Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Teen Eyes Contest Submission Guidelines

 Teen Eyes Editorial

Three teen editors on three blogs with three prizes. Win! 

Submission Post! 

Today, I'm hosting editor, Taryn Albright of TEEN EYES EDITORIAL on my blog for the Can You Hook a Teen? contest. The submission window will be July 31 from 8AM to 12AM EST.  Go here for more details and to learn about the other editors.

Taryn Albright

Taryn will judge query letters here on my site. The winner will receive a $100 gift certificate to use toward any of Taryn's editorial services.

This contest is for new adult, young adult, and middle grade manuscripts only. 

Enter your query letters in the comments of this post. Here's how to format them:

Format your query as if you were sending it to an agent. Like this:

Name: Your Name
Genre: Manuscript's genre

Query Letter here.  (No double spacing. No indentions.) 

After you finish, make sure to stop by my co-hosts' blogs and enter for a chance to win a prize from the other two editors of Teen Eyes Editorial. 

Brenda Drake

Brenda Drake will host editor Brent Taylor who will judge one-line pitches (35-words max.). The winner will receive a 20K in-depth manuscript critique. 

My Photo

Krista Van Dolzer will host editor Kate Coursey who will judge 1st pages (250-word max). The winner will receive a 20K in-depth manuscript critique.

Please be patient. The editors will read the entries during the week and will contact us with the winners. 
Here's the great part, you can enter on one, two, or all three of the blogs for a chance to win the prize on that blog (one prize per person).

You don't have to follow us on our blogs or on twitter or spread the word to win, but we'd love it if you did. All you have to do is enter in the comments below.

That sums it up.  ALL ENTRIES MUST BE POSTED IN THE COMMENT BOX OF THIS POST. No email or web form.  (That's because this is NOT an MSFV contest.  Any entries sent to MSFV will not be included, so please make sure you enter in the comment box below!)

Monday, July 30, 2012

July's Winners!

Here's the post you're waiting for!  In the spirit of the Olympics:


#27 -- Blame It On Meryl

The prize:  First 25-page critique, query letter critique


#43 -- Breaking Pointe

The prize:  First 50-page critique, query letter critique


#9 -- The Pit


WINNERS:  Please email me at facelesswords(at)gmail.com for specific submission instructions.


If Ms. Odgen noted in your comments anything like "I would keep reading" or "I'd love to see more of this" or  "curious how it continues", she requests that you please query her (NOT send the manuscript) at your discretion.  Feel free to mention the Secret Agent contest in your query letter.

Congratulations all!

Secret Agent Unveiled: Bree Odgen

Many rounds of applause for this month's Secret Agent, Bree Odgen of the D4EO agency.

Bree's Bio:

Bree Ogden has been working as a literary agent for 3 years representing children’s, YA, graphic novels, and art books. She trained under Sharlene Martin at Martin Literary Management and currently works for D4EO Literary Agency in the Seattle office.

Bree graduated with her BA in Philosophy from Southern Virginia University where she served as editor-in-chief of the University’s newsmagazine. She was awarded Most Valuable Player and Editor of the Year, as well as SVU’s Pioneer Award, an honor the University awards to two students each year. She then received her MA in Journalism with an emphasis in editing and expository writing at Northeastern University where she worked on both the New England Press Association Bulletin, and also served as the features editor of the premier campus music magazine, Tastemakers Magazine.

Bree has spent many years working as a freelance journalist and currently co-operates the macabre children’s magazine Underneath the Juniper Tree where she serves as Editorial Director. Bree is also an instructor for the Web site LitReactor.com where she teaches Intro to Graphic Novel Writing. She was recently given a column on LitReactor titled, "Ask the Agent with Bree Ogden" in which she answers all your industry questions.

In her free time she works on her Web tragicomic BOLEYN with highly acclaimed New Zealand artist, Evan Heasman.

Bree's current wish list:

• Dark (not angst-ridden)
• Realistic
• Psychological horror (with no paranormal elements)
• Hard sci fi. Meaning no fantasy, or magical realism at all
• A Dexter-ish type YA black comedy
• A Roaring Twenties historical for YA
• A manuscript written in the era of Mad Men with panache and style
• A unique and theme-driven art book • Any book dealing with Anne Boleyn
• Historical fiction (crime-driven)

Winners forthcoming!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Fricassee

It's one of those crazy-busy mornings for me.  Let's see how coherent I can make today's post.  (All this and no caffeine!)

So, let's talk about the new "New Adult" genre a little bit, since it's included in this month's Secret Agent contest.  Two of the entries were removed because of a misunderstanding of the genre.  Both authors (understandably) thought it meant "new" adult fiction.  As in, adult fiction that hasn't been published yet.

For anyone else who might not have heard the term before:  "New Adult" is sort of the "college age protagonist" that happens between YA and what is, apparently, Old Adulthood.  Many agents (at least to my knowledge) do not (yet) accept this genre.  Reason?  It doesn't exactly have designated shelf space.

I'm not sure I understand the thinking behind it, so maybe those of you who write it or who support it can enlighten me.  I mean, does this make Pride and Prejudice a New Adult novel?  Because, yanno, Elizabeth is "not yet one-and-twenty".  I'm also not sure I see the need for this genre designation.  If you're in college or in your early- to mid-twenties, you're an "adult."  I have never, in the span of my life, heard someone refer to themselves as a "new adult."  (Though upper teenagers are certainly referred to as "young adults", which may or may not actually line up with their behavior.)

Anyway.  It's all academic.  What's your opinion?  If the main character in an adult thriller is 25 instead of 30, does the book need a separate designation?  Does the age of the protagonists in a romance novel make enough of a difference for them to be categorized by that age?

Am I missing something here?  Now's my chance to learn.

(Okay, so what about Hobbits?  They're, like, still teenagers when they're 30.  Do they get their own designation?)

(I know, I know.  The caffeine probably would have helped a little this morning.)

Hugs to all!  Have a glorious weekend.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Contest: Teen Eyes Editorial

I am happy to be one of the hosts of this uber-fun contest hosted by Teen Eyes Editorial.  Here's the scoop:

Have  you ever wondered if your young adult, new adult, or middle grade manuscript would hook a teen reader? We all have. So what better way to find out than a contest with the talented teens of TEEN EYES EDITORIAL.

Here's a bit about the editors . . . 
Kate Coursey

Kate Coursey has completed nine novels to date. Her fifth novel, tentatively titled LIKE CLOCKWORK, won the 2010 PUSH Novel Contest. It is currently undergoing revisions with Jody Corbett at Scholastic Press. She is represented by Edward Necarsulmer IV of McIntosh & Otis. In addition to having extensive experience as a freelance editor, Kate worked as an intern at Scholastic Press where she read many (agented and unagented) submissions. She received the prestigiousSterling Scholar Grant in 2011 based on an extensive creative writing sample. Later that year, Kate underwent a comprehensive evaluation of her editorial skills (both technical and content-related), beating out dozens of post-grad students for an editorial internship at a mid-sized publisher, where she worked during the fall. She is 19 years old and lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Kate loves all things fantasy, contemporary, and middle grade. To learn more about her, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Taryn Albright
Taryn Albright is a nineteen-year-old author whose choice to write instead of do homework led to a Creative Writing major. When she isn't being a college student, swimmer, or writer, she is an intern with Movable Type Literary Management. She is also the personal assistant to the amazing Genn Albin (CREWEL, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, October 2012). Her YA fiction is represented by Vickie Motter of Andrea Hurst Literary Management.

Taryn is particularly interested in contemporaries, mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi, and dystopians, but she also loves fantasy and historical fiction. She's probably not right for your paranormal, but pleasant surprises happen. She loves strong heroines, myth and fairy-tale retellings, and stories about sports. Some of her favorite authors include Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Perkins, Rae Carson, Kirsten Hubbard, Kendare Blake, Veronica Roth, Ilsa Bick, and Ransom Riggs.

To learn more about Taryn, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter.

 Brent Taylor

Brent Taylor lives in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s an ex-gymnast turned blogger, and has been a children’s and YA specialist intern at a New York-based literary agency for a little over a year. His articles have appeared inSchool Library Journal and VOYA, and he is a contributing writer at Lambda Literary.
Brent was raised in middle grade fantasy, hung out with YA contemporary for years, and is now enjoying every stolen moment on his porch swing with nice literary and not-so-literary fiction. He loves narrators that take him on wild rides to worlds and situations he’s never experienced before and fresh plotlines.

You can visit his blog, or—and this is if you’re feeling particularly adventurous—follow him on Twitter.

Each editor will read different type of entries for new adult, young adult, and middle grade manuscripts (please see info. below each editor's picture for their genre tastes) on these three blogs . . . 


Authoress will host editor, Taryn Albright who will judge query letters. The winner will receive a $100 gift certificate to use toward any of Taryn's editorial services.

Brenda Drake

Brenda Drake will host editor Brent Taylor who will judge one-line pitches (35-words max.). The winner will receive a 20K in-depth manuscript critique. 

My Photo

Krista Van Dolzer will host editor Kate Coursey who will judge 1st pages (250-word max.). The winner will receive a 20K in-depth manuscript critique.

The submission posts on all three blogs will go live on July 31 at 8AM EST. Here's the great part, you can enter on one, two, or all three of the blogs for a chance to win the prize on that blog (one prize per person). 

You don't have to follow us on our blogs or on twitter or spread the word to win, but we'd love it if you did. All you have to do is come back and enter on the submission post.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July Secret Agent #ALT-2

TITLE: The Actual and Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher
GENRE: MG Retelling (of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer)

By the time I crept back home and lifted the side window, Mama was in her armchair snoring. Good God in Heaven, Joseph and Mary, and all six or seven disciples, too—her growling and nose whistling was like a mix between a steamboat and a tea kettle. Grateful for the noise, I slipped inside and tippy-toed around the corner, down the hall, and up the steps. It wasn’t until I reached my room and closed the door, quiet as a tinkle in the woods, that I saw him.


Judge Thatcher, as I had to call him when I got into mischief, was sitting on my bed with his arms crossed. In one hand was his fancy pocket watch, the one he used in court matters. About the size of a baby’s palm, it was always shiny and always wound and always exactly on time. He called it Old Reliable. Me and Old Reliable weren’t on friendly terms.

“It’s past ten o’clock, Becky,” he said, snapping the watch shut. He caught sight of my clothing—Jon’s old clothing, that is. I saw him soften and then go to a sad place before he recovered himself. “Mighty late, considering you said your goodnights nearly two hours ago.”

“Oh, is it late?” I asked. “Well, I guess I’ll get to bed.” I yawned real big. “Judge, I’ll have to ask you to excuse yourself. I’m getting mighty big to have my Daddy in my room when I put on a nightgown.”

July Secret Agent #ALT-1

TITLE: The Education of Eve
GENRE: New Adult Historical

Eve came downstairs, having been dressed since dawn. The smell of coffee and bacon emanated from the small kitchen, which was cast in a warm glow from the early morning sunlight. Her mother stood by the cast iron stove in her faded calico work dress, the family cats Biscuit and Gravy hovering close by for any scraps that might present themselves.

“You look like you could use this.” Her mother poured her a cup of coffee. She offered a reassuring smile. “The beginnings are always the hardest. It’ll get better.”

Eve took a sip of the hot liquid. She noticed the folded newspaper by her father’s chair as she sat. “Where’s Daddy?”

“He wanted to harvest the east field today, so he got an early start.”

Steam rose from Eve’s mug as she clasped it with both hands. She didn’t know why she was surprised he had not stayed to see her off. He hardly spoke to her these days, but Eve had still hoped he would say goodbye. She stared at the Mason jar filled with late blooming wildflowers on the table. It was hard enough to endure his disapproval over what he thought were her plans; she shuddered to imagine his reaction if he knew her true intentions.

A loud yawn came from the hallway as her younger sister shuffled into the kitchen in her frilly silk dressing gown. Her chestnut bangs were still coiled in rags, which she would later remove to frame her face in dainty curls.

July Secret Agent #50

TITLE: Liora

Adolescence is the vampire of childhood. It preys on innocent victims, wide eyed girls who have just grown capable enough to play really interesting games like “Battle of the Spy Clubs”, and “KiKi Munroe: Horse Whisperer”

That’s when the vampires strike. Slinking out from behind the shadows they tiptoe tiptoe tiptoe, behind the freshly washed faces and pony tails. “You’ll be the bell of the ball,” They hiss. “Boys will love you,” they whisper,”Girls will kill to be like you” they purr. All the while the vampires are sinking their teeth deeper and deeper into the girls’ milky white necks.

Once she has been bitten, there’s no turning back. The venomous poison courses through her veins, destroying everything that was interesting or unique about her.

Her Muppets T shirts get replaced by designer tops, her purple secret decoder rings morph into into cell phones, her long braided hair gets chopped and dyed.

The Newly Bitten seek each other out, forming snarling, boy hungry groups that prowl the mall looking for new blood.

What happens to the others, the ones who haven’t been bitten yet?

Mostly we try to blend in. The Newly Bitten can be ferocious.

As I lay here in the grass, a hardcover copy of Villete hiding my I spying eyes, I watch them, strutting and giggling and bouncing.. and I feel… I feel…


A white object comes hurtling towards my face. I try to seek cover under the shelter of my book, but as usual, my reflexes suck.

July Secret Agent #49

TITLE: Sarita

We had been climbing for days now, so far and high it seemed I should be able to reach up and touch the kingdom of the heavens. Why, then, did Inti, God of the Sun, not take pity and warm me? Was I not his chosen one, marked from birth as his future bride? Could he not spare even a smidgen of his almighty warmth for me now, one short day before we were to be wed? Icy wind bit through my clothing and deep into my bones. I shivered and pulled my shawl tighter but as Inti made his way closer to his nightly bed, it grew colder still.

A daughter of the red desert in the distance far below, still baking in the summer's heat, snow was new to me. I had marveled over it and crunched icy crystals, delighting in its purity. That seemed ages ago: snow had long since lost its charm. Instead my eyes lingered on gashes in the earth where fuming water spurted, sullying the air with the stench of rotten eggs and staining the rubble orange and poison green. Could the trail to the heavenly Kingdom be so foul? But white stones marked the edges of the trail: there was no mistaking it. Above, the sky was the bluest I had ever seen--the color of the eyes of Inti. Was he looking down on me now? For just a moment I felt his pull. And so I continued, slowly, ever higher on my journey up Llullaillaco.

July Secret Agent #48

TITLE: Out of the Shadows
GENRE: Middle Grade Fiction

The thing that set Solomon apart from everyone else wasn’t the four inch scar that ran along the left side of his bald head. What really set him apart was the fact that his was the only black face in a sea of white faces.

Miss Anderson shook Solomon’s hand and welcomed him to sixth grade at Mt. Pleasant School with the same smile that had won me over when I’d been the new kid two weeks earlier. She walked past the blackboard and placed her hand on a scratched wooden desk by the window. “Right here, Solomon. I need to run a few of your papers to the office, but I’ll be right back.”

Even before Miss Anderson’s hand left the door knob and the door closed, my stomach started to tighten, and my heart began to beat faster, anticipating what was about to happen. Clint, a kid who always looked like he needed food because he was so skinny, jumped on top of his desk and started beating his chest. Not to be outdone, Billy did a handstand on the window ledge, his feet banging lightly against the Glass.

Jason, however, just stood and stared at the newest class member. “Hey, new kid, betcha can’t touch the ceiling if you stand on the teacher’s desk.” He pointed to an old gray, metal desk in the back corner of the room.

Solomon smiled, and his smile seemed to fill his whole face.

July Secret Agent #47

TITLE: Satellite Hearts
GENRE: YA Sci-fi/Dystopian

I’m whistling numbers; it’s like pulling string between my teeth. My feet kick at loose pebbles on the dusty road to home. I wear black, blend into the dark so ministers of the night, baloi, don’t see me. Supernatural and human, they can both cause harm. I can’t stop whistling the tune—22.9906° S, 25.1557° E, the coordinates that define the sleeping location of my country,


I don’t want to denote it the common cliché term ‘hot and arid’ because I hate to be another stereotype of limited description. It’s landlocked. It’s suffocated. It’s variety. It reminds me of the ocean, not in the literal sense, nor rather the freedom eloquence, but like the ocean it has borderlines you can’t see. You can feel them everywhere you go like an invisible wall, upright and sucking in all the air and,suffocation is landlocked. I don’t have the slightest idea of how cold, fresh air tastes. But the forest air, perfumed by the birches, is wild; it has travelled far enough into the clear sky to taste freedom. I’d hold on to it tight, fly away and never come back.

I wipe my shoes as I enter

the house

is a caricature of a pretend-home family. A pretend-home family likes to think the world is eternally hugged with warmth and hope. They love to tickle the air with fake laughs, but each time a laugh makes it up my throat I suddenly feel the opposite. When I enter, I panic—mama’s not alone.

July Secret Agent #46

TITLE: Professor Payne's Intrepid Time Travelers

Two letters in one day... a little odd since he had just moved into the dingy one bedroom apartment the day before. He glanced at the larger envelope. The paper was thick and rich with texture. It was addressed to Dr. Payne Johnson. He looked at the return address embossed with raised letters: University of Southern California. He sliced open the envelope and was greeted with an invitation to join the excellent Trojan teaching tradition.

He paused for a moment and then picked up the other letter. The paper was thin and inexpensive. It was addressed to Professor Payne. Someone must feel familiar with me to address me in such a manner. The return address was stamped and inferior. The faded letters announced the sender as Whispering Pines Prep School for the Fine Arts.

No need to open it really, he thought. His experience with private education at the high school level had been a lesson in frugality. Salaries were low and benefits slim. I need money, and I need it quickly so I can resume my search for Cleo Patra. With those thoughts running through his head he tossed the letter into the trash and watched as it flipped in the air before settling among the newspaper already nestled there.

Bold print covered the flap and the words seared his brain as he remembered her screams:


July Secret Agent #45

TITLE: Averagely Extraordinary

The cavern rumbled for the third time in as many minutes.

A young apprentice jumped back as vials and flasks smashed on the floor. The contents snaked around, hissing and creating acidic puddles.

“Not again! Jake, control your blasted fungi.” Being apprenticed to the greatest scientist in the universe wasn’t easy. The constant hum of power aged Frank Einstein beyond his years and the charged atmosphere caused premature balding.

His mentor entered with the trademark swish of his long coat.

“My dear Frank! It’s not my fungi,” said the old man, running his hand through the grey streak in his mottled brown hair. Jake Illhyde often changed his appearance to conceal his thousand year life-span. “You’re not fiddling with your pylons again, are you?”

“No, of course not,” Frank replied, miffed. The pylons were his first individual project.

A thunderous crash shook the whole cave. “Then what is it? A real quake?” asked the apprentice, coughing hard as stone-dust rained down from the ceiling.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You know we are shifting between planets.” Jake’s creased forehead gave way to wide-eyed horror. “Somebody is trying to reach us.”

“Reach us here? But nobody knows where we are. Or for that matter, who we are!”

“Somebody must have accessed the memories of the two who did. And I’m guessing they are after....”

“The essences! But we have only one left.”

One of Frank’s experimental pylons keeled over and the blue crystal smashed against the floor as the ground shook uncontrollably.

July Secret Agent #44

GENRE: NA Steampunk Thriller

There was something cathartic about wielding a crowbar. Cara used one end to loosen the tacks, before ripping up the expensive Persian carpets. She tossed the strip in a growing pile by the wall. Taking a moment’s break from her work, she flung open the second story window and took a deep breath of London air. And coughed. Coal smoke and steam spiralled past her window, forced skywards by the combination of the narrow street and tall buildings. She blinked the stinging smog from her eyes and looked up. An airship glided by like a giant floating dodo, its tiny props spinning frantically to keep its bulk airborne.

Turning, Cara leaned on the casement, surveying her work. She had taken up most of the library carpet, the wooden floor boards dull in the morning light. Hidden for years under the carpet they were coated in dust and grime. Pacing the floor she knew she was close, a spot to one side called to her. The hairs on the backs of her arms rose as she walked the bare boards. Ah. There. The wooden planks of the floor stained a slightly darker colour. A maid had spent hours on her knees there. Using scrubbing brush and bleach, she had tried to wash away the blood before the new carpets were laid.

There was an old saying blood will out. Cara wondered if this was what her grandmother meant. You can scrub as hard as you want, but you can never remove the taint.

July Secret Agent #43

TITLE: Breaking Pointe
GENRE: YA Contemporary

After her death, it snowed for the first time in years.

Alex Emerson lay sprawled on the locker room floor, watching the snow swirl outside. He tried not to focus on the blood running down his left arm. Instead he tried to focus on why the flakes were white. If he was supposed to feel something about snow in October.

But nothing could take his mind off Beth.

The cut on his arm stung, demanding his attention. His eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the sight of so much blood. Red on dirty white. Was that what the blood down by the railroad tracks would look like now? Would all that remained of her be covered by the snow?

The principal droned on inside the gym, picking adjectives for his best friend from a funeral-themed fridge poetry set. Beth Farlow was so talented. So kind. So depressed she threw herself in front of a train.

Alex dug his nails into his palm and blood gushed from the wound. Endorphins obliterated every trace of pain, and for a second he thought it would be over. That he'd cut deep enough.

But he wasn't as dramatic, as efficient, as Beth. With every passing minute the blood flow ebbed and the memorial service in the gym went on.

He had still lost her three days ago. He was still alive.

The door flew open and footsteps echoed through the silence.

July Secret Agent #42

TITLE: Weaving a Net is Better than Praying for Fish at the Edge of the Water
GENRE: middle grade mystery

Reena likes Tony Arias, so I’m keeping an eye on him.

“Sure, I can tail him!” I said when she asked me after school. Then I jumped up, zipped close my jacket, and flipped its hood over my head.

“Ninja-style!” I shouted. Behind us, the metal double doors of our school banged open and another wave of kids poured into the yard. Crouching low on one leg and splaying the other, I grinned at Reena
and raised a finger to my lips.

But she shrieked, “No!” and waved her hands in front of her face. “Get up!” she whispered urgently.

“Come on, Allie. You know that’s not what I mean.”

“Allen,” I corrected and stood slowly. I was about to fall anyway.

She rolled her eyes. “We’re too old to be acting like tomboys.” That was generous of her actually; Reena doesn’t usually count herself with me as a tomboy. Then she smiled. “Besides we’re in a new school now.”

“It’s my name,” I said, but I smiled too. I sat down on the brick wall beside her. Surrounded by the after school bustle and soothed by the September breeze, we leaned into each other, a kind of sideways hug. This was going to be the best year. I was in a new school finally, and my best friend was here with me.

“Anyway, just watch Tony, okay? I heard he takes the 17 bus. That’s your bus, right?” she said. “Be sub- I mean, act normal.”

July Secret Agent #41

GENRE: YA Contemporary

Slinking alongside the lockers, I flow around the students stopped in bubbles of conversation. I don’t know what other high schools are like, but mine is this stage-in-the-round of connecting buildings with never-ending hallways. I circle around a few times until I remember I’m looking for something. Room 201B. Hugging my Chuck Norris messenger bag, I maneuver through the aisles to my seat in the back corner. Alphabetically speaking, Torres, Jack favors Stealth.

Most of the other people herding through my high school have no idea that a kung-fu M.I.T. (master-in-training) is in their midst. For all intents and purposes, I play the short, frizzy-haired nerd girl quite well. And, if pressed, I will admit that Mr. Miyagi offering defensive lessons in my mind is a bit weird. But confessing your craziness is like taking the state route to Sanity.

For instance, I don’t know anyone else who, at this very minute, notices Bruce Lee settling on the teacher’s desk, his legs and arms crossed. Bruce Lee with his smooth face and piercing eyes, scanning the classroom for me. He says, “Be ready, Jack, not thinking but not dreaming. Ready for whatever may come.”

You got it, Bruce.

From my left, a melodic voice asks, “Who’s Bruce?”

Looks like I said that out loud. Of course William Blake would choose this moment to acknowledge me. Not the dead poet William Blake—I’m not that crazy—just the floppy-haired blonde guy who sits next to my desk in five out of nine classes.

July Secret Agent #40 (removed)


July Secret Agent #39

GENRE: MG Multicultural Contemporary

Tripping down the side of the steep ravine, I dodge chickens and skinny dogs as I make my way to the busiest intersection in Guatemala City. When the streetlight turns red, I leap out in front of a red sedan with my bucket and my rag and begin to wipe the front windshield. I ignore the driver as he waves an angry hand. I keep wiping. I will clean his window so well that he will pay me a few coins before driving on to his big, gated house with a hired girl who scrubs his floors.

I am still leaning across the hood of the car when the light turns green. The angry man honks and jolts the car forward just an inch, just enough to send me sprawling backwards, directly into the muddy water collecting in the gutters. He speeds away and I push myself up onto the curb, my only skirt soaked through. Across the street, Vicente waves a scrap of paper at me. A whole quetzal, someone gave him.

Why did I not choose that side of the street? I could have. I was here first. I am always here first.

When the light turns red again, I don’t get up. Nita and Deysi have already jumped into the intersection to begin their routine of juggling and dancing. There’s no competing with that.

But I could do that if I wanted. I could work up a routine so dazzling that every single car on the street would shower me in quetzals.

July Secret Agent #38

TITLE: Sorry's Not Enough
GENRE: New Adult - Realistic Fiction

Sanguinolent sunset. Now there's a word you don't see every day. Charlotte circled it with her red pen and drew a smiley face at the end of the line, just below where she'd called out a different phrase for being trite. As the rest of the group took turns giving feedback, she continued making notes. By the time she was done, the paper was sanguinolent too.

She looked up when the group grew quiet. Her turn. She looked down at the poem again and hoped its author wouldn't be offended. She had to look at the paper to remember his name. Steven.

“It's a little confused,” she said. There was a pause and a shuffle of papers.

“What don't you understand?” he asked.

She snapped her chin up to look at him and was taken aback by the force of his gaze and the color of his eyes. There wasn't an adjective to describe the shade of green staring back at her.

“I'm not confused. Your poem is.”

His attention dropped to his copy of the poem. She could almost see his brain struggling to acknowledge that there could be any imperfections. He probably thought it was soooo amazing! as proclaimed by Aubrey, the bubbly redhead to his left. She had gushed to an embarrassing extent, obviously more interested in getting his number than saying anything meaningful. With a pang of something she refused to believe was jealousy, Charlotte realized that, of the two of them, Aubrey would be the only one taking any numbers.

July Secret Agent #37 (removed)

This author has received an offer of representation!

July Secret Agent #36

GENRE: YA Post-Apocalyptic

The last time I climbed a fence this high, the world was a different place. Back then, my family wouldn't have approached the Splits of America if you'd paid us in gold. Back then, the Mexican Civil War was still young. Back then, we lived on a farm near Acapulco, and Mamá and Papá worried about silly things like me sneaking out to see my best friend, who had a tall chain link fence around her house.

We can't afford to worry about things like that anymore. I'm not thirteen years old, and the biggest risk in climbing this chain link fence is not a nasty fall or a skinned elbow. If Border Patrol sees my brother and me, they'll shred us with bullets.

Shrouded in darkness, outlined with moonlight, Davio and I finally slip over the top of the fence. Thank God it doesn't have barbed wire. Of course, there was enough stretched over the last three fences to compensate - the Patrol probably didn't think anyone would dig this far.

We drop the last couple meters and hit the sand in silence. On the other side of the fence, Mamá and Papá stop keeping watch and start climbing.

I stare through the starlit semi-darkness. Did we cross at the right spot?

Then floodlights slam on, bleaching my brother's skin the color of sand. His expression freezes in horror.

We stand in a pool of daylight in the middle of the night, pinned in place by the white bulbs. Caught between countries. Caught between worlds.

July Secret Agent #35

GENRE: Humorous YA Sci Fi

Thirty-seven stories up in the offices of Peter, Incorporated idoLL stares at her reflection in the window: artificial extra wide lips planted in paper-white skin stretched so tight around her eyes they appear to glare even when she’s in a good mood.

She’s not in a good mood.

Movement beyond her reflection catches her attention and she leans her forehead against the glass, peering across the green skyscraper roof-parks to the particle billboard forming above 5.3 Avenue. One by one its atoms ignite revealing the star-bright smile of Jettison Prix and announcing her upcoming concert at the PopOver Arena on Old New York Bay.

Beneath the display, a Bumble Bee Tours ship zips in and out of the congested flow of hovercars. IdoLL imagines the manic driver losing control of the ship and hurtling toward the billboard, its black and yellow hull smashing into Jettison’s face and knocking the particles out of their orbits. She tracks their descent, like a shower of tiny marbles, past the stunned skyscraper eyes, past the wobbly layers of hovercars, and into the pavement where they explode into a bazillion pieces.

“Ka-boom,” she says and waits for the universe’s enthusiastic applause.

Which sounds, oddly enough, like chirping crickets.

The high-pitched sound brings her back into the room. It’s the vid com beeping at her again. She pulls her forehead away from the window and leaps down from the sill, her thick black boots thudding on the synthetic hardwood. A small white smudge remains on the glass.

July Secret Agent #34

TITLE: The Apollo Academy

Aurora Titon was so close to touching the stars that she could almost feel imaginary wings sprouting from her back. What would it be like to leave this blue sky for the open, black vastness of the world beyond? She imagined viewing earth from above, being able to fly wherever she wanted. Aurora shook her head, trying to dislodge those thoughts. She needed to focus or else none of her hard work would matter.

She looked down at her hot-pink tennis shoes and watched their logo flash in an ever-changing rainbow of bright colors. They were her lucky shoes, and she had worn them today for that exact reason. She needed all the luck she could get. The hot, humid Florida air pressed down on her, its heavy, pregnant weight reminding her of the day’s importance. Determined to make her dreams come true, Aurora marched alongside the other potential cadets, toward the security gate that sheltered the Apollo Academy.

Even from a distance, the Academy’s sheer magnitude was impressive. She could just make out the gold swirling Academy logo, which stood out in stark relief against a brilliantly white background. Aurora stared at the delicate symbol that showcased two intertwined A’s that twirled together with a shuttle and stars. It was a tease for her, to be allowed this close without knowing if she would be admitted further.

The only thing standing between Aurora and her dream was an initiation test...

July Secret Agent #33

GENRE: YA Sci-Fi (Multi-Cultural)

Yesterday? High school student. Today? Terrorist. That has to be some kind of record.

The chill in the sterile interrogation room had goose bumps standing up on her arms, but Kaia Davis didn't notice. She didn't notice how much her leg was bouncing underneath the plain steel table, either, or that she was pulling on her necklace so hard it was carving a raw red line into the back of her neck.

No matter how many times Kaia replayed it in her head, she couldn't pin down what had gone wrong. She had checked and re-checked the current "banned items" list while she packed – she'd even checked it again before she left for any last minute additions. True, no adult had gone over her luggage (Please. The Johnsons wouldn't have helped me even if I'd asked), but Kaia knew she had been extra thorough.

There hadn't been any problems when she got on the plane in New York. Nothing strange in flight, either. When she had arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport, she had been happy just to be somewhere new. Sure, it was only an airport, but it was a new airport, where the tubes connecting the terminals were made entirely of glass, and the voices on the intercoms weren't speaking English by way of Long Island.

When she had entered the security checkpoint, she hadn't been the slightest bit nervous. Why should she have been? The most offensive thing in her bag was acne medicine.

July Secret Agent #32

TITLE: The G.A.P. Project
GENRE: YA Sci Fi Suspense

The overhead light flared on. Ginny grumbled as she opened one eye, and the green numbers on the alarm clock glared at her. 12:01. “It’s the middle of the freakin’ night.”

“Get up. It’s time,” Dad said, his eyes wide, his lips thinned. “We told you it’d be this way.” He punched the code opening the panic room at the back of her closet. He installed it last month while spouting a detailed explanation involving as much intrigue as a political thriller.

After the tenth kidnapping, parents all over town took extreme measures, but panic rooms? Get real. She thought her parents were overreacting.

She stumbled on Grace, her stuffed pig – a gift from friend, Toad. “Where’s Mom?”

The door silenced any response, if there was one. A sharp clank followed the sucking of the vacuum seal, and she found herself imprisoned by iron walls, cold and unwelcoming. A steel door threw back her distorted reflection. The pads of her bare feet froze against the concrete floor. Scrubbing her eyes to clear her vision, she groaned when she realized her fluffy white robe lay on the floor beside her bed.

On the other side of that door.

I’m so totally screwed.

Ginny shivered. She got claustrophobic in an elevator, and the panic room made an elevator look like the mall’s food court. She longed for the security of her iPod and cell phone.

Any time now guys, let me out.

July Secret Agent #31

TITLE: Inside the Circle
GENRE: YA Contemporary

It’s freezing in the Center like always, and I can’t wait to get out of Allison’s room. Her doctor is ready to see her, so I say see you next Friday and walk into the wide hallway. It was tough to talk to her today. The doctors have her really drugged up on anti-depressants, which is ironic, considering that overdose is the reason why she’s here.

What happened to Allison is scary, but it happens. People lose control and go too far. They fall into the darkness. For Allison, it was heroin, but it wasn’t a slow decline. That’s why everyone is so freaked out. People who use hard stuff like H figure they’ll get a warning, a heads-up when they get close to the place where they might not come back. Not this time. Allison snorted H for the first time about a year ago. When she started shooting, it took everything in me to keep my mouth shut. No judgments, that’s the rule with my friends. I wasn’t going to help her get high, though. I don’t do that shit anymore.

Around Christmas, Allison went to a party, shot too much, and turned blue. I guess it’s been about three months now. Instead of calling 911, these ignorant, drunk bitches threw her in the tub so she wouldn’t throw up on the marble bathroom floor. Luckily, some sophomore saw her in there, and he found a way to get her to the hospital. She’s lucky to be alive.

July Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Veritas
GENRE: YA Sci-fi

The only time I feel an ounce of freedom is when running, muscles clenching, legs pumping, fire burning my lungs with each breath. My hair whips past me as I rush down the empty corridor. I race past door after door until they blend into the white walls. My heart beats a fast rhythm that matches the pounding of my feet. The speed lets me pretend at freedom. But it’s a lie. I’ve been stuck in this cage my whole life, never knowing anything but this ship that’s caught in the void of space.

I turn left down another hall, identical to the last save for the numbers on the doors, and pick up my pace—I can’t be late again. Unfortunately, this corridor isn’t empty like the others.

My momentum slams me straight into a patroller. Hard muscles act like a wall against my much smaller form, and I fall to the ground. When I look up the only thing that greets me is a scowl. The patroller’s light eyes narrow and his jaw clenches.

I brush hair out of my face where sweat makes the black strands cling. My hands tremble under the patroller’s stare.

“Sorry, sir.” The words leave my mouth in a stutter and I look away, hoping he’ll let me go without punishment. Being late to my assignment is one thing, but pissing off a patroller is a whole other universe of trouble that I don’t want to be in.

July Secret Agent #29

TITLE: Can't Buy Me Love
GENRE: Commercial upper middle grade

Is it totally wrong to be jealous of someone else’s coffin? I mean, it’s not like I have a death wish or anything, seeing as how I am only thirteen, but my great-aunt’s casket is seriously blinged out. It has actual diamonds in the handles. When my time’s up, I definitely wouldn’t mind flaming out movie-star-style, like Aunt Glinda.

Maybe if I’d ever laid eyes on her before this very second, I might be more into paying my respects instead of calculating carats, but until two days ago, I didn’t even know I had an Aunt Glinda. Dad says if Gran was alive, it’s entirely possible we wouldn’t even have been allowed to come to the funeral.

“Marnie, please move it along,” hisses Mom, under her breath.

Whoops! I realize I’ve been standing over Aunt Glinda’s casket for like two whole minutes and there’s a line of people backed up behind me.

“Sorry,” I whisper and speed-walk back to our pew.

It’s a little hard to get worked up for a stranger-relative, but from all the nice things everyone is saying about Aunt Glinda, it sounds like she was pretty cool. And RICH! Wow, do those diamonds catch the lights, especially with the sun coming through the stained glass windows. There are beams of color flying all over the place, like when Mr. Martin goes crazy with his laser pointer. He so does not get that pointing a red dot at Lincoln’s nostril does not make the Civil War more interesting.

July Secret Agent #28

TITLE: Keepers of the Flame
GENRE: YA Political Thriller


High school graduation.

An event synonymous with death in some circles. For the sun-bleached prom queen and muscley jock, Pomp and Circumstance was a funeral march, counting down the last precious seconds of their best four years.

Unless you graduated from Kingston Academy.

At Kingston, the prom queen, with her long blonde ringlets and big blue eyes would probably go on to command NATO. And the jock? He, along with his package of synthetically grown muscles, was on the fast track to becoming President of the United States. In a school notorious for educating the offspring of government officials, prominent businessmen and classy celebrities, Essie Hall was neither the most famous student, nor the only one to graduate early.

Essie was, however, salutatorian.

Which is how she found herself sitting in a chair. On a stage. Clutching note cards. In front of thousands of watchful eyes.

Essie gulped.

She tried wiping her sweaty hands on her grad gown, but the silky blue material refused to absorb. Chalking it up to failure, Essie surveyed the rows and rows of proud mommies and daddies, identical in black suits, skirts and sunglasses.

Except for one.

In her favorite burnt orange tank and bohemian skirt, Liora Hall jumped up and down, waving an enormous hand-painted banner.


Essie’s face blossomed with color. Mom! She groaned. In the face of near certain death-by-public speaking, she would have appreciated a mom who could conform to certain standard social norms. Like wearing black, for example.

July Secret Agent #27

TITLE: Blame it on Meryl
GENRE: New Adult Fiction

I’m Laura Sanders.

I’m twenty-eight.

I’m a TV-producer.

I live in Los Angeles.

I’ve travelled the world.

I’m an only child.

I have a cat called Sartre.

I drive a Horizon Blue Mini Convertible.

I own 108 pair of shoes.

I’m a virgin.

The worst part of my pathetic sex- and relationshipless life is the constant pretending. Pretending to be normal. Fact is, everybody knows the drama of relationships, the passion, the pain. Not knowing makes you an utter and complete freak. Until some years ago I used to be honest and tell new friends that I was still a virgin and never had a boyfriend. Someday I’ll tell a stranger that I killed a person. Simply to see if that confession arouses a similar mortified look.

After the look there’s always the pity. And after the pity the good advice.

Good Advice Number One: Be dumb. Men don’t like smart women.

Good Advice Number Two: Be hard to get. Men still think like hunters.

Good Advice Number Three: Be a listener. Men need attention.

After the look and the pity and the good advice, there’s the worst part: the awkward silence. After all, everything everybody ever talks about are relationships. Who they met, who texted, called or wrote, or who didn’t, and what either implies. Who broke up with whom, who got engaged, who is pregnant, who had an affair, who is good in bed, who is hot, who looks cute … and of course one needs stories to contribute. So I make up stories.

July Secret Agent #26

TITLE: Generation Zero
GENRE: YA Science Fiction

I hear the voices even before the MagLev Transit comes to a complete stop. "Science Deck Sector One," the computer announces as the door slides open.

Two Gen2s in the light-blue Science uniforms step into the MaLT, too engrossed in their conversation to notice me. But I recognize them. They transitioned from Commune two years ago with the twins.

"We're still jettisoning bodies?" the girl, Kendall, says.

"While we're still in orbit, there's no other way to get rid of the corpses," says the boy. I think he’s called Aryan.

I maneuver around them and hop out into the lobby. Just as the MaLT door seals behind me, Aryan says, "Hey, Kyra, see you at Assembly...and congratulations."

"Er, thanks," I mumble to no one in particular as the MaLT whisks them away to Shuttle Bay Four. They're probably headed down to watch the disposal. I wonder which poor crewmember has succumbed to the Defect today.

Standing in the silence of the Science lobby, I tug on the collar of my ceremonial uniform. Last day as a juvenile crewmember. Finally. Everything would be perfect if there weren’t an actual transitioning ritual to endure. All those people watching me.

I practice the relaxation breathing my tutor taught me. It only makes me dizzy. Resting my forehead against the wall, I run my fingers over the raised etchings on the cool surface. I jerk upright. I’ve just used our most sacred memorial as support for my frayed nerves. The Chief would so not approve.

July Secret Agent #25

GENRE: Multicultural YA Thriller

No one ever suspects the nerdy brown chick. That’s one of the top ten reasons I kick a** at this job: junior-investigator-in-training at ACE—Action, Confidentiality, Excellence—PI Agency.

I take a sip of my chai latte and look over the well-gelled heads and blown-dry locks of the business casual set crammed into Starbucks. It’s the middle of the week, but summer means casual Fridays don’t just happen on Fridays.

The PUS—party under surveillance—runs a finger along the collar of his pale blue button up. He’s a good-looking guy for someone who’s almost thirty. He glanced my way when I came in but hasn’t looked at me since. He doesn’t see me as a threat. What kind of threat has frizzy hair—I don’t blow dry let alone use the round brush when I head out on assignment—wears oversized glasses, baggy jeans and a T-shirt three sizes too big, and lugs around a five-ton calculus textbook in the middle of summer vacation? He probably figures I’m too engrossed in maintaining my four point oh to get into a great college and then an awesome med school. Or a crappy med school in the Caribbean. Who cares as long as I wind up a doctor, right? Isn’t that every brown kid’s dream?

Um, no.

But whatever. Keep believing the stereotype, folks. As long as you don’t pay attention to me paying attention to you, it’s all good.

I flip the page of Calculus Made Simple and doodle a smiley face in my Mead notebook to look like I’m studying.

July Secret Agent #24

TITLE: The Last Hope
GENRE: Sci Fi Dystopian

I am an astronaut traveling through uncharted space. My mission: Plunge into recently detected Space Anomaly 1462 and discover if it is a traversable wormhole, the artifact of a black hole burnout, or what we’ve come to call a Siren; a one way shortcut to imminent death.

This is important quest. Funny thing though, I’m in a permanently vegetative state.

In these infinite waking hours, how I got to be in this exact situation replays innumerable times. I reflexively flash back to the crash. It was my birthday and the motorcycle had been a recent purchase; so much faster than my old bike. I never realized how much so until I glanced in the side mirror and then back to the road. Then it was too late. A piece of debris flared into existence and finished me. Best I can tell I lost a couple weeks time in a coma, and when I regained awareness… this. What horror I had those first few months. Horror slipped into despair, despair transformed into rage, and rage finally gave way to my present state of mind: Reluctant surrender.

Lying here, eyes open and vacant, I function on the minimal level of life for continued existence: my heart beats, I breathe, I digest. To my fellow man I am a beating heart cadaver. And why shouldn’t I be? The screams coursing through my brain go unheard and unknown.

July Secret Agent #23

GENRE: New Adult

The soaking deluge began amassing into pools in the folds of my pants. We both stared numbly, hypnotized by the mudslides of her upheaval. Wiping the back of her hand across her mouth a last tremor of aftershock rippled through her dazed body. She exited the apocalyptic scene of my car and stumbled back to the party.

I drove directly home trying to convince myself that things didn’t play out exactly as they just had. This morning driving to work, the physical reality of stains, and the awful smells permeating my crap Honda, are unavoidable. While a hefty trash bag does keep me dry it does nothing for the odor. The shame of my nightmare is less than 12 hours old.

The thing is, I’m afraid of sex. I’ve never had the sex before, not until last night, and that didn’t help things. I can’t imagine that last night was a complete picture of the experience either, given the circumstances. I wasn’t drunk, but she was. Saying she came on to me makes me sound a bit like a rapist, but that’s what happened.

We stumbled away from the party, she was under the influence and I was under hers. Moments before, she had leaned heavily against me to whisper something into my ear that was as explicit as it was blunt. At that point the organ generally in charge of operations temporarily stepped down from duty.

She led me by the hand and other parts to my car.

July Secret Agent #22

TITLE: Cooper Watson and the Day that Almost Wasn't

If you didn’t know him, you might describe Cooper as small. He lived in a small town, attended a small school, and he was quite a bit small for his age.

But Cooper’s friends would never call him small because he had big ideas, big plans, and got big results. Eventually.

As Coop’s best friend, I played a part in that success. Or at least I liked to think I did.

“Groups of three, groups of three,” Mrs. Andrews called over the hubbub of our fourth grade classroom.

Kids clustered in groups of four, five, and even a few pairs. No one had yet to manage a group of three. The prissy headband girls looked like they might cry. How could the four of them ever split up?

“Okay, freeze,” Mrs. Andrews said and turned off the light.

We all froze in our places. Coop and I sat together at a table with three of our friends.

“Each group must have at least one boy and at least one girl, and if you don’t have your groups decided in two minutes, I will decide them for you.” She looked at her watch. “Starting....now,” she said.

When Mrs. Andrews flicked on the light, the class sprung back to life.

July Secret Agent #21

TITLE: A Waltz for a Stray Dog
GENRE: YA Contemporary

The sounds of whispers faded as I marched into the silence of the music wing. Lunch time was intermission from the gossips. The people in my school seemed to know more about the war over my ailing grand sire's fortune than me.

I locked myself into the music room. Something groaned when I put my red bean bun and thermos on the piano. A pair of legs stuck out from behind it. The boy was a rare specimen in this school. His hair was a bird's nest, there was a cut at the corner of his mouth, and his brows were trimmed. I've read from Wikipedia that trimmed brows was one of the unique features of bad boys in Japan.

But calling this creature a bad boy would be an insult to those punch throwing, profanity spewing individuals. He was more of a shaggy dog that just lost a fight. If he was more human than canine, I'd have kicked him out.

I knelt beside him and dabbed at his cut with an anti-bacterial wipe. He shifted away and whined.

“Don't get in a fight if you're afraid of pain.” I said. He mumbled something again, and pushed my hand away.

“I said I only need water. Man-woman.”

Man-woman? I didn't even have hairy legs or a mustache on my upper lip.

July Secret Agent #20

GENRE: Young Adult Science Fiction

The little brown pill bottle that sits on the counter is the best birthday present I could ever give myself.
Do it. There’s that voice--creepy, deep, and evil, but comforts me like the sweetest chocolate I’ve ever tasted. It’s been speaking to me for the past five months and sometimes I think it’s coming from somewhere foreign. Your dad’s waiting for you. He misses you, Anna.

“Shut up!” I grasp the side of my head as more tears coat my cheeks. My temptation doesn’t need that voice to push me any further. I glance down. Through blurry tears, the edges of the picture I’ve been holding for hours seem fuzzy and worn. Just like me.

Sweat drips down the center of my back. It’s so hot-- the air is as thick as mud. Maybe I can close the windows and suffocate myself instead. No. The pills are the better way to go.

My cell buzzes. Ivy’s name appears on the screen. I ignore it. Don’t want to talk to anyone. Life here is nothing for me. My mom’s popping pills, turning into a drunk, and she still hates me. The only parent who showed an ounce of care was my dad and he’s dead. I miss him so much my heart’s numb.
My cell buzzes again. I ignore it. I fan out the pictures I’ve spread all over the family room floor. The only photo of all of us sits by itself away from the others.

July Secret Agent #19 (removed)


July Secret Agent #18

TITLE: Unknown
GENRE: Contemporary YA

Kyle Garrett has been the love of my life ever since the sixth grade when he drew a heart around my left boob. The problem is, after three years and too many enhancement lotions to count, that same heart still fits.

I’ve spent the last hour in front of my dresser mirror willing my boobs to finally realize I’m a girl and sprout, which is totally useless, because per genetics, I’m screwed. I’m pretty sure my mother owns stock in Wonder bras. I could go grab one of hers and wear it under my bathing suit.

I can hear my sister mouthing something from her room, and then she’s coming my way. “Annley, we’re going to be late.” She abruptly stops, catching herself on the door. When she’s back insight, I see she’s giving me the look. “ Why are you wearing a one-piece?”

Because it’s my favorite. Because I don’t want a string up my you-know-what, or my nipples showing every time I jump in the water. Because unlike you, I wasn’t built with hips, or a butt, or boobs any guy would love to lay claim to mounted on my chest. In fact, I’m still trying to decide whether or not my sister was adopted. She contradicts the whole Foster family body type. My mother and I are boxes—waist the same size as our hips. Even my Aunt Susan is square.

Because it’s what I want to wear.” I tell her, cupping my chest. I take my hands away, pretending to watch them fall.

July Secret Agent #17

GENRE: YA Speculative Fiction

The man in the cobalt hat and his marmoset stood against the far wall of Tristan’s room. They’d perfected stillness, but their eyes followed him after dusk.

Tristan pressed his spine against the cinder block wall and watched them back.

The man offered the marmoset an almond. Thick spectacles encircled his eyes, which were as gray as the paint that coated the room. Beneath the cobalt hat, his face fell in deep wrinkles. He stood a foot taller than Tristan, and his hat scraped the ceiling.

The marmoset dug his toes into the man’s shoulder and pressed one paw onto his cheek. Fine black fur covered the marmoset’s face and body except for white tufts that grew from its ears. Golden flecks danced in its eyes.

Tristan’s vision blurred with exhaustion, but when the marmoset reached for that almond, he was alert and tense again.

The almond remained untouched between the man’s thumb and forefinger.

He knew it was all in his head. He should have felt glad about that. Some of them didn’t even know that much, but somehow he couldn’t feel glad.

The marmoset would never take the almond, never be able to reach it. The man would never shoo the animal from his shoulder. They couldn’t get him; they were painted on.

But paint or not, they watched him. Their eyes tried to worm into his skull and read his thoughts. His thoughts weren’t a page they could take from him. They existed only between his ears.

July Secret Agent #16

TITLE: Troy of Helena

“If Aunt Gutsy is so crazy, why are you dumping us there for the summer! Mom would never ...”

“... Aunt Guts...Aunt Gusty is not crazy. She’s just ...unique.” Dad’s eyes nailed mine in the rear view mirror of the Taurus as we barreled down the Interstate. “Look, Troy,” he said, “We’re lucky to have her in the family.”

“But we’re family now: you, me, Chloe. We should stick together.” How couldn’t he see that? I kicked the back of the passenger seat where my fifteen-year-old sister Chloe sat.

“There won’t be anything to do there,” I said. “No cable. No internet. No ...”

“No whining. Please!” Dad said. “You don’t know what I’d give to spend a month in the country.”

“So do it!” I said, but I knew he wouldn’t.

Augusta Burke was really my Dad’s aunt which made her my great-aunt. Only I didn’t think getting dumped on her farm for the summer was so great. I continued my protest with what I believed was a major point. “She smells.”

Dad sucked in his breath and held it. That’s what he does every time his boss Grimsby calls him at home.

“Show some respect,” he said finally.

Chloe looked over the back of the seat with a big smirk stretched over her perfectly straightened teeth.

“Shut up,” I said to her.

“What did you say?” Dad demanded. “If you don’t straighten up right now, I’ll turn this car around!”

“No, don’t!” Chloe begged.

I grinned. “Yeah.”

July Secret Agent #15

GENRE: Middle grade contemporary adventure

The rest of the world is asleep.

I know some doctors and police and other people work at night, and they’re out there somewhere, but sitting on my bed, holding my flashlight, I feel like no one else is awake. This is my favorite time of day. Night.

I rule the night, as much as any ten-year old boy can without fangs or claws or any other cool creature-of-the-night superpowers As long as I’m quiet, I have the house to myself. Sometimes I watch TV, sometimes I play computer games, but either way I have to turn the volume down so low I can’t really enjoy the crashes and explosions.

When I need to be quiet, I read books and a bunch of stuff online, too. So far this year, I’ve taught myself Klingon and Esperanto, so I’ll be ready in case earth is invaded by space aliens.

Some nights the best entertainment comes from real-life silent movies I watch from my bedroom window. Like tonight, the lady next door is bathing her cat in the kitchen sink. Or trying to. The cat has wrapped its legs around the faucet and every time the lady pries one leg off and puts it in the water, the cat pulls back and wedges its whole body between the faucet and the wall. Then the process repeats. I wonder which one will give up first. It must be an amazingly stinky cat to need a bath at 4AM.

July Secret Agent #14

TITLE: Ex-Drama Queen
GENRE: Middle Grade Contemporary

Wednesday, September 6th is the day my life will change.

My entire future will be decided. I'll either land the lead role in The Sound of Music, get into Holland Performing Arts High School, and end up on Broadway before I graduate college. Or, I'll bomb the audition, go to boring South County High where I'll have no friends, and end up waiting tables at some roadside diner in Nowheresville, Kansas.

So, I've decided tomemorize the entire play before I even audition. No drama teacher – not even Ms. Sharp – can possibly deny my dedication to theater.

“Casey, aren't you going to eat?” Amanda pushes my lunch bag toward me.

“I can't marry him!” I recite with my eyes closed. My voice carries across the lunchroom, drowning out the chatter and shouts and clattering trays.

“Nice projection,” Amanda says as I bow to the table of wide-eyed sixth graders next to us. “The auditions aren't for two days. I really doubt Ms. Sharp expects you to have anything memorized.”

“I have to be perfect. My entire life depends on this role.” I ripopen my lunch bag and pull out the salad and veggie burger I packed last night. Every great actor must perfect her skills, so I like to take on the role of different characters. Since Mom bought a boatload of bagged salad on sale, I decided to be a vegetarian this week.

July Secret Agent #13

TITLE: We Happy Few
GENRE: Fiction

Today was Easter Sunday, and it was the first time in her twenty-two years that Rose would miss a Busco holiday dinner.

Rose’s father honked the horn in three short bursts as he waited with the motor running to take her and her son to Grand Central. Still, Rose took her time walking from room to room of the rowhouse, trying to remember everything just as it was.

The newspaper clipping on the refrigerator announcing a citation for her brother’s platoon — the perfect spot to gloat to the neighborhood ladies when they came over;
The sprigs of parsley drying over the sink;
The glass doorknobs that she’d pretended were diamonds as a child;
The bed she shared with her sister with the line of masking tape dividing the dresser in half;
Her mother’s sewing machine with cloth left bunched under the needle for a curtain order from Mr. Nuccio’s candy store to keep gluttonous eyes away from the red vines after hours;
Finally, Rose’s mother at the stove in her flowered apron — always with her dark hair tied back into a bun while she was cooking.

Rose wanted to tell her how much she would miss her and how hard it was to leave. She wanted to repeat that she was moving to San Francisco because her husband asked to be near his son and in wartime we all have to make sacrifices, but her father honked again. Rose said good-bye to her mother’s back.

July Secret Agent #12

GENRE:   MG Historical Fiction

“Patsy, don’t make any plans for today.” Mother blew the steam from her coffee cup.

Eleven-year-old Patsy filled a bowl with Cheerios, poured milk from the Sealtest bottle over the mound of toasted O’s, and crunched the first mouthful. The first mouthful is always the best, she thought, before the Cheerios get soggy. “Why not?” Patsy asked.

“We’re going downtown.”

“Why?” Patsy felt like someone had sunk a rock down her throat. The Fourth of July sales were over last week; Patsy didn’t need any new clothes; and she hated shopping for herself. Today was Thursday, not Wednesday, so that ruled out the possibility of a Shopper’s Matinee movie. Patsy hoped Mother’s shopping list was for herself. “Where are we going?”

“To Belk’s foundation department,” Mother said.

“Foundation? Are we building something?”

Mother smirked and sipped coffee. “Yes. We’re building you some bras.”

“Bras!” Patsy croaked. “I don’t need a bra. I’ve put on Tussy deodorant every day this summer, just like you said. Isn’t that enough?” Patsy slammed her spoon on the table.

Mother shook her head, peered over her coffee cup, and pointed to Patsy’s chest. “No, you’re starting to show.”

“Show? Show what?” Patsy stared down at her chest. “I don’t see anything.”

“I can see something underneath your t-shirt,” Mother said. “You’re budding.”

Patsy scrunched up her nose. “Well, can’t we wait until I’ve bloomed?”

Mother glared down the slope of her nose at Patsy.

They would be on the Downtown Charlotte bus today.

July Secret Agent #11

TITLE: You'd Better Run
GENRE: New Adult Fiction - humor

Evelyn deWilde took my dog.

She sent a text: “This isn’t working out...”

I found her doing deWilde thing with the guy across the hall one day after she returned from rehab.
The message ended with, “I’m leaving.”

That made sense. But she took my Mojo.

Mojo's a golden retriever, a gift from my previolus girlfriend, Yu Sasha Foo. Foo was frightened off by a stolen steam roller. You know, those giant machines with fat round drums at the front and the back that are used to compress asphalt and cartoon characters?

A man named Ishmael, apparently named after a character in Moby Dick, hijacked the machine thinking he could roll out of town. Yu, who had spent the day drinking Sake with her sister Suki, thought she could stop this midget-with-a-mission with her words.

Luckily, Yu jumped clear of the slow roller, but she took the near-squish experience as a sign and returned to her family in Bangkok.

Ishmael only made it a few more streets. His ride tipped when he tangled with a hard-to-foget Hummer. Ish eventually left town with a woman from down the street. Neighbors told me in hushed whispers they’d discovered her name from her mailbox. They continued to spread the rumor that Ish ran away with A. Spoon.

I didn’t believe it. I met Alice Spoon one night while walking Mojo. She was a kind woman but so unhealthy, she couldn’t run a block.

Anyway, I miss Foo and Mojo. Evelyn deWilde, not so much.

July Secret Agent #10

GENRE: New Adult

I have thirty seconds. My thighs are on fire, but I crouch low to the mat and circle him, moving in and out quickly. I shoot in and grab his leg, then explode up through his body. Again. And again.
Sweat streams into my eyes, but I couldn't see him clearly even if he was really there. I watch him, my imaginary opponent, as Three Doors Down blasts Kryptonite around my head. If I go crazy now will you still call me Superman? I check the clock above the door and go again. I'm on my two hundredth shot when I feel a jolt of electricity right behind my elbow. I lose my balance, and stumble in the middle of the take down. I look at my time; 199 take downs in twenty minutes. I failed.

She should have warned me. Made a noise. Stomped her f****** Eskimo boots. Something. She's lucky I didn't jab her in the eyeball.


Erin Abercrombie taps her ear, and I take my ear buds out. I don't know what to say. I should have said something earlier, back last spring when it happened. Her sister OD'ed and woke up dead. Or didn't wake up at all, rather. Heroin. I don't bring it up.


"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. I just wanted to let you know I'm here. Didn't want to freak you out if you saw me in the office."

July Secret Agent #9

TITLE: The Pit
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Carbonado Currier: October 24, 1889

Explosion Reaps Death and Mystery

Four bodies of coal miners were recovered from the gloomy depths of Carbon Hill Mine after Monday's deadly explosion, the most disastrous in the mine's forty year history. They were raised to the surface through a ventilation shaft near the accident site.

Mine spokesman James Lear said, “The calamitous event was likely caused by a pocket of methane gas ignited by the open flame of a miner’s headlamp. Efforts to recover three more members of the unfortunate crew are continuing. The deceased will be buried at company expense.”

A member of the rescue team, who wishes to remain anonymous, reports the blast not only collapsed much of the tunnel, but also opened an entrance to a cluster of natural caverns heretofore unknown. He claims there is no sign of the bodies of the missing. “I do not understand,” he said. “We found helmets, headlamps, and picks but no bodies. Not a trace.”

Carbon Hill Coal has refused further comment.

* * *

March, 1983

From the white-pillared entrance of Carbonado School, a set of red-painted stairs stuck out like a tongue. I could imagine it slurping up students in the morning and spitting them out in the afternoon. With each upward step, the knot in my stomach pulled tighter because, despite being the end of March, it was my first day of school.

I hesitated at the door and gulped in some air. Well, no turning back now.

July Secret Agent #8

TITLE: Broken Transmission
GENRE: Young Adult (realistic fiction)

You think you're bored reading textbook graffiti? Writing it is worse. Boredom should be like white noise, numbing and mindless, but my boredom had the opposite effect: I picked up a pencil and did something.

Welcome to Driver’s Education. After long weeks of sitting in a smelly, oddly orange portable, and learning how to put the “automatic” transmission from park into drive, reverse and back into park, I thought the day arrived. I thought I would drive.

Coach Pearson put the brakes on that one. He said he'd only get to last names starting with “A” through “G” today. My last name is Zepp. I parked it on the curb with the rest of the alphabet. Sitting on pavement for an hour and change hurts. It hurts your legs. It hurts your head.

Anyway, fear not, new owner of my former textbook! Thanks to my efforts, you now have something of questionable interest to read. I decided to rewrite this useless manual. All the manuals I’ve read are all instruction without substance. Half the text is usually wasted in questions. (“Want to know more? Keep reading!”)

Are you bored enough to keep reading? This chapter deals with coping mechanisms.


1. Smuggle in contraband.

I’d like to discuss fellow student Chris Wood. He’s not wearing a hooded sweatshirt because Florida is infamous for freezing mid-April climates. The repeated rocking of his head is due to music, not frantic conversation or the result of a severe medical condition.

July Secret Agent #7

TITLE: Across the Stars
GENRE: YA sci-fi

I can’t breathe.

As the water closes around me, I fight the urge to gulp for breathe. Creatures of the sky are not meant to be submerged, and yet—here I am.

An eel darts past, and I shy away it As it vanishes in search of food, I look around—I’m alone. Which means Juhan’tr is about to go back on the dare that brought us here.

Get your skinny as** in here- I demand on a psychic thread, twisting to look through the water to the surface.

I feel the wicked edge of intent before he dives and I jerk backwards, almost out of his grasp. His long hands close around my ankle and I thrash, panic swamping me and I open my mouth to inhale and scream.

It breaks the amphibious gel seal that lets me breath, and water, sticky sweet and cloying, floods into my mouth and I choke.

Close your mouth, you idiot- my brother orders, you’re not a fish.- I glare at him and he smirks, This was your idea.-

He mellows the harsh words by twisting to grasp my hand. It is familiar enough to settle me and I glance around again. The water is warm, tickling my fur into a hundred different directions, tinted a soft orange by the roots we came to see.

I've never been swimming before. Neither of us have.

July Secret Agent #6

TITLE: Clementine
GENRE: Middle Grade realistic fiction

My mama’s young
Said she was 13 or so when she had me; that makes her about 27 now.
A baby having a baby,
she said.
Told me she didn’t know what to do with me
Hadn’t ever been around any other babies
For a long, long time, hadn’t been around anyone except Daddy,
she whispered.
Daddy is older
Tall, covered in ropy muscle
Strong, leaving bruises on mama’s face and body
Quiet, saying things only once, and you’d better listen when he talks.
Listen hard.
I am Clementine.
Half-child, half-woman.
Mama taught me to read, write, and do some math.
She only went to school through third grade,
but she has a trunk full of books at the foot of the bed she shares with Daddy,
books that Daddy brought her as peace offerings.
For every fight, every raised fist, every flowering bruise,
Daddy presented Mama with a book.
Those little paper apologies crowd her trunk,
Whispering the words that Daddy will never speak.
I’ve never seen all of Mama’s books
She only brings out the ones she wants me to read.
When I first learned to read, Mama let me borrow her
book about the little red hen baking bread.
I would hold the slick, colorful paper between my fingers,
Wondering how the hen’s bread tastes.
Now that I can read nearly anything, Mama lets me borrow her
good book, the Bible.
Now, I hold the thin, fragile paper between my fingers,
wondering where God is.

July Secret Agent #5

TITLE: The Spark
GENRE: YA - Contemporary

The phone rang pulling me from a particularly juicy chapter. I emerged from the insulating cocoon of fiction and answered dreamily, not ready to face the real world.

“Good morning,” trilled Lily, my endearingly chipper best friend.

“Morning,” I replied. The sliver of light seeping in through the dusty window did little to invite my enthusiasm, a bright reminder that I couldn’t read the day away.

She got right to the point. “So last night while you were tucked in with three hundred and fifty pages of inky fantasy, I was at a party on the riverbank.” That explained the noise I heard in the distance late last night.

“I went with Josie, who you should know is now going out with Keith. And Jessa was there too.” I bristled at the mention of my-would-be nemesis. I wasn’t the hating type, but Jessa Crawford sure was. Starting the very first day we had met, had she been able to shoot fire darts out of her eyes with me as her target, she would have.

“Kyle was there, oh Neeve,” her tempo slowed as if in reverie, “he’s so cute and I think he might…”

Her words faded as I wondered with alarm when did Lily become interested in parties and guys? Had she contracted something during her vacation to Niagara Falls? She and I bonded specifically because we had no interest in all that lameness, especially not when there were brave, gallant, and handsome heroes within the pages of a good book.

July Secret Agent #4

TITLE: Harold-The Kid Who Ruined My Life and Saved The Day
GENRE: MG, contemporary

“Any kid would be lucky to have a friend like Harold,” is what Mom always said when I complained about something Harold had done. No matter how hard I’d tried, I couldn’t convince her that Harold was bad for my social life.

Whenever I’d meet a new kid, somehow Harold was there to ruin it. And every baseball game since T-ball, Harold had been there in the bleachers to witness and later remind me of each error and loss. But I’d finally found my answer—a way to put some distance between me and Harold—middle school.

On the first day of sixth grade, I cracked open the door and looked outside. The bus stop was empty. So far, so good. I figured Harold’s mom would drive him to school on the first day.

I walked to the stop and from behind I heard, “Hey Jake! Jake! Wait up, Jake! It’s 8:03. Bus Number 6 will be here at 8:07.”

I kept walking and called over my shoulder, “Thanks for the update, Harold. I didn’t know I was so early. Tomorrow, I’ll sleep in a whole four minutes.”

Harold caught up with me and said, “I woke up at 6:32, but Mom said I couldn’t come out until I saw you.”


“Hey, Jake, have you ever heard of Harvey Haddix?”

“Yeah, Harold, I know all about Harvey.”

I didn’t have a clue, but I hoped just once Harold wouldn’t go into his never-ending monologue about one more Major League ballplayer I’d never heard of.

July Secret Agent #3

TITLE: Alien Invasion
GENRE: Middle Grade Science Fiction

I blamed it on my dad. It wasn’t cool to accuse a dead man, especially a hero. But I blamed my little bro’s obsession with aliens on him anyway. Dad’s old tribal bedtime stories about some ancient Indian chief and a space salamander flipped a switch in boy genius’s brain that couldn’t be turned off.
Every night the poor kid scrambled out on the roof with his homemade radio to broadcast an SOS to the stars. I felt for him, but man, it could get annoying. “SOS – ELE”. That was his message. Come and save us. From the “Extinction Level Event”.

As a little kid, I’d always pictured the ELE as this massive, slimy eel devouring the planet one bite at a time. Then my 2nd grade teacher explained how all the plants and animals were dying off in a monumental, unstoppable chain reaction. ELE meant death, but not “death by eel”.

I stuck my head into Jake’s bedroom. While I was in the shower, he’d banged on the door yelling about some video I had to see. The most stressful day of my life and I’d agreed to watch another one of his YouTube alien specials. One less thing to feel guilty about if I failed him today.

“You got that video ready?” I asked.

“You’re not going to believe this,” Jake said, bouncing up and down on his chair.

No kidding. “So watcha got this time? Alien autopsy? Abduction survivor?”

He shot me a look. “No. Sam, they answered me!”

July Secret Agent #2

GENRE: YA Contemporary

On our last night together we sit on the hood of my Taurus using the windshield as a backrest and gazing at the endless summer sky. Calvin is leaving in the morning for a college that is four hours away and I’ll start my senior year of high school next week.

He won’t be home for three weeks. Three long weeks.

“Make a wish,” I say when the first star of the night blinks on. I wish for him to have a great first week at college. But the idea of being without him for three days let alone three weeks seems as vast as the heavens that stretch above me. Especially after spending every spare minute together since we made up in July.

I can’t think about that though. I can’t even imagine it. My head rests against his chest as I sit between his legs. My body rises and falls as he breathes, and I lose myself in the perfectness of being here in this moment, feeling his heat flood my back. A moment that tastes of forever and happily ever after.

Then I ruin it. “How can you look at that sky and not believe in God?”

“It’s easy. I look at it and think Big Bang Theory. God is just a crutch for people who are afraid that this is all there is,” Calvin says as he twirls a strand of my long brown hair around his finger.

Is that really what he thinks of me?

July Secret Agent #1

TITLE: Dancing with Androids
GENRE: YA sci-fi

The exit door of the ship slid open with a whoosh and I stepped into the spaceport on Roxanna, wishing I hadn't fallen for another of Dad's crazy bets.

If I lost the ballroom dance contest on this planet, it was Space Cadet School for me, then serving aboard Dad's super-cruiser. If I won, he'd let me audition for the New York City Ballet, my lifelong ambition.

"Okay, so it's a deal?" Dad had said in his charming talk-me-into-anything voice.

I knew about as much about ballroom dancing as I did fixing a star cruiser, and I'd only been to Roxanna once, but I vowed to win the contest. So, I signed Delilah Jones on the contract he handed me.

Now, wobbling along the spaceport hall in knee high boots with chunky heels and automatic zipper buckles, I pushed the Acclimate button on the chest of my pink atmosphere suit.

"We are sorry, but the satellite for this model is being repaired," a seductive male voice said over my computer smartphone.

I was pretty sure the Intergalactic Council, who made all decisions about our lives, chose that kind of voice to distract us from their horrible service.

"Repaired? Again?" Aching with fatigue and frustration after a long and twice-delayed flight, my brain buzzed and my body kept veering to the right. The error message from my phone meant the infrastructure was disintegrating.

The hair on the back of my neck jumped to attention. What I saw sent shock waves through me.