old Nichols Street Gang, had robbed, assaulted, and killed poor Emma.
Now, these lads elbowed each other, pointed at Martha, and leered. Their bodies soaked the air with cheap whiskey. They descended upon her. One boy whooped and grabbed her skirt, but she broke free and ran. The cruel trio swaggered on their way, howling at their prank.

One yelled back, "Old cow."

She stopped and clutched her chest. Dirty sods! Men like that should hang, their boot heels swinging like bells in the Thames' foul breeze. Emma's death was horrible, but Martha's gut told her worse was on the way for penniless Londoners. East End women would suffer more than the usual amount of violence. And greater numbers of murders.

If she stayed sober, stayed aware, she might stay alive. Martha paused and pressed her lips together. What had she to live for? Her husband left years ago and her grown children had abandoned her too. She waved her hand to swat away the thoughts. The squalid life present gave her the right to drink away the past.

Death was a constant companion in Whitechapel. The thought sent a shiver slithering down to coil in her stomach.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #2

GENRE: Mystery

When wedding planner Sarah James finds a bride dead on her wedding day, she suspects there is a connection to her past. If she doesn’t find the killer, she could be next.

Sarah James could think of a lot of things she would rather be doing on a late spring afternoon in Moonstone Beach than putting the final touches on the wedding of socialite Lora Leigh Avery. As if to spite her, a pin pierced her finger as she fixed a rogue piece of tulle on the end of a pew of the First Presbyterian Church. A drop of blood formed a tiny bead, and she pulled out a handkerchief and wiped it away. She had been fighting a funny feeling all morning long.

Just then, her best friend Naomi appeared from the back of the church, clutching a bouquet of gardenias. “I think we have a problem.”

The sick feeling in the pit of her stomach was getting worse by the minute. She knew she should’ve had a shot with lunch. “What’s the matter?”

“Lora won’t open the door,” answered Veronica, the maid of honor. The tall, thin starlet sauntered down the aisle of the church, the silk of her champagne-colored bridesmaid dress clinging in all of the right places.

“I’m sure it’s fine, probably just nerves,” Sarah said. “I’ll handle it.”

Veronica folded her arms. “I hope so.”

They walked through the hall toward the suite, and Sarah gave a meek knock. “Lora?”

“It’s locked,” Naomi whispered.

With a shaking hand, Sarah pulled a diamond encrusted bobby pin out of her updo and stuck it in the lock until it popped. With a shaking hand, she pushed open the door and gasped.

No, this was not good.

Mysteries For Danielle Svetcov #1


One wintery night in the woods, a baby is wrenched from the arms of a teenage girl. Searching for the infant in a town of depravity and secrets, young car salesman Bucky Ontario unearths more than he bargained for.

Wayberry, Oklahoma, December 1956

The girl tore through the dark woods to save her baby.

Ignoring her bleeding feet, she raced until she slipped on loose leaves and crashed headlong into a shrub, dropping the newborn. Stunned, she lay still in the biting cold and heard her father yelling and crashing through the brush behind her. She snatched up the wailing baby and pressed leaves against its mouth.

And she raced again, undergrowth tearing at her bare legs. She broke through onto the road leading to the highway. Hesitated, turned, and threw herself across the open stretch and into the brush. She found herself in thick, thorny blackberry bushes. Came out onto a narrow path that she knew would lead back around to her hiding place in the burnt-out hollow of an oak tree.

Weakening now, she sucked in air with a loud, rasping noise. Muscles aching, legs wobbling. She heard her father fighting through the blackberry bushes and flung herself forward with her remaining strength.

She reached the oak and scrambled inside. Pulled up her T-shirt, pressed her baby’s mouth, encrusted with leaves and dirt, to her nipple, and tried to quiet her own breathing. Minutes later, her heart still pounding, she heard the crunching sound of footsteps approach, then stop.

“Come on out, I know you’re in there.” His voice softened. “I’ve never harmed you.”

“You’ll hurt my baby.” She peered through tangled branches into the starry sky. Then blackness swept across like a curtain. Hands reached in and wrenched the infant from her grasp.

“No,” she screamed, scrambling from the tree, clawing at her father’s shirt, reaching for her baby held above his head.

“There shall be no sinful memory, my daughter.”

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Formatting Double-check

I realized this morning that I hadn't included formatting on the submission guidelines yesterday.  (I tend to assume everyone knows, because MSFV has been around for so long. And then I remember the newcomers. apologies.)

Please type your logline first (italics preferred).  Double space, and then type your entry (single-spaced, with a double space between paragraphs).


Vera Twimditty was born with three arms.  Now she has exactly three months to grow a fourth arm in order to complete her calling as Quadrigirl, or the entire world will spontaneously combust.

Vera twiddled two of her thumbs and scratched her nose with the third.

It was always so dark in the Grow Closet.  Which was the part that didn't make sense.  Things that grew needed light.  Vera knew that--everyone knew that.   Yet here she sat for the third night in a row, sipping fromulous tea from a glass straw and sitting lotus-style in the Grow Closet.

Who needed a fourth arm, anyway?

(The word count for this contest is 355, which allows up to 100 words for your logline.  But remember--briefer is better.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Here it is -- the promised contest for MYSTERY WRITERS!

Danielle Svetcov of Levine Greenberg has decided to add MYSTERY to her current list. In order to give her a jumpstart, I've agreed to host a contest that showcases completed, query-ready manuscripts in this genre.  Ms. Svetcov is eager to see what you've got for her!

Here are the rules:

  • This contest is for ADULT and "VERY VERY SNAPPY" YA MYSTERY only.
  • Entrants must include A 1- to 2-SENTENCE LOGLINE*, followed by the first 250 words of your completed, query-ready manuscript.
  • Please enter via our webform HERE.
  • I will accept up to 30 entries, IN THE ORDER IN WHICH THEY ARE RECEIVED.  (That is, this is NOT a lottery.)
  • Submissions will open WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18, at 2:00 PM EDT, and will remain open until 8:00 PM EDT, or until 30 entries have been received.
  • Entries will post to the blog on THURSDAY for immediate critique.
  • Danielle Svetcov will be critiquing each entry.  If anything captures her interest, she will let me know, and I will forward her requests to all winners.
This is a shiny new venture, so please post your questions below!

* This is the same submission format as our Baker's Dozen Auctions.  See this post for information on crafting loglines.

**ETA:  The word count has been set at 355.  That's an extra 100 for your logline!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Our Winners

Tricia Lawrence has chosen 4 winners:

#9 -- Scientastic Supergirls
#10 -- Drummer Boys
#17 -- The Museum Fire
#31 -- Forever Friday

The prize:

Ms. Lawrence would like to see your full manuscript.  Winners, please email me at facelesswords(at) for specific submission instructions.

Congratulations, all!

Secret Agent Unveiled: Tricia Lawrence

Confetti and hearty thanks to our lovely Secret Agent, Tricia Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency.

Tricia's Bio:

Tricia is the "Pacific Northwest branch" of EMLA--born and raised in Oregon, and now lives in Seattle. After 16 years of working as a developmental and production-based copyeditor (from kids book to college textbooks, but mostly college textbooks), she joined the EMLA team in March 2011 as a social media strategist hoping to learn from Erin and Joan about agenting. As associate agent, Tricia represents middle grade and young adult fiction and nonfiction. She's looking for strong world-building, wounded narrators, and stories that grab a reader and won't let go.

What Tricia's looking for right now:

"I'm also beginning to look for younger books: picture books, early readers, chapter books as well as middle grade and young adult. I love all genres, but find that a story with a mystery is what I'm most drawn to. I love, love, love finding something new, whether it is a character that makes me laugh out loud to a character that continues to persevere in spite of everything being thrown at him/her. I would love to find books that are extremely high-concept, but that have an amazing main character. It really all comes down to character, doesn't it?

I like historical, scifi, spec fiction, fantasy, paranormal (although the paranormal must be really original), contemporary, mystery/thriller, and adventure. I'm particularly drawn to books that focus on big educational transitions in a kid's life (what it feels like to be leaving high school, that YA sweet spot or learning to navigate middle school coming from elementary school or learning to deal with school at all for younger readers). I must be reliving my own childhood years in school over and over again! I am also very interested in nonfiction for teens, on subjects covering babysitting to how to prepare for college in a fresh, original spin."

Hooray!  Winners forthcoming.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Fricassee

It's one of those rare Fridays on which I don't have a lot to say.  Blogging is almost always effortless for me; in fact, if my drafting process were anything like my blogging process, I'd be able to churn out ten novels a year.  At least.

Sometimes, though, I do the stare-at-the-blank-space thing when I sit down to blog.  And that's what's happening right now.

Actually, I've been doing a lot of staring in general.  Staring out the window, staring at my piano, staring at nothing.  And it's not the kind of staring that comes when I'm plotting.

It's a really BLANK stare.

I'm pretty sure I know what's going on.  It's the I Feel Like Life Is One Big, Long Wait stare.  And you all know what I'm talking about.

You can't be a successful writer if you don't know how to WAIT.  We wait to hear back from our critique partners.  We wait for responses to our queries.  We wait for agents to read our partials or fulls.  We wait for our work to go on submission.  We wait for editors to read our manuscripts.

Then, even once we've signed a publishing contract, we wait some more:  we wait to make the big announcement; we wait for our editorial notes; we wait wait WAIT.

It's a lot of waiting, regardless of where we are on the timeline.

And waiting is wearisome.  No matter the half-a-dozen things you've got to keep yourself occupied during the waiting.  The waiting is STILL HAPPENING in the background, 24 hours a day.

Yes, of course I've got my half-a-dozen things in the air.  It's just that I don't feel like doing any of them.

So that's me.  Where are YOU in the waiting game?  And how do you avoid the blank stare?

Or maybe that's my own, unique quirk.  Which wouldn't surprise me one bit. *grin*

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Amazing Author and Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette

By now, it's no secret that Ammi-Joan Paquette of the Erin Murphy Agency is an amazing and successful agent who just so happens to lurk here regularly, scooping up fresh clients like handfuls of flowers.  But she's also a brilliant author, and I so fell in love with her prose that I wanted to share it with the world!  Or at least with my wonderful blog community.  

And so, without further ado, I give you this delightful interview with Joan, one of my favorite agents and an all-around lovely person!

AUTHORESS: I got to know you as an agent before I discovered, to my delight, that you were also an author. For you, which came first? And why?

JOAN: The journey definitely began for me as an author. I started writing with a serious eye toward publication in 2003. My mom had recently passed away and I think subconsciously this broke something loose inside me as far as pushing me on the path toward making that dream a reality. There would still be many false starts and uncompleted books ahead before my first novel was published (NOWHERE GIRL, in 2011!), but it’s quite moving for me now to see that the first one to make it all the way through ended up being so very personal in its themes and subject matter. It’s amazing what a circuitous path life takes!

Erin Murphy became my agent in 2008, and it wasn’t until the following year that a shift in my job status got me seriously pursuing exploring the idea of agenting—a desire which had lurked at the back of my mind for a long time. After a number of exploratory conversations and early steps, I began working as an associate agent with EMLA in 2009, and I have to say it’s one of the best changes I’ve ever made. I can truly say that I enjoy every aspect of this wonderful job, and feel so privileged every day to be able to do what I do.

AUTHORESS: And it's equally a privilege to watch you in action!

I think what amazes me most about your author/agent combination is the creative energy that needs to go into your own work as well as into the work of your clients. How do you find balance? What's your method for separating "Author Joan" from "Agent Joan" on a day-to-day basis?

JOAN: Balance, hmmm. Good question! I think it can be hard sometimes for me to maintain my writing persona, because my agent work is so vast and all-consuming, and it’s also made up of these myriad phone-letter-email-manuscript-contract bytes that are each tagged with an individual deadline and each clamoring for attention. By contrast, setting aside the creative time to work on my own writing is much easier to put in the “later” stack. But at the same time, I do value the change in energy I get from switching between the two. Each job is satisfying in its own way, and I love that I get to toggle back and forth between them. So… not really a method so much as just taking each day as it comes, and doing as much as I can do in the time that’s given me? Does that count? *smile*

AUTHORESS: Yep, it counts!

So let's talk about NOWHERE GIRL, with which I've recently fallen in love. What inspired you to write a story set in Thailand? And how all-consuming was the research that must have gone into this?

JOAN: The idea for NOWHERE GIRL first came after I read a news article about a young boy who had grown up with his mother in a Thai prison, so the location came along with that initial story idea. The fact that my character is of American parentage, and has brought up in this very sheltered way, gave me a little flexibility with her portrayal—but research was definitely a big part of the process. I really tried to come at it from every available angle: I researched country details at the library; I went online and read voraciously; I watched YouTube videos on specific events or experiences which I wasn’t familiar with; I read novels set in Thailand to get the tone and feel for the characters and setting. I also sent the manuscript, and the language excerpts in particular, to various friends and acquaintances who are Thai or live in Thailand, which was extremely helpful. It sounds like a lot of work, and I suppose it was, but there’s also something really freeing about working within a structure of that type: the more I explore specific constraints within my writing, the more avenues open up for fresh and original ways to make the various plot turns work. And as a result, I think the story ends up feeling richer and more complex.

AUTHORESS: Well, your research paid off; I felt totally immersed in Thai culture as I read.

Do you have anything else in the works that you can talk about?

JOAN: My newest release is another picture book: THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING MERMAIDS (Tanglewood, 2012). Marie LeTourneau has done wonderful illustrations for this book, which is really an exploratory journey along the seashore. The mix of magic and nature should entice mermaid-lovers and beachcombers of all ages :)

I'm also in the process of revising a YA science fiction novel, PARADOX, which will be out from Random House next spring. It's very different from anything I've written before, and the research is leading me in all kinds of brain-boggling directions. Plus several other projects still further out!

AUTHORESS: It's truly amazing that you can accomplish all this while simultaneously agenting a talented bunch of writers -- several of which (6, last count!) you found here on Miss Snark's First Victim.

I first got to know you when you were a Secret Agent back in January, 2010. Since then, you've become my number one "lurking agent". So, what's the draw? Why do you think you've had so much success finding clients here? Is there a common thread?

JOAN: I am a huge fan of your blog, and I think it appeals to me for two reasons. The first is because, as our agency is closed to general slush submissions, my actual incoming pile at any given time is a good deal smaller than the average. So I do have more time to flit around and allow things to catch my eye. And the second is because, well, your readers and posters are kind of exceptional! I really think that the community and critiques and information sharing helps to bring up the level of material being sent out. Of the clients whose work has come my way through MSFV--whether from contests, or lurking, or from the "open query call" which I put out here a couple of years ago (and which I just might do again one of these days!)--all but one so far has sold. And that last is someone I just signed, so... I'm sure there will be more good news soon to come!

AUTHORESS: It's an honor for me to have played even a small role in your clients' success stories--which are, of course, your success stories, too!

Since you've been outed as an avid MSFV "lurker," can you let us know what you're particularly looking for right now?

JOAN: Hmmm, as always I'm really just looking to fall in love. I will say that I'm especially eager for YA material right now, as I find myself with a strong MG list. I could be swept away by something epic these days; I love tight, fast-paced plots that make me think and keep me guessing; extra points for throwing me off-balance late in the game and making me question everything I thought I knew. Psychological thrillers, smart literary projects that take risks, something that feels strong and new and fresh. Shall I go on? *smile*

AUTHORESS: Something tells me you'll find what you're looking for as you continue to lurk over the next few months. *wink*

Your wonderful balance of creating your own stories while expertly championing the stories of others is inspiring. What words of advice and encouragement can you offer, from an agent's as well as a published author's perspective?

JOAN: Write with passion. I think that's my best advice. The world has millions and more stories; what will make yours stand out from the crowd is infusing it with that unforgettable spark that only you can bring. What moves you? What makes you laugh, cry, rage? What are you most afraid of? To write a truly unforgettable book, you have to tap into that deep part of yourself that you are pretty much too afraid to show anyone else. Let it out of the dark for the world to see. That's all--easy, right?

AUTHORESS: You have certainly made it seem so!

Joan, thank you for this glimpse into your dual-career world. I will always be one of your biggest fans!

JOAN: It's been my pleasure! And the feeling is mutual :)


(Run--don't walk!--and buy your copy of Nowhere Girl today.  When you're finished reading it, pass it along to your favorite middle grader.  I cannot remember when I have last read such lush, lyrical prose written for this age group.)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

April Secret Agent #50

TITLE: The Princess's Treasure Hunt
GENRE: MG Fantasy Adventure

Princess Cassandra let out a loud whoop as she thundered ahead the green path on horseback. Glancing behind her, she saw her commoner friends falling behind, so she stopped her horse. "Come on, Kylie, Vance! You're too slow!"

"It's not fair," Vance grumbled. "Our horse has to carry two of us. There's no way we could ever beat you in a race."

Cassandra giggled. "Excuses, excuses."

She weaved through the trees and pulled back on the reins once she reached her destination. Even though she had seen the Falls countless times, the sight always stole her breath away. The sapphire blue water was so peaceful at the top, yet so desperate and churning at the bottom of the cliff. The jagged rocks carved by their ancestors eons ago were covered with symbols that the water tried to erode away. The fish that leaped and danced and—

A large tail broke the surface of the water at the bottom of the Falls. It flickered toward her, as if waving, before disappearing beneath the waves again.

Cassandra gasped. Could it be? A mermaid?

Without thinking about the danger, she guided her horse down the rocky terrain. It would be a steep descent to reach the bottom, but she was determined to see the mermaid up close. Many small rocks scattered away from her horse's hooves.

"Where are you going?" Kylie called.

"There's a mermaid!"

"Mermaids aren't real," Vance scoffed, but there was a hint of excitement in his voice.

"I've always wanted to see one," Kylie exclaimed.

April Secret Agent #49

GENRE: Light Sci-Fi

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 they’d give the boy they couldn’t see 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 forty-seven-day stretch—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 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. Getting caught in the rain meant bigger problems than my discomfort level. Like the body-shaped hole I created when I stood in it.

I checked my watch. Still time to make it to the library.

April Secret Agent #48

TITLE: The Gifted
GENRE: YA Supernatual

The twitch of immense energy flowed into Rebecca Stevens’ fingertips. The fine hair along the nape of her neck prickled as she faced the target—a small wooden crate she had found in the forest, maybe some kid’s early idea for a fort. She surveyed the field, not a soul in sight, exactly how she needed it. Ever since Nathan, a young boy with the power to control water, announced his ability on national television, non-gifted people had tried to figure out ways to keep the peace. For people with powers, their peaceful life had changed for the worse, they’re feared, attacked, and blamed for everything. Luckily no one had discovered Rebecca’s ability yet.

Rebecca stared at the crate twenty yards away; the breeze blew her hair across her eyes. The weight of the railroad spike hovering nearby rested on her mind. The sensation of a foreign object inside her head quickened her pulse. The spike spun at her command as she tested her control. Her skill had improved over the past months, during her very limited practice time, but one thing remained constant; if she didn’t manage her emotions she lost any sort of accuracy. Perfect concentration was required, and she hardly ever achieved that.

With her energy focused, sweat ran down her back and neck. A stiff wind chilled her cheek and rattled the nearby trees. A twig snapped and she glanced toward the sound, a dog stood in the clearing, its brown eyes studied her. At least he wouldn’t give away her secret.

April Secret Agent #47

TITLE: The Power of Her Hand
GENRE: YA paranormal fantasy

Olivia Black was busy failing her Calculus test when she noticed the new guy staring at her hand.

He was sitting across the aisle from her, his eyes locked on her glowy, ethereal, see-through right hand and the pencil that hovered between her fingers, never quite touching them.

Olivia slowly set her pencil down on her desk.

His eyes tracked her movements, still staring.

What was with him? So she had PSS of the right hand. Psyche Sans Soma was a rare birth defect, but most people had at least heard of it. There was tons of stuff about it on the internet, and Sixty Minutes had done a whole segment on it for Christ's sake. So what was this guy's problem?

Rumor had it he was a transfer from some big city school. Maybe it wasn't her hand he was staring at. Maybe he had something against Goths. Could be he'd transferred to the smallest high school in rural Illinois precisely to escape black-haired, black-lipped, leather clad girls, and here he was stuck sitting next to the only one in a hundred mile radius. Anyway, the guy seriously needed to stop staring. It was starting to freak her out.

Olivia curled her ghost hand into a fist and flipped him off.

He raised his eyebrows and finally looked away, but she didn't miss the smirk that played across his lips as he did.

Why were the hot ones always such cocky, self-absorbed idiots?

April Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Hoodoo
GENRE: Middle Grade

When I came out of my mama, Grandmama Frances took one look at me and said, “That child is marked. He got Hoodoo in him.”

And that’s how I got my name.


She was talking about the red smudge above my left eyebrow, shaped just like a heart. Everybody said it was some kind of sign, but what that sign meant nobody knew. But I’ll tell you one thing—everybody knew I was different as soon as they looked at me.

Mama Frances was the one who raised me ‘cause my real mama died when I was born. My daddy was dead too, hung for a crime he didn’t do. I was only five when he died. That was seven years ago. They said he shot a man in the next county over but I didn’t believe it. Daddy was a powerful mojo man and was known far and wide. Some folks said that’s why he was killed—because people were afraid of him and wanted to make sure he didn’t put a hex or spell on them. I didn’t think I’d ever know the real truth.


I smelled the Hoppin’ John before I even got to the house. Hoppin’ John is black-eyed peas and rice if you didn’t know.

I pulled the door shut behind me and put my bag on the table. The bag was full of rocks, pecans, some old bottle caps, flattened pennies from the railroad tracks and the skull of a small bird I’d found in the woods.

April Secret Agent #45

TITLE: The Girl in the Moon
GENRE: MG Science Fiction

I’ll never forget the day I left Earth. If I had known where I’d be going or how long I’d be gone, I would have begged—BEGGED—Grandpa to hide instead of run.

That morning, Keala, my totally crazy cat, started licking my face before the sun was up. I call Keala crazy because she’s blind but she acts like she’s not. I’ve seen her smash her face straight into walls and then bounce off like it’s no big deal.

There’s no point ignoring Keala—she’ll just keep licking your face no matter how many times you wave her away—so I got up and headed to the kitchen. By the time I’d put the flour, eggs, milk, and butter into the MealMaker 2200, Grandpa shuffled into the kitchen.

“Good morning, Alex.”

“Today’s the day, Grandpa.”

“You say that every morning.”

“I know, but today I’m sure of it. Grandma’s coming home.”

Grandpa hit a button on the Beverage Depot Deluxe, and a cup of steaming hot coffee dropped down. “It’s hard to believe it’s been two years.”

I’d seen Grandpa close to crying a handful of times. It always gave me a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach. Adults aren’t supposed to cry in front of you, are they?

“Well, something’s going to happen today.” I picked up Keala and rubbed my face against her soft fur. “Maybe today will be the first day Keala doesn’t get stuck in a tree.”

Grandpa snorted. “Yeah, right.”

April Secret Agent #44

TITLE: The Boyfriend Plague
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I squirmed on the wooden bench, trying to avoid getting poked by loose splinters. The room was too small and the irregular buzzing creeping over the lopsided swinging doors set my teeth on edge. Each burst sent a cloud of rusty orange scattering through my skull.

“Is this okay, Livvie?” Mel leaned over and pressed a slip of paper onto my knee.

I studied it for a moment, still trying to shake off the burning color my synesthesia had painted the world. “Yeah. It’s perfect.” I grinned at her, but my lips trembled so much I’m sure it was more a grimace.

“What about yours?” Mel turned to Hannah who had her paper crumpled in her fist.

She smoothed it against the taut fabric of her jeans. “It’s good. I don’t think Mom could tell she hadn’t signed it.”

Mel sighed and glanced down at her own scrap of paper. “At least they’re all different. And how close are they going to look?”

Hannah’s eyes roved the enclosed space, photographs curling on every wall. “It’s a business right? They want to make money. I bet they just ask for these things ‘cos they have to.”

“You’re probably right.” Mel stood up and folded her permission slip back into her pocket. “I wish they’d hurry up.”

“Me too.” I shifted again, butt numbing against the hard surface. After almost half an hour on the wrong side of the doors, the stinging scent of rubbing alcohol drifting across us, I wasn’t sure this was a good idea.

April Secret Agent #43

TITLE: Kiss Me Dead
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

Christian watched the dying girl, and did nothing.

Watery sprays shimmered in the moonlight from the girl’s flailing arms, and her fear chopped across the water like turbulent waves. Longing tightened his stomach. He dug his nails into his palms and, teeth clenched, turned his head away.

He despised his addiction.

Christian envied her and her release from this life. Not that he loathed life…he simply loathed the life he led. And though he yearned to walk away, he knew he wouldn’t. He would stay and watch her die.

And then take her.

Her flooded gasps saturated the night’s stillness and her head dipped below the surface. Christian crept from the trees that circled the lake, his movement stilted from cold. The iciness came from his bones, his marrow, his soul. He’d gone too long without a hit, and now he suffered.

Christian lurched over her discarded dress and stopped just short of wetting his boots. The lake was snow-melt frigid. He detested the cold, and the water, as all his kind did.

With a violent thrust, her body broke the surface. Christian’s short intake of breath followed him backwards. Wet moonlight clung to her breasts, and the mark on her cheek glowed like slick silver.

The girl’s hands slapped the water. She slid deeper into the shadowy lake, lifting her chin, but the water covered her mouth, sucking out one last, drowning breath before consuming her nose and fear-glassed eyes.

Still he watched, and did nothing to save her.

April Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Freak in the mad of your mind
GENRE: YA Urban fantasy

Not all the time, but sometimes when I sleep I go away. Off to distant places and other times, I'm still me but sometimes I look like other people. It's like wearing the most realistic Halloween costume ever. It helps me blend in with the locals, my own pale appearance would alarm the ancient tribes in Africa and South America where my dreams sometimes take me. Lately my dreams have been taking me to the desert, to one place in particular; the crystal pyramid.

In the middle of a deserted desert I find myself standing on a small swell of sand overlooking a huge valley. The valley's so desolate and big it could be a crater on the moon. The light never changes and the sun isn't in sight, so it's either just before dawn or just after sunset. I think it's just after sunset because it's still light and warm. I can still smell the heat. If you've spent any time in a desert you'll know what I mean. It's like baked earth or something out of a kiln; dry, hot and clean.

It's comfortably warm, good thing considering I'm standing in the sand in an impractical blue satin dress. In my dreams I try to use my clothes to place where I am. It's plain, sleeveless and flares out slightly at the bottom to gently caress my calves. I'm not sure what the style is, what era it's from. I could be anywhere, anywhen.

April Secret Agent #41

TITLE: The Dangerous School, Class of 2030
GENRE: MG adventure

The Danger Awareness Buzzer at the bus station droned with a steady annoying beep. Hill glanced up at the vidscreen projected above it. There was nothing new in the scrolling list of dangers: eco-terrorists in Nueva York had halted the subway lines but no one was injured, Boston curfew was starting an hour earlier due to shorter daylight hours, contamination at the Protmeat plant had slowed production and moderate food shortages were expected. Nothing unusual. Hill’s aunt Denise frowned at it as though it personally offended her.

“The noise on that stupid DAB…I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it. Hopefully you’ll have an older bus, Hill, without one of those miserable things.” She smiled brightly, as though his five hour bus ride into backcountry Maine would be so much better if it didn’t have a DAB installed.

Hill just shrugged. There was a beat of panic rising in his chest. He was leaving. He was actually leaving what was left of his life, the little bit that was still normal. He had a sudden desperate desire to change his mind; to tell Denise and his uncle Stu to take him back to their house, that he didn’t want to go, that he had no interest in this strange school, even if it was better than the last one. But he didn’t say anything. In five hours and ten minutes he would be in Bathel, home of the Outdoor Academy of Maine.

April Secret Agent #40

TITLE: Between
GENRE: YA fantasy

I could always tell what kind of mood Momma was in by the type of cleaning she was doing. Cleaning out closets and drawers? Sad. Reorganizing every shelf in the house? Frustrated. Wiping down the walls and baseboards? Angry. Polishing the silver? Stressed. So the day I opened the front door to find a pile of clothes lying in front of the coat closet, a bucket filled with vinegar solution standing next to the wall, and the smell of ammonia hanging in the air, I pulled my phone from my purse and texted my brother immediately. “Get home quick. She’s Granny-cleaning.”

I was still standing in the doorway when Sam got there. I’d heard the loud thumping of the car stereo long before I heard the crunch of gravel beneath the jeep’s tires, but I decided to ignore it today. I hated sharing a car with him. He was going to blow our speakers, I just knew it.

He stood behind me and peeked over my head. That was another annoying thing about Sam- for a twin brother, he was entirely too tall. “She ironed the sheets,” he said, nodding toward the ironing board in the hallway. We could just barely see the front end of it, draped with the fitted corner of the pale yellow queen-sized sheets from the guest bed.

“I know,” I said, tucking my hair behind my ears with both hands. “This is bad.”

“You seen her yet?”

I shook my head. “Nope, but I heard furniture moving around upstairs.”

April Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Happily Never After
GENRE: YA - Paranormal

Mama always told me Savannah was home to more than just the living. I remember her telling me stories of ghosts and magic and things that normally belonged in fairy tales. Her rich, syrupy voice would wrap round me with a magic of its own, making me believe. She said all you had to do was step out onto any street and you could feel it in the air, tickling the edges of your imagination, inviting you in.

We lived in one of the oldest houses in the historic district. A tall, proud home fronted with white columns standing like guards against the unrelenting Georgia humidity. Mama said that besides her, me, and Daddy, we also lived with a little boy and a soldier from the War of Northern Aggression. They crept through the house at night, moving furniture or crying. She said they even stood guard at the end of the bed. I never saw that. For me, it was always a flicker of an image, a brush of wind on my face, or the glimpse of something from the corner of my eye. I never gave them a second thought. In Savannah you were only considered odd if your house didn’t have ghosts.

I was seven when Mama died of an aneurism. She once told me our loved ones never truly left us and those words were a comfort to me during that confusing time. At least they were until late at night and the shadows pulsed around me in their silent dance.

April Secret Agent #38

GENRE: Middle Grade

As soon as we get out of the elevator, I know something is wrong. Instead of walking alongside us, Hattie skips ahead down the hall. And when Fetch Man opens our door, I know what it is.

The shoes and boots are missing. The fake flowers are gone. And… the whole entryway is empty!

Without waiting for Fetch Man to remove the leash, I rush off, nose to the floor. What could have happened? Intruders? Strangers? Cats?

But all I smell are Food Lady, Fetch Man, and Hattie. My own family.

Could it be me? I’ve been on high alert ever since we went outside. Hattie seemed so distracted, she almost collided with a bunch of humans outside a snorting bus. Fetch Man appeared to be rushing the entire way to the Dog Park. And once we were there, he threw the ball a couple of times and then acted like he couldn’t wait to get home. They sure were behaving weird.

Maybe I’m overreacting. There was probably an innocent explanation for everything. Like Cody’s always telling me, “Relax, Jack. Life is not nearly as dangerous as you think.” Easy for him to say; he’s a Cockapoo. Everybody knows how mellow they are. Jack Russell Terriers are just the opposite. It’s in our DNA. Or at least that’s what the dogs at the shelter used to say.
Sure, Cody could have a point. Maybe I should chill out. And besides, I have more important things to think about. Like breakfast.