Friday, August 31, 2012

Friday Fricassee

So here's a question for you:  When you mention to someone that you're a (not-yet-published) writer, what do you tell them when they say, "So, what are you writing?"

It's not like you're going to pitch your WIP to a perfect stranger, but sometimes people are genuinely interested.  Do you have a quick something-or-other ready to share with people that won't make their eyes glaze over?

Yesterday, the hip dude who checked out my lunch at Whole Foods had the same name as one of the characters in my current project (KALAN), except it was spelled slightly differently (KALLAN).  So of course I couldn't keep my mouth shut.

ME:  So, do you pronounce your name with a short A or a long A?
KALLAN:  *eyes darting to the side*  Oh, uh...
ME: *internal dialogue* Holy phonetics, he doesn't know what I mean!
(as in, short A)
ME:  Kallan.  It's a cool name!
KALLAN:  *smiles*  Thank you!
(here comes the part where I couldn't keep my mouth shut)
ME:  I'm a novelist, and one of the characters in my current novel has your name, except I spell it with one L and it's pronounced KALAN.
(as in, long A)
KALLAN: *face lights up with genuine interest* Really?
ME:  Yep.
KALLAN:  Wow!  So, what's your story about?
ME: *internal dialogue* Crap.
KALLAN:  I mean, what's it called?
(well, that's a little easier)
ME:  It's called Sustenance, and it's a YA dystopian novel.
(Which it isn't, actually, but the term "speculative fiction" isn't something to throw around in casual conversation with potentially non-reading strangers.)
KALLAN:  *displays much enthusiasm* I'd really like to read that.
ME: *stuffy little chuckle* Well, I'm getting ready to shoot it to my agent, so I'll let you know!
KALLAN:  Yeah, I'd really like to read that!
(Then again, what else do you say to an overly chatty writer with a plate of tabouli and oriental noodles and a lovely container of lemon bars?)

So, yeah.  I should have known better.  Because OF COURSE your declaration of writerhood is going to be followed by silly questions like, "What do you write?"

And you can't exactly say, "Stories."  (Well, you could.)

So, what do you say?  Or are you smarter than I am, and bite your tongue when young check-out clerks share your characters' names?

I'll be taking notes on your responses; clearly I need help!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Interview: Peter Salomon, MSFV Success Star AND Super Guy

I'm delighted to present this interview with Peter Salomon, whose debut novel, HENRY FRANKS, is coming out on September 8 (a week from Saturday!) from Flux.

Peter is one of our MSFV Success Stories. He's a real, behind-the-scenes hero, because of the amount of time and effort he puts into organizing and communicating with our growing list of MSFV Success Story authors. In fact, EVERY TIME a new success story is announced, Peter emails the author and invites him/her to our Success Story Gang. (Yeah, we've got a oh-so-sekrit group on Facebook and everything.) Mind you, this whole thing was Peter's idea; not mine.

He's done such a good job, in fact, that I've invited him to officially take over the Success Story pages on the blog. Because, yanno, I haven't exactly been keeping up with those very well.

So, without further blathering, I give you An Interview With Peter Salomon:

AUTHORESS: Peter, I have an emotional investment in your success story! In a nutshell, will you share it for everyone?

PETER: I'd entered some of the earliest Secret Agent events at MSFV (though I missed a number of them) as well as some of the query critique sessions. It was actually so long ago that the query I sent in was for the book I'd written prior to writing HENRY FRANKS (a Young Adult action/thriller starring the children of Santa Claus...well, *I thought it was a good idea...). While I received great feedback, I didn't win but was able to take the constructive criticism from the wonderful MSFV community and use that in my writing. Then, there was a new Secret Agent contest and I felt that THE MEMORY OF HENRY FRANKS (that I'd just finished revising) wasn't quite ready to submit yet so I decided to wait. But something wonderful happened. The Secret Agent was so impressed with the quality of writing from the MSFV community that she decided she'd read queries from anyone who emailed her one with MSFV in the subject.

Well, this was an agent at an agency that was at the top of my 'dream agent' list so, even though I didn't actually have the query letter written yet I decided to email her. Literally, I threw the email together. I'd been sort of kind of in my head working on a query letter so I had some idea of what I wanted to say but I hadn't written anything (to put in perspective just how wrong I was about this, the bones of the 'query' I threw together is pretty much still, to this day, the blurb for the book on my website). One hour after sending the email to Ammi-Joan Paquette, of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency, she responded that the idea sounded 'utterly intriguing' and could I send the full.

To say I was shocked, delighted and terrified all at once is an understatement.

So, I sent the full and the rest, as they say, is history.

All of those original emails, going back and forth discussing my book? Every single one of them had the same subject line: 'Miss Snark's First Victim (Query: The Memory Of Henry Franks).' The offer that Joan made to the community of MSFV made me the third Success Story and I am eternally grateful for that.

AUTHORESS: So tell us a little about HENRY FRANKS. In short, make us salivate!

PETER: Henry Franks is your typical high school sophomore: covered in scars, with no memories of his life from before the accident that killed his mother. For all he really knows his name isn't even Henry.

As he begins to doubt the stories that his increasingly erratic and distant father tells him about his childhood, Henry tries to piece together the truth before it's too late. And for Henry, too late includes a hurricane about to strike his island home, a serial killer that may or may not have anything to do with the strange nightmares he's been having, and the inescapable fact that he's losing feeling in parts of his body.

So, as his world is falling down around him the last thing he ever expected to find was the girl next door, seeing past his scars to the lonely boy struggling to answer the oldest question of all: Who am I?

AUTHORESS: And "Who am I?" is such a huge question for many of the teens who will be reading your book!

So, share a bit about the angst of having your title changed.

PETER: It's a little bit funny now, in hindsight. The original title was THE MEMORY OF HENRY FRANKS, which, in 2007 when I came up with it was a GREAT title idea. Fast forward five years and the 'cliche' of THE (BLANK) OF (BLANK) titles has gotten way out of hand...Flux, my publisher, was 100% against using the original title. I always thought it gave a sort of 'literary' feel to such a creepy, haunting type of horror novel. I actually spent some time coming up with alternate titles but Flux rejected most of them. Actually just calling it HENRY FRANKS was their first choice. Some of my suggestions were 'SCARS' (which I never much liked) and 'HENRY' (because for all the months that I was emailing back and forth with my agent about the book we would use 'HENRY' as shorthand for the much longer title so I was quite comfortable by that point referring to the book as 'HENRY').

I'm probably about 98.43% in love with the current title. That missing 1.57% still has a slight soft spot for the lost words: 'THE MEMORY OF'

AUTHORESS: Well, as someone who watched you walk through that particular struggle, I'd say you've come out on the other end just fine!

So talk a bit about your agent, Joan Paquette, whom I absolutely adore. Why is she "the right one" for you?

PETER: Great question! The author-agent relationship is an interesting one. It can be a tremendous source of support when it works. Joan is a joy to work with and EMLA as a whole is a fantastic agency (from the close friendships and support systems between the EMLA clients to the annual retreat, which I've yet to be able to attend, EMLA is a dream place to be). None of which, of course, actually answers your question!

When I first spoke with Joan right after the MSFV contest that lead to sending her my manuscript I fully believed that not only did she 'get' the book but that she 'got' me, as a writer. She saw the whole of the piece the same way I did but from a very different perspective that served to make the book so much better. That, plus she got my jokes (which is not a strongpoint of mine...I don't really 'do' funny). The comments and suggestions she made throughout the revision process, both before and after the sale, were incredibly helpful and her constant encouragement (which, I'll admit, I definitely need) helped far more than she probably realizes. Every time the whole process would get me down an email from Joan would pop up just cheering me on from the sidelines, even when there was no way for her to know that at that particular moment I really needed the cheers.

What a lot of people miss is that she's also a fabulous author, with picture books and a glorious middle grade novel (Nowhere Girl) published. That writer's background gives her a connection with and an understanding of her clients that is truly a wonderful gift.

AUTHORESS: I've gushed about NOWHERE GIRL before; Joan's writing is luscious!

Not every success story is fast and furious. Can you talk a little about the journey that led, finally, to the sale of HENRY FRANKS?

PETER: The journey, which was in the end completely worth it, seemed at the time to be never-ending. At times, it always seems as though the light at the end of the tunnel is really a run-away train heading right towards you. So imagine my surprise to discover that not only is it a train but it was actually stopping to pick me up.

HENRY FRANKS is my fifth completed manuscript (the first four were various degrees of 'bad'...actually, that's not 100% accurate. They all have different parts which are worthwhile and show promise, though the one I started in high school shows far less promise, for example, than the later ones). If you figure I first started writing (poetry mostly) when I was around 10 I've been on this journey for close to 35 years. A long time to travel before my debut novel comes out.

With HENRY, I started writing in 2007, squeezing moments to work on the book in between family and job. The actual writing of the first draft only took a few months ('only' being a relative term as it always seems to take forever during the actual writing). At that point the revisions began. I am a big huge fan of revisions. Just as I am a huge fan of constructive criticism/feedback. I firmly believe that anyone who takes the time to make suggestions is only doing so because they actually want to make the book better. Since I also want to make the book better, criticism is HELPING me. So I began revising. The revision process took years. It wasn't until I had revised the book all by myself that I turned to my Alpha reader, author Terri Molina (

For some reason, Terri edits my writing incredibly well. Terri and I went back and forth on the book for a long while, all the time improving the book until finally I felt it was ready to maybe think about querying. Which just happened to be, as previously mentioned, a really good time to be thinking about that.

Once I signed with my agent, there were still more revisions until, months later, Joan thought the book was strong enough to go out on submission. After that first round of submissions, I ended up revising the book yet again before sending it back out. At that point, a little over a year after signing with Joan, the book sold. Then, as always, there was another round of revisions, with the editorial letter from Flux. From the date of signing my book contract to the final version sent to press was a little over a year and during those 12 months, it was almost a constant state of revision to the book.

Thankfully, as I mentioned, I love revising. It has been a long journey and so many times I felt as though giving up was the best option. But I never quit believing that I'd hold my book in my hand one day. There's still a train heading towards me, there always will be, but I'm ready now to hitch a ride. And I'd be delighted and honored if all of you would join me on my travels.

AUTHORESS: Yours is a story, of course, of never giving up. Now that you're realizing your dream, what's next? What do you see in your future?

PETER: I've spoken about this 'future' idea with other debut authors and I'm pretty sure we all have the same secret wish/hope/dream in our heart of hearts after signing that first book contract: signing the second book contract before the first book is released. Since the timespan between sale and release can be up to 2-3 years long this seems to be a good rule of thumb for hopes about the future. Unfortunately, with release only a little more than 2 weeks away (as of the day I'm answering this question), time seems to be running out on that particular dream. This isn't, of course, the worst thing in the world. After all: it's still only a little more than 2 weeks away from the release of my book!! It's hard to be sad at such a time, no?

While HENRY was out on submission I wrote two manuscripts, both YA (a Dystopian and an Action/Adventure sort of story), and have been busily revising and editing in the months since. The Action/Adventure one (codenamed HTRASH) is currently with my agent to see if it's ready for the submission process. Fingers crossed here. In addition, I've been working on two picture books, one of which is currently out on submission. So, the future is, as always, more writing, more revising, more editing. Always more. And it's wonderful. It's taken quite a long time to get used to being an 'agented writer.' It's taken just as long to get used to having a book coming out. I'm not sure how long it will take to get used to being a published author. But I'm certainly enjoying the journey!

AUTHORESS: And from where I sit, you have been making this journey with grace and aplomb.

Any words of wisdom to share with aspiring authors?

PETER: Thanks!!  Words of wisdom? So much of this journey I've been on, since the age of 12 when I first started writing angstian poetry (and why is that still not a word?) through the years of learning to write novels, the one constant was my grandfather. He was a true renaissance man, a truly gifted writer as well as an all-around brilliant man. He spent most of his adult life as a Professor (and founded his own private school in the early 50s) and then as the Public Relations Director for the city of Miami Beach (back when he believed Miami Beach, with its crumbling art deco hotels had something special to offer and spent years promoting the city through a number of Mayors. What Miami Beach is now, with South Beach and it's international destination status, traces back to the job my grandfather was doing. Which is an odd sort of legacy to leave. I actually used to have a very impressive certificate declaring my birthday, Nov. 3, as Peter Adam Salomon Day in Miami Beach. Of all the things I've lost and misplaced over the years that certificate is probably at the top of the list). And throughout all of that work, he never stopped writing. Unfortunately, after being rejected for a novel when he was a much younger man, a rejection that basically said his novel was 'too intellectual for the contemporary American audience', he never submitted again. He died unpublished.

But for my entire life, he encouraged my writing. He supported me, defended me. He made the writer I am today possible. I used to listen to his stories of studying poetry with Robert Frost. Robert Frost! My grandfather lived long enough to meet my soon-to-be-wife (but not to attend our wedding) and one day Anna and I sat with him in his Miami Beach home on one of the islands off the Venetian Causeway as he spoke for hours about poetry. It was an impromptu master class and was absolutely captivating. My one big regret is not videotaping it.

And in all those years of his encouragement and support he told me the same thing so many times it became something close to a mantra: Just write.

Nothing else matters. Just write. Keep writing. If there's nothing on the page, you can't improve it. A blank page is 'potential' so fill it. You can always fix it, make it better, but only if there are words to fix, words to improve. So just write. Don't stop writing. No matter what. Just keep writing.

Words of wisdom? Write. As simple as that. The moment you stop writing, you've given up, admitted defeat. Just keep writing.

And whatever you do, whatever the rejection, whatever obstacles pop up, the only way to be a writer is to write.* 

AUTHORESS: What a beautiful legacy. Peter, it's been an absolute delight chatting with you. I wish you all the very best in your upcoming-and-very-long career!

*Read Peter's tribute to his grandfather HERE.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

September Secret Agent Early Info

Holy cow, this crept up on me while everything else was going on, and now I'm late posting this info!  Nevertheless, it's better late than never.  (Ugh!)

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open next Monday, September 3.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (please read carefully):

*There are TWO WAYS to enter: a) via email to authoress.submissions(at) OR via web form at
* THIS WILL BE A LOTTERY: The submission window will be open from NOON to 5:00 PM EDT.  Once the submission window is closed, the bot will randomly choose the winning entries.
* 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 (March-August) will not be accepted.
* You may submit A DIFFERENT MANUSCRIPT if you've participated in any previous Secret Agent contests.
* Only ONE ENTRY per person per contest. If you send more than one, your subsequent entry(ies) will be rejected.
* If you 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:

  • Literary Fiction
  • Memoir
  • Middle Grade Fiction (all genres)
  • Young Adult Fiction (all genres)
And there you have it!

#5 First Line Grabber 500

GENRE: MG Mystery

Up until that fateful Friday the Thirteenth, Jacob Beanblossom's claim to fame had been the ability to fart on cue. But that was about to change.

Jacob dragged Old Man Fudgewick’s bratty Pomeranian down Main Street. Everyone from the businessman with an overstuffed briefcase to the teenage girl texting on a hot pink cell phone gave them a wide berth because the dog yipped and snarled like it would earn him extra doggie treats. The lady pushing the stroller with red-headed triplet boys checked for cars and, seeing the coast was clear, jaywalked rather than cross paths with the yapping Pomeranian.

Jacob tugged on its navy blue, rhinestone-bordered leash. “Calm down, Special Fella.” Every time Jacob said “Special Fella,” he cringed at the stupid moniker. But the only chance he had to be obeyed was to call the dog by name. Jacob eyed the black curlicue sign on the storefront ahead that read Madame LeChance’s Psychic Palace. “We’re almost there, Special Fella.”

Jacob shoved open the Psychic Palace door, wondering what quacks he’d see there today. As he yanked Special Fella from the sidewalk and into the waiting room, Jacob heard high-pitched classical music.

Anjali Sharma, the biggest nerd in the sixth grade, sat on the floor on a large dark purple cushion. She plucked at the strings of a weird guitar on her lap. She was probably here to find out if Madame LeChance could see if she’d get straight As for the rest of her life.

Special Fella growled at Anjali. She stopped playing the instrument and glared at Jacob and Special Fella.

“Get that dog out of here! You’re ruining the ambiance.” Anjali darted a meaningful glance at the ancient lady clutching a black and white wedding photograph in her tiny, age-spot dotted hands.

Jacob folded his arms and gave Anjali a smug smile. Apparently the know-it-all did not know it all. “We’re clients.”

Anjali’s eyes widened behind her huge glasses. “What?”

“We have the four o’clock appointment.”

Anjali took the weird guitar off her lap and laid it down beside her. She stood up and marched over to the desk with the phone. She opened the only drawer.

Jacob’s eyes bulged. “Whoa! Snooping in other people’s business, Miss Goody Goody?”

Anjali rolled her eyes. “I’m allowed. I work here.”


Anjali flipped open a notebook with fairies on the cover and ran her finger down the page until she got to 4 p.m. “You’re SF? What does that stand for? Serial Farter? Sir Fartsalot? Senor Flatulence?”

Jacob smirked and nodded at the Pomeranian who was sniffing the ancient lady’s shiny black shoes. “He’s SF. Special Fella. Since when do you work here?”

“Since Madame LeChance found out I learned to play sitar in India last summer. She thought it would add to the ambiance here. I’m working everyday during Spring Break, but I’m starting today because it’s an auspicious day.”

“It’s a what day?”

Anjali’s nostrils flared. “Auspicious. Lucky.”

“Friday the Thirteenth is lucky?” Smart people could be so dumb sometimes.

#4 First Line Grabber 500

Title: Bet Her Life
Genre: YA Sci-fi/Thriller

Today is my 6,570th day of life. When you say you’re eighteen, people think you’re young. But when you throw around a number like that—almost 7,000 days—they start to realize no one is as young as they think they are.

The fog falling from Manhattan’s nuclear shield is particularly thick today. The misty air has chased everyone inside and 34th street is uncharacteristically empty. Most people would say that today is dreary, but not me. Today is the day I break free. I’m going to take New York for everything its got, and then I can leave. I’ll take Samantha and we’ll go far away, where the war can’t touch us. Today, I’ll have enough money to put working for Ares behind me.

My phone chimes as I turn onto 8th. Two messages. The first is from Ben: Dream Team is in position for offensive. No opposition sighted. Good to go.


The second from Samantha: Come see me before you become primo number guy.

I can’t help but laugh. Sam’s nickname for my job has always made me smile.

Madison Square Garden’s hulking cubical shape looms out of the mist. Architecturally it's probably the ugliest building ever designed. But despite that, and the weather, there’s still quite a crowd waiting in line for a chance to get in. Good. I want as many people as possible in the audience tonight.

I walk up the line to the front. Joe, one of the biggest guards the Viperas have, is on duty. He nods to me and waves me in front of the people in line to the scanner. I put my eye to the sensor as it reads my retina. It’s merely a formality, but I watch as my name scrolls across the door panel. Welcome, Mark ‘Cash’ Johnson. I head inside, confronted by the smell of sweat, smoke, and over-heated metal.

Before this most recent world war started, this was performing venue. Now it’s the biggest betting center in the city and the seat of the Vipera’s regime. The inside of the Garden is dark and smoky, filled with the blue light of video screens. It’s still a stadium, a giant screen facing each side of the room, and each seat with a little screen of its own for personal betting. The result is a flickery and dizzying light that gives you a headache if you’re here for too long, which I always am.

I glance at the closest screen. The satellites are currently looking at the northern front up in Montana--Contention Point 162. A group of our soldiers are facing off with an enemy unit, this one made up of Chinese troops. The numbers scrolling across the bottom of the screen tell me that two hundred thousand dollars total is being bet on this exchange, and the odds of the Chinese winning are pretty high—seventy-two percent. We’re way outnumbered. The Chinese launch an incendiary device, and three Americans die. As their green life signs fade within the image, I hear cheering from the far side of the Garden.

#3 First Line Grabber 500

TITLE: Washed Up
GENRE: YA Contemporary

My parents first had me committed when I was six years old. They found me floating above the tiled bottom of the pool, with the pockets of my sundress filled with rocks. The second time, I was eleven. I jumped off the lower deck of the cruise ship we were holidaying on, in the middle of a wicked storm. Now I am seventeen, and have just been dropped off at the Royal Alexander Centre for Mental Health for the third time in my short life. The process has remained the same; Mom hugs me, all tear-stained and snotty, my brother stares at me, his eyes brimming with tears as he wrings his ball cap, and Dad stays in the car. My doctor, an attractive man in his mid forties, Rick, takes me to his office. An orderly is putting my bags in a room, after undoubtedly searching them first.

“Sit,” Rick orders as he points to a well-worn leather sofa. I obey, popping my sandal-clad feet on the coffee table and unwrap a candy from an old-fashion jar. I take a deep breath, enjoying the familiar scent of the old books he stocks his shelves with but doesn’t read. “I saw you last month; you were fine. What happened?”

“I just needed to be in the water,” I murmur as I stare longingly at his aquarium. If I were a fish none of this would be an issue.

“I know you need to be in the water,” Rick says as he reaches for a sucker. “But you also need to breathe.”

“I don’t,” I protest, feeling a sense of familiarity as we slip into a conversation we’ve already had. “I was only down there for six minutes; I would’ve come up if I’d known they were there.”

“You were in a public pool,” Rick replies, his forehead wrinkling as he massages his temples. “The lifeguards found you, floating face down in the deep end. Mothers wailed, kids screamed, people thought you were dead.”

“I was just trying to catch my breath,” I say as I rip the candy wrapper into confetti.

“You fought against the lifeguards when they tried to pull you out. You kept diving back into the water and swimming to the bottom. It took three of them to restrain you until your parents got there.” Rick’s blue eyes drill into mine, wordlessly asking for an explanation I’ve already given a hundred times.

I sit in silence, remembering the bliss of being underwater. The call of the serene, blue pool was too much to ignore. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be around water unsupervised, but I just couldn’t help it. I had meant to come up before the morning swim class got there, but I lost track of time. I maybe overreacted with the lifeguards, they were just trying to help, but they took me out too soon. People don’t understand that I need to be in the water. Rick has classified my need as a number of different things ranging from suicidal tendencies to schizophrenia.

#2 First Line Grabber 500

Title: Issue 339
Genre: YA Magical Realism

"Why would you kill off a superhero's parents, and every girl he's ever loved, like that?"

The calm voice broke; the young man in the ski mask clenched his fingers. He sat otherwise statuesque in the rolling chair by the writer's office door as the writer jumped--how long has he been here?

The writer coughed, ruffling the paper-stacks that towered like armed guards atop his mahogany desk. "You okay there, buddy? What's with the--oh, I see." He pointed his pencil eraser at the faded red sharpie scribble over the intruder's left eye. "You're a Gavalon Mask. Wow--a 'hardcore' fan. I never published 'Gavalon.' I--"

"Answer my question, Mr. Writer."

The balding man stiffened. "Your question. Yes. I'm sorry." He wasn't. He felt disrespected, but he was above norms like 'respect'; he'd tolerate the freak. "Issue 339, right?"


"Here." The writer smiled, closing his laptop. The cover of the comic he un-shelved showed a muscular black-haired man, torso twisting, hand grasping towards the fourth wall as his mouth opened in a silent scream. "Betrayal" with an exclamation mark, in bright red letters, bulged above his head. "Rave reviews. Sold out in stores first week."

"Why that ending?"

"You mean how'd I come up with it?"

"No. Why." The teen's knuckles whitened. Teeth clenched. The writer raised an eyebrow.

"You didn't like it," the writer said, leaning forward.


"Well I--" The writer chuckled, settling his glasses higher on his nose. The critics' glowing accolades still tickled his ears, so his words lilted like sound-bites of a TV interview. "I realized that to truly strain the character in a way audiences didn't expect, I'd have to break the one relationship they completely trusted--his relationship with his best friend. Take that away, and who was he? An entirely new study--complete shocker plot-wise. I could almost see it, like on TV, and when it comes out in theaters fans everywhere will cry. It also brought out the theme of evil inside our--"

"Why kill the girl?" The mask whispered.

"Oh, well of course, Jackie was voted least popular girlfriend of the four. The reader's poll decided 'die'--surely you knew about that. It was so good--almost painful to write." The writer shook his head, reveling in his good fortune. "I love my readers. Fans like you make--"

"I'm not a fan."

The writer stiffened. The young man had spoken aloud--loudly--for the first time in the conversation, and the voice sounded a little like the writer's own, a little like his son, a little like a superhero he'd watched on television as a little boy, and a little like his father, too. Before the writer could remark, or chuckle, or relax, two hands moved. One hand brought a gun out of a coat pocket.

The other slid the ski mask off the young man's face.

The writer had just enough time to not believe his eyes before a bullet impacted his chest.

#1 First Line Grabber 500

TITLE : Into the Deep

GENRE : Young Adult Fantasy

I’ve always been afraid of water.

 When I was four, I almost drowned in the sea. Ever since then I can’t even take a bath, only quick showers. I’m not sure if it’s the repressed memories or the horrible, emotional way Mom tells it that scares me more. No matter how hard I try, I can’t remember.

Mom says I’ve blocked it from my memory. Apparently, a rogue wave washed me over the side of a boat and I had to be revived. There are no flashes or strange panic attacks when I think of being submersed in water. I only know something bad will happen if I get in it. Mom encourages my fear though I can never figure out why. Hopefully, one day, I can outgrow it.

Because I have a secret.

I am in love with the ocean. The fresh crisp smell of salt air, the mysterious creatures living beneath the surface, the many different colors it can change, even the sheer power; everything about the sea is a siren song tempting me to its shore. Only one problem. Even as it tempts me, it frightens me, because the pull is getting stronger. If I told Mom she’d just stare at me with that fretful look of hers that leaves me feeling as if a huge secret is hovering overhead, teetering on the edge of a precarious cliff.

Maybe it’s the fact I’ll be sixteen in a week. It’s supposed to be a magical age – or so they say.

The bell ending sixth period snaps me out of my thoughts. I glance around in a daze. I missed most of Mr. Romaine’s history lecture. I love his lessons because he puts a humorous spin on things, like how hot Helen of Troy was or why Hitler’s mustache was so small. He makes class fun.

I close my books, tuck my unruly hair behind my ears, and push into the throngs of kids out in the hall, tripping over my foot in the process.

“Watch it, klutz,” a senior snaps after he sets me back upright.

“Sorry,” I mumble.

At my locker, my best friend Charlotte bumps into me with her hip. “Zoey, my dear, ready for practice? Thursday’s game is huge.” Waves of sunny blond hair spill past her shoulders accenting her pert nose and inquisitive blue eyes.

“Yeah, it’s just Mission High though and they’re weak. I only wish they’d let me play.”

“Sure, you and your two left feet. I love ya, Zo, but sometimes you’re a walking disaster.” She tugs on my hair playfully.

It’s true. I’m blessed with clumsiness and frizzy hair, but I cling to the hope I’ll outgrow it one day and blossom. I’m 5’9” already and as much as I seem to fall, my long limbs love to move.

“Don’t remind me,” I joke and change the subject. “I totally spaced out in History. Mr. Romaine lectured about the Spanish Missionaries and I was daydreaming about the ocean again.”

First Line Grabber Round 3: CRITIQUE TIME!

Time to put on your critique hats!  The winning entries will post shortly.

At this writing, one of our five winners has not sent her 500 words.  I have contacted her, and I have also contacted an alternate.  So if an entry shows up that wasn't in the original winners' line-up, that's why.

As always, please leave honest-yet-kind critique.  Also, remember to keep stopping by, as there are several agents who will be popping in over the next few days to leave their critique.

And, as always, the agents are free to contact me if they want to see more material.  So make sure you get involved and leave your critique; it's a great way to see how closely your advice lines up with the agents'!

Winners:  Please critique at least 2 other entries.

Everyone:  Have fun!

Monday, August 27, 2012

First Line Grabber Round 2 Winners

And here are JM Frey's top five picks:


*JM's favorite!

Congratulations, winners!  Please EMAIL your first 500 words to me at facelesswords(at)  Please format your entries as follows:

TITLE: (type it here)
GENRE: (type it here)

(Type your first 500 words here. Single-spaced with a double space between paragraphs.)

The FINAL ROUND goes live ON WEDNESDAY, so please send me your 500-word excerpt BY NOON EASTERN ON TUESDAY.  This will give me time to fix any formatting errors.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Friday Fricassee

Apparently this is my 4,800th post.  I'm not sure why Blogger offers silly information like that, but there you have it.

So once again you've written comments that have made my heart sing.  Wouldn't it be amazing if we had a big lounge where we could actually meet?  Though, something tells me the introvert/extravert ratio would be way off.  As in, lots of writers are introverts.

It might be a very silent room.

Though, "introvert" doesn't mean "socially inept" and it doesn't mean "hates people".  In fact, introversion has gotten a bad rap because of its darker side--the side that develops when introverted children are made to feel that it's wrong, somehow, to prefer a single friend to an entire classroom, or to stay inside and read a book instead of throwing feed corn at the neighbors' windows.

"You're shy."  "You're awkward."  "You're no fun."

Grow up believing those things, and you will become those things, right?

Anyway, I am an introvert who has finally realized that it's okay to be one.  People are usually shocked to discover that I'm not an extravert; I'm incredibly chatty, I banter with strangers, I don't mind leading groups of people.  But don't make me walk into a room of people I don't know.  And don't ring my doorbell when I'm busy doing something.


Recently, I've learned the term "ambivert", which seems to better describe me, despite my Meyers-Briggs score.  "Ambivert" is somewhere in the middle, and that seems about right--I'll organize the neighborhood autumn picnic, but I'll need to be alone in my hole to recharge afterward.

I'm actually happy curled in bed in the evening with a good book and a glass of Chardonnay.  I sincerely like sitting alone in the coffee shop, writing.  And I'm okay with that.

So our little (huge?) MSFV lounge would likely ring with my incessant chatter and occasionally raucous laughter.  At least for a while.  If I'm sensing that I'm on the outside of the circles of conversation around me, I'll retreat.  Because I will never foist myself upon people who are already engaged with each other.

Unless, of course, I know them really well.  Then it's "safe" to barge in.

So, picture it:  A large, round room, dimly lit, with soft jazz playing in the background.  Collections of overstuffed chairs, positioned conversationally, with scattered low tables for drinks.  A buffet table at one end, with round tables and seats for people who don't like dropping food on overstuffed chairs.  And dorky, con-esque name tags so we can all identify each other.

Where will you be?  On the perimeter hiding behind your plate of sushi? Curled into chairs with two or three of your crit partners? Dancing from group to group, telling jokes? Standing on the buffet table in your latest steampunk constume?

(Oh, wait.  I know that gal.  It's J.M. Frey!)

Let's create our lounge and see what happens.  (Notice it's a round room, so you can't hide in a corner.)

Love you!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Avoiding Bitterness

"Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a writer rejected."

I'm sure we've all encountered them at some time or another--those embittered, I-hate-you-because-I've-never-succeeded writers (or ex-writers) whose dreams have dwindled to shriveled longings that manifest as ugliness, pettiness, grumpiness, or out-and-out vitriol.  Sometimes it's subtle; sometimes it's glaring.  But it all comes from the same root of bitterness that any of us can too well imagine.

It doesn't happen overnight.  In fact, it probably starts like everyone else's journey--those first, painful stings of rejection.  The tears we hope nobody sees.  The vague pangs of jealousy as another, and another, and yet another writing colleague lands a book deal.

That's all pretty normal.  It's part of the journey.  We can learn to grow past it--to acknowledge our emotions and move forward.  (In fact, if we don't give ourselves grace during the times we're fighting with negativity, we're going to make ourselves more miserable.)

But when the bitterness takes a firm hold, something terrible happens to a writer's heart--it hardens.  Hopefulness gives way to doubt and scorn.  Words of congratulations to friends are clipped, forced, or withheld.  Attitudes of kindness and camaraderie devolve into contention and criticism.

Those among us who tend to turn anger outward will leave a path of destruction in our wake--harsh critiques, unfair reviews, petty gossip, angry diatribes against the publishing industry.  And those among us who tend to turn anger inward will wither into cold, silent shells of the creative people they used to be.

Anger, of course, is what happens when we don't deal with our sorrow.  Anger is stronger, more powerful.  Makes us feel in control.  It's when the sorrow of disappointment and rejection morphs into anger that we get into trouble.  And it's when we stay in the anger that something inside us begins to change.

It's not a pretty change.

There is so much kindness and humility and support in this community that the word "bitterness" isn't something that floats to the top when I think about you.  (Yes, I think about you.  Is that weird?)  But it is something we all need to guard against.

Because it's like a snake--silent, smooth, undulating its way in and refusing to crawl out again.

What's a writer to do?

  • Be honest with yourself about your feelings.  Allow yourself to mourn, to cry, to throw bricks out your bedroom window, to quit for a day.  
  • Give yourself grace.  If you catch yourself feeling jealous of a friend or angry at an agent's cold form response, acknowledge it without bashing yourself.
  • Forgive.  Yourself, the harsh critter, the recalcitrant agent, the egotistical editor.  Don't let the sun set while you're still angry about something.  Forgiveness diffuses the anger that wants to turn into long-term bitterness.
  • Stop paying attention to the small stuff--annoying tweets, naysayers, bestselling authors who make grammatical errors--and focus on YOUR WORK and YOUR DREAMS.
  • Keep giving.  Your time, your ideas, your support, your kindness, your advice, your heart.  You do have something to offer, and focusing on what you have to give will keep you from crawling into a corner and lamenting about what you don't have.

It's a wonderful journey, but like any adventure, it's got pitfalls and snags and wrong turns along the way.  I believe we can hold each other accountable and stay on the right path without losing our way in the forest of bitterness.  

Do you agree?

One final, naked moment:  I need you.  This community helps keep me grounded and accountable.  You give me something to pour into when I feel too empty to pour (and yet, somehow, it happens anyway).  You make me smile, you remind me what's important, and you give intense satisfaction every time you meet a goal or have a revelation or take a baby step forward.

Collectively, there is no way this community will ever make room for bitterness--or for anything else destructive.  And that, my dear colleagues, is amazing and inspiring.

Thank you, as always, for who you are and for what you give.  Your contribution is immeasurable.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

First Line Grabber Round 2

Okay, here we go!  The top 16 entries are below.  Each one consists of the first 3 lines of the manuscript.

No voting this time; just feedback.  Do the 3 lines make you want to read more?  Tell why or why not!  And look out for author J.M. Frey in the comment boxes; she'll be critiquing each one and then choosing her five favorites to move to round 3.

Have fun!

First Line Grabber Round Two #16

TITLE: The Memory Jug

I was the second person in my family to be struck by lightning.

That storm blew through what seemed like a normal July afternoon--hot and endless. A first grumble of thunder sent the lifeguards whistle-blowing and yelling for us to get out of the pool.

First Line Grabber Round Two #15

TITLE: Scents

Someone once asked me how it felt to have faith. I replied, “Faith is knowing a light exists, even when darkness surrounds you.” I’ve come to learn that no force in this world could break mine—not even something as powerful as mezmosis.

First Line Grabber Round Two #14

TITLE: Clear Cut
GENRE: YA Fantasy

“The convict you choose will serve as your bodyguard on the journey ahead.” High Priestess Kiretel surveys us, her gaze stopping on me. “You can still be ordained if you exorcise a demon, so don't hesitate to transform your convict, Nanoken.”

First Line Grabber Round Two #13

TITLE: Bet Her Life
GENRE: YA Sci-fi/Thriller

Today is my 6,570th day of life. When you say you’re eighteen, people think you’re young. But when you throw around a number like that—almost 7,000 days—they start to realize no one is as young as they think they are.

First Line Grabber Round Two #12

TITLE: The Curse
GENRE: Adult Paranormal

I was born into this life a witch – naked and pink as nature intended. And it was because of my birthright I was taken out of this world, naked just the same. Less pink. Less pure.

First Line Grabber Round Two #11

GENRE: YA Contemporary

Ryan's music is too loud—not exactly a problem, except that it’s louder than mine. I jack up my iPod. My tiny speakers can’t drown out the noise.

First Line Grabber Round Two #10

TITLE: Issue 339
GENRE: YA (magical realism)

"Why would you kill off a superhero's parents, and every girl he's ever loved, like that?"

The calm voice broke at the word "that," and the young man in the ski mask clenched his fingers. That was his first movement since he entered the writer's office and slipped into the office chair in front of the huge mahogany desk.

First Line Grabber Round Two #9

TITLE: Into the Deep
GENRE: YA Fantasy

I've always been afraid of water.

It's irrational, there's no strange panic attack when I imagine being submerged just a certainty that something bad will happen, and yet I am in love with the ocean. The fresh crisp smell of salt air, the mysterious creatures living beneath the surface, even its sheer power; everything about the sea is a siren song tempting me to its shore.

First Line Grabber Round Two #8

TITLE: Ghost River
GENRE: Paranormal Mystery

If God had meant for humans to live on water, we would have fins like Aquaman and hair that doesn’t frizz.

And since I had neither, I wasn’t getting out of my car.

Then the wailing started.

First Line Grabber Round Two #7

GENRE: Women's Fiction

Lang knew better than to smile about her love letters. She didn't want to tempt fate, trash-talk God. Still, she felt a tiny bit smug knowing she'd covered all her bases, that the letters she'd written him after her diagnosis were tucked away, unopened.

First Line Grabber Round Two #6

TITLE: The Other Side of Nice
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I once found a photo of my dad's penis tucked in the back of my parents’ bottom drawer, hidden beneath sweaters and old tax records. I’d been snooping around, not looking for anything in particular, and mistook the erect member for an oddly shaped finger. I tucked it back into the drawer and thought nothing of it until a few weeks ago, when my friend Rose Petal snuck a copy of Playgirl into our freshman biology class.

First Line Grabber Round Two #5

TITLE: Washed Up
GENRE: YA Contemporary

My parents first had me committed when I was six years old. They found me floating above the tiled bottom of our pool with the pockets of my sundress filled with rocks; the second time I was eleven and I jumped off a cruise ship in the middle of a wicked storm. Now I am seventeen, and have just been dropped off at the Royal Alexander Centre for Mental Health for the third time in my short life.

First Line Grabber Round Two #4

TITLE: Repent
GENRE: Genre

I wonder if he’ll cry.

Mica Jorgenson did her best to focus and ignore The Voice in her head. Any slight deviation could cause the dispatch to take more than one bullet.

First Line Grabber Round Two #3

GENRE: Contemporary MG

The instant Mama clipped the rosebud, I knew we were leaving, maybe for good. The truth was plain as the “Foreclosed” sign flapping from the front door, its bright red letters making folks whisper behind cupped hands.

“Come on, Faith,” Mama hollered.

First Line Grabber Round Two #2

GENRE: MG Mystery

Up until that fateful Friday the Thirteenth, Jacob Beanblossom’s claim to fame had been the ability to fart on cue. But that was about to change.

Jacob dragged Old Man Fudgewick’s bratty Pomeranian, Special Fella, down Main Street and toward Madame LeChance’s Psychic Palace.

First Line Grabber Round Two #1

TITLE: Heart's Conviction
GENRE: Romance

A light September wind carried a gathering fog and the smell of sewage from the Thames. Emily Starling waited at the back of the open cart, hoping her trembles wouldn't clatter the ankle chains. Rows of moored ships stretched along the docklands, their masts rising like a primeval forest.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Seven Winners!

And here they are:


#4 Price of Refuge
#10 Pomegranate Seeds
#21 Inner Demons
#35 Hope's Redemption


Ms. Wheeler would like to see the first 50 pages of your manuscript.



#14 Waiting For


#19 Secondhand Sinners
#32 Other Side of Silence


Ms. Wheeler says:  "For some reason, these samples just resonated with me and I found I wanted to keep reading.  If you could have the authors submit a complete manuscript, synopsis, and author bio to me, that would be great."

And there you have it!  A wonderful round for our (outnumbered) adult fiction writers.  Congratulations to ALL!

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

Secret Agent Unveiled: Paige Wheeler

Huge thanks to this month's Secret Agent, the thorough and insightful Paige Wheeler of Folio Literary Management!

Paige's Bio:

As a founding partner of Folio Literary Management, LLC., Paige Wheeler has artfully merged her creativity and business savvy to create an agency that is dedicated to maximizing author potential. Prior to forming Folio in 2006, Paige founded Creative Media Agency (CMA) in 1997 and served as its President for nine years. With an entrepreneurial spirit ignited by the thrill of discovery, Paige ventured to support her clients and their unique voices in an unprecedented way. Through Folio she is now able to provide the ability to manage intellectual property rights of authors by selling both domestic and foreign rights, co-agenting film and audio rights, as well as offering the services of a speakers bureau and licensing agency.

What Paige is looking for:

"I’m looking to represent a broad range of projects. In particular, I’ve been reading upscale commercial fiction and nonfiction books that tell a unique story or ones in which the author has a huge platform. I seem to be especially drawn to a story if it has a high concept and a fresh, unique voice. Fiction: All commercial fiction and Upscale (think book club) fiction, as well as women’s fiction, romance (all types), mystery, thrillers, inspirational/Christian and psychological suspense. I enjoy both historical fiction as well as contemporary fiction, so do keep that in mind. Nonfiction: I’m looking for both narrative nonfiction and prescriptive nonfiction. I’m looking for books where the author has a huge platform and something new to say in a particular area. Some of the areas that I like are lifestyle, relationship, parenting, business/entrepreneurship, food-subsistence-homesteading topics, popular/trendy reference projects and women’s issues. I’d like books that would be a good fit on the Today show."

Hooray for another wonderful round of critique! Winners forthcoming.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Friday Fricassee

This morning I am taking my first ballet lesson.

Well, not my first first.  I used to take lessons, but I'm definitely not A Real Dancer.  It's been many years and my flexibility is at negative two.  But I've found a class for grownups-who-want-to-dance-a-little-without-killing-themselves, and I signed up.

I feel like a six-year-old with her first tu-tu.

Ballet is the only exercise that makes me happy.  I despise gyms, I refuse to do crunches, and all sports--with the dubious exceptions of bowling and skeeball--are anathema to me.  (And don't get me started on the burst training.  It does amazing things to the body, but I couldn't possibly hate it more.)

So.  Today I slip into my Blochs-size-3B and stand by the barre.  And hopefully not make a fool of myself.

I'm sure my love of ballet is intricately tied in with my overall creativity--the writing, the music, the born-to-be-on-stage-ness.  (Just ask my mother.  She will fervently agree with the latter.)  Mind you, I have no intention of letting anyone see me dance outside the safety of the dance studio.  I am a three-legged horse; a wingless bird; a ballerina with cement in her shoes.

But ballet makes my spirit sing.  Makes me soar on the inside.  And that's what it's about, right?

Of course, ballet isn't my Main Thing.  I can't imagine sitting down and writing a crappy story just to make my heart do a few flips.  Once you progress beyond the "I do this because it's fun" stage, it's no longer...well, fun.

Not that I don't adore what I do!  But let's face it; drafting is hard work.  Revising is hard work. Heck, even critiquing for others takes much time and thought and effort.  In a lighthearted moment, I might chirp, "Oh, writing is fun!"  Because there's a lot about it that's wonderful, and "fun" definitely describes the sensation of slipping into another world and hanging out there for a while, creating characters and a storyline that will hopefully fly.

But writing is my work, not my fun.  I adore it, I breathe it, I am far too empty without it (like during these dreadful between-project phases!).  But I don't do it to unwind.  I do it because it's what I do best; because I love it; because I have goals and dreams and a vision of where I want to go with it--for the rest of my life.

So, hello ballet!  Thank you for giving flight to my creative spirit without requiring me to excel.

(If you don't hear from me, it's because I am unable to sit down.  Or stand.  Because ballet may look all fluffy and flitty, but dang.  It's a killer.)

See you Monday!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Introducing our First Line Grabber GUEST AUTHOR

I'm delighted to announce that our in-house author critique will be offered by the talented J.M. Frey, one of our very own MSFV Success Story authors, and an all-around great gal!

J.M. Frey is an actor, singer, professional geek, and author of the award winning novel TRIPTYCH (Dragon Moon Press). She is also the author of and “The Once and Now-ish King” in WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME (Dragon Moon Press, August 2011), THE DARK SIDE OF THE GLASS (Double Dragon Publishing, June 2012), “Maddening Science” in WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME (Dragon Moon Press, August 2012) and “Whose Doctor?” in DOCTOR WHO IN TIME AND SPACE (McFarland Press, Fall 2012). She holds a BA in Dramatic Literature, where she studied playwriting and traditional Japanese theatre forms, and a Masters of Communications and Culture, where she focused on fanthropology. She is active in the Toronto geek community, presenting at awards ceremonies, appearing on TV, radio, podcasts, live panels and documentaries to discuss all things fandom through the lens of Academia, and has lectured at the Pop Culture Association of America’s Annual Conference (San Francisco), at the University of Cardiff’s ‘Whoniversal Appeal’ Conference, and the Technology and Pedagogy Conference at York University. Frey’s pie-in-the-sky dream is to one day sing a duet with John Barrowman. Twitter: @scifrey

Huge thanks and applause to you, J.M. Frey!

Our 16 Round Two entries, comprised of the first 3 sentences of each completed manuscript, will post next Tuesday, August 21.  J.M. will critique each of the 16 entries, and will then choose her 5 favorites.  These 5 winners will be invited to submit their first 500 words for public critique.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Teen Eyes Contest: Taryn's Winner!

Here's the scoop, from Taryn Albright of Teen Eyes: 

I read over 300 queries in the 10 days leading up to this contest with entries coming from my internship, this contest, and my query critique contest last week. That means the winners would really have to stand out. That said, I was surprised at how many intrigued me! If I'd gotten the following 24 queries in my inbox, I would have been a very happy intern:

Distant Horizon

An Unnatural Elegance

Kissing Frogs

Shut Up and Kill Me

An Uncommon Blue


The Show Must Not Go On

Duet with the Devil’s Violin

Perfectly Broken

Crow’s Rest

And We All Are Damned


The Astronaut’s Daughter

Operation Breakup

Chick Magnet

Cynisca and the Olive Crown

Temple Falls

Race to Butch Cassidy's Gold

Seven Riddles to Nowhere


Accidents and Incidents

How Snow Came to the Desert

Abel Pirates

Princess of Swans

A few of them made me really excited:

Shut Up and Kill Me

Operation Breakup

Cynisca and the Olive Crown

Race to Butch Cassidy's Gold

Abel Pirates

But an early-on entry made me sit up and pay attention, and I knew right from the beginning this query was going to be really hard to beat.

Congratulations to Sarah Nelson with SHUT UP AND KILL ME.

High school's a bitch, especially when everyone thinks you're a murderer. I'm immediately hooked by both the voice and the content here. A murderer? WHY? Tell me more!

Claire Alexander was arrested for killing her parents when she was thirteen. Sure, she was acquitted four months later, but that sort of rep is hard to shake. More voice, easy, well-done backstory. Now, after four years shifting between out-of-town family members, seventeen-year-old Claire has come back home to try for a normal life. But normal isn't easy when your sister's on drugs, the cops still think you're a killer, and the media call you the Baby Faced Butcher. Baby Faced Butcher sealed the deal for me. Plus I love this character who is strong enough to come back home.

Only high school drop-out, Blake Slater, believes in Claire's innocence. He thinks her parents were murdered by a serial killer, and he says he has proof. Omg, serial killer? DANGER! However alluring Blake may be (who can resist a pick-up line like "I know you didn't do it"?), Claire dismisses the theory. After all, this so-called serial killer should've been brought up at her trial. Hmm, why wasn't he? Why didn't Blake step forward earlier? THESE ARE THINGS I NEED TO KNOW! MS, please!!!
But Claire realises that Blake may have a point when she stumbles upon a crime scene where a local couple have been murdered. Worse, the whole set-up gives her a sick sense of deja vu. It looks like her parents' murderer has come home too. So I don't actually think I read to this point in the query. I was too busy salivating over the premise. This paragraph isn't the most clear, but I've already been so hooked it doesn't matter. It does introduce danger and the fact that there is a plot, and that's about all I needed to know to want this in my pile ASAP.

Congratulations, Sarah!  Please contact Taryn directly to discuss your prize.

Love Note For This Month's SA Entrants

You're in--hooray!

Please do your fellow entrants the courtesy of critiquing a minimum of 5 other entries over the next few days.

In fact, 10 would be better.  That's less than a third of the entries, and you'll probably get at least 10 critiques on your own work.

Some are always faithful, giving back to the community when it's their turn to receive.  And some have sneaked in, taken the critique, and given nothing.

No judgments, no record-keeping, no finger-pointing.  Just a simple, friendly plea.

Please take the time to offer your critique to your colleagues.

Thank you.  And may the feedback you receive be more helpful than you dared imagine!

August Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Dakota in Spades
GENRE: Mystery

Sam Dakota fought his way through the courthouse crowds. Late afternoon, downtown Kansas City was problematic. With his long ebony braid, sorrel skin, and a lean lanky frame often swathed in black, he blended in with the mix of people battling for the sidewalk. Danny’s bus stopped at 4:00. Sam’d never make it. He’d never missed a drop off since Kate died. Until today.

His Tony Lamas boots slapped the concrete as he rushed to his truck. He knew all the shortcuts and made use of them. Maybe this would be one of those rare times the bus ran late. He’d prepared for circumstances like these; the keypad he’d installed to open the garage door, and his neighbor, Alvin. Eighty but spry and active in his yard when the weather was nice, he was willing to keep an eye on Danny.

In accordance with Murphy’s Law, Sam hit every light red. At Oak, he hung a left, followed by a right on Brindle Circle. Number 215. A quaint white Queen Anne highlighted by Everest green shutters and an etched door his wife, Kate, had insisted on.

Sam pulled into the driveway, slammed it into park, and leaped out in one movement. He crossed the lawn, stairs, and porch in record time, calling Danny’s name as he entered. He glanced at the wood floor where his son dropped his Spiderman backpack. Sam had tripped over it too many times.

The wide planks gleamed, unmarred by the black and red pack.

August Secret Agent #38

TITLE: Dark Mountain
GENRE: Psychological/Suspense

The night was unseasonably cold for this time of year. A soft breeze brought a chill to the late May air. The Rocky Mountains loomed in the near distance, guarding Live Oak Park like a silent sentinel. A pall of mist hung in the air as if to place an invisible fence around it to prevent outsiders from entering its domain. Aspen and scrub trees stood dark against the night sky and shrouded the plants and bushes in deep shadows. Off limits at night but blazing with sunlight in daytime, the park was an inviting place for families to romp and play. By night it was like a cemetery with its buried secrets ready to spring from the ground. Strange things happened at night in this park. Everyone said so.

Joey Wilson wandered through the park, his favorite place to be when he was disturbed about something. Tonight he was especially distraught. Two weeks before his wedding and now this. What had he gotten himself into? He sat with his head in his hands and moaned. God, what am I going to do?

Just then a shadowy figure approached and stood in front of him. She sighed and he looked up, startled.
"What are you doing here?" He asked, alarmed.

The figure said nothing but moved closer and removed the hood from her head. "I came to see that justice was done, Joey. Don't you think justice should be done?" The voice was a mere whisper.

August Secret Agent #37

GENRE: Historical Christian Fiction

Winter of 1939

The train wheels squealed in protest against the tracks, pulling my attention from the flurry of questions spinning in my mind. When would I see my family again? Would I ever see them again? Their crying faces faded from my thoughts and I peered from the small window. The dark shadows of trees grew taller outside the train as they passed at a slower pace. I rubbed my weary eyes and as my hand moved across my lids, I spotted something else outside, other than trees. Were they headlights? Lifting my head from against the square window at my side, I wiped the foggy glass for a better view.

Two sets of bright lights kept up with us, alongside our train. Pulling my eyes from the mysterious, bright circles, I scanned the rows of little heads around me and noticed an eerie silence. Did they also see the orange glow?

Every child who shared this train with me had been through, or seen real-life nightmares. We all knew one’s greatest fears could occur in silence just as easily as they could in chaos. The children looked at each other for the answers no one could provide. Why was the train stopping? Whose headlights were shining through the windows? We were still in Germany weren’t we?

The chaperones, Jewish men and women who had volunteered to aid in our transportation, walked through the aisles.

“Make sure your number tag is visible,” a young male chaperone announced. “Sit still and be quiet.”

August Secret Agent #36

TITLE: Miss Stewart's Seduction
GENRE: Historical Thriller / Romantic Suspense

Cambridge, 1733.

Revenge required precision. Tom Caldwell needed a steady hand to fell the Earl. Good thing he’d schooled himself to a single bottle of wine.

He thrust out his arms and sent rumpled papers fluttering across the table. With fingers reeking of ink, he rubbed his flattened cheek and arched his neck toward the window.

What did one wear, when one might die before sunrise?

No! Practice improved a man’s aim. Tom would have confidence, though his very limbs revolted. Stumbling to his feet, he lit a taper. God’s blood, his noxious breath could set the room ablaze. He huffed in the cold air, tripped on the hearthstones, stabbed and thrust at the embers with the fire iron as if he were preparing for a swordfight instead of – this.

“Robin!” Tom kicked at the chamber pot and fumbed with his breeches. The boy was surely awake. Servants, like soldiers on campaign, and swindlers, and god-forsaken swine as he knew himself to be, all regularly rose before dawn. Ruffians, the lot of ‘em.

The lad appeared in the doorway, head bowed. “Shall I stir thy fire, Sir?”

“No, no – too late for that.” Then, trying for a measure of kindness, Tom softened his voice at the edges. “Warm me some water, and have Mrs. Lang send up coffee and bread.” A last supper, before the night was entirely run out.

He sprawled against the mantel and massaged his temples. Drink was a Devil, alone. Better to have followed Alex’s example, Almighty bless him.

August Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Hope's Redemption
GENRE: Historical Christian Fiction

Alura stood with Molly, Natalie, and Mary in the dwindling line of the captives. Rivulets of sweat trickled down her back and dripped off her forehead blurring her vision. Of the five girls Alura had been put in charge of, two remained. Sarah, a tiny mite of a girl, survived the grueling march to the docks at Ravyn only to be sold to a man with menacing eyes and a greedy lust drooling from his lips. Two other sweet girls had slipped away peacefully in their sleep. Mary never cried anymore. She never talked either. Natalie grew faint, but her spirit remained strong. Alura determined in her heart that she would do whatever she could to protect all of her girls.

Molly had not lost her steadfast faithfulness to Alura, for which Alura was eternally grateful. Alura tried to remain unshakable, but at times she had crumbled under the burden of suffering. Some degree of protection had surrounded them as long as they marched close by Terious, but he had not always been there when the vicious guards beat upon them. Now, standing in line, Alura heard the whispers and rumors from the other captives. Those left at the end of the day were to be sold to the floating brothel resting in the harbor.

The guard turned and walked straight toward Alura and the others. He stopped in front of Nataile. Reaching out, he seized her collar and yanked the tattered fabric of her dress. It easily gave way.

August Secret Agent #34

TITLE: The Sculptor
GENRE: Mystery

Halfway down the groomed Harlach Trail, Abby stopped to adjust the buckle on her ski boot. Humming Franz Liszt while she loosened the upper strap, she licked away tiny beads of perspiration that had formed on her upper lip. She was kidding herself with the buckle thing. Really, she was twenty-two years old and fighting to catch her breath, after only making it half-way down the slope. Granted it was one of the steeper descents in Flumserberg, dotted with immense pines, some icy patches, and...she'd had those shots of Jagermeister last night, too.

She halted her pathetic justifications when she caught sight of the sparkling Walensee nearly 2000 meters below. That morning, she'd left behind her grad school classmates, and even the hot, sweet-talking professor she was dating. All of them were sleeping off last night's field trip party in Zurich, but she wanted to imbibe on the fresh Swiss mountain air alone and tackle the double-diamonds that she knew only she could handle. Grateful for the serenity, she lingered over the sight of the brilliant noon sun reflecting off of the lake's blue azure.

She stood and realigned her goggles, determined to swoosh to the next pine grove about 300 meters south. Knees bent, she jammed her poles into the powder, ready to thrust herself forward.

Before she could, the metallic swat of a ski pole across the back of her thighs sent searing bolts of pain up her torso and buckled her legs.

What the hell?

August Secret Agent #33

TITLE: Man Land
GENRE: Romantic Comedy

The Man Land poster screamed at Braxton from the crowded break room wall. After the hype all summer long, the grand opening was only a day away. For Doug, the amusement park filled with manly challenges seemed like his best dream come true, although it certainly hadn’t for Braxton. Not that he was a wimp or anything. He just didn’t equate his self-worth with the size of his muscles. At least that’s what he told himself – especially when he hung around Doug. Or his father. Even Braxton wasn’t immune to the Man Land mania, though. After all, what guy wouldn’t get excited about driving a garbage truck through an obstacle course? But, knowing it would be a mistake to let on to Doug, who would create some asinine training schedule for them, Braxton still acted like the last thing he wanted to do was go to the Grand Opening of Man Land. So far, the charade seemed to be working.

The chime on the coffee maker sounded just as Doug rounded the corner. Dressed in impeccable grey slacks and a tight, navy blue t-shirt, Doug always looked like he’d be more at home in one of the downtown law offices than their small engineering firm. He grinned widely and reached around Braxton to tap the Man Land poster hanging over his shoulder.

“Hey Brax. Tomorrow’s the big day. Grand opening of Man Land.”

August Secret Agent #32

GENRE: Adult fantasy

After the war, the neighbors would whisper, “We saw how it started, you know- we were there when she was born.” The child’s mother- lovely woman, really- had loved entertaining. But then came the child, and after that, the wasting illness. When the illness left, it took the mother with it, leaving the child- a girl named Ava- the motherless daughter of a red-faced, small-eyed man.

That man never should have had a child. The neighbors all knew it. When they stopped by to say how sorry they were about the mother’s death, he wouldn’t answer the door, nor would he return their phone calls. Most unforgivably, he left the casseroles on the steps until the wild cats ate them. No one was surprised when Ava was sent to live with her mother’s parents.

For a while, the neighbors forgot about her. But one summer evening, six years after the toddler left, a rusty Toyota sputtered to a halt near the house.

Ava, now an eight-year-old child, had been sent back to her father. Her grandparents had died now, too. The girl wasn’t crying, wasn’t screaming. She simply held on to her seatbelt and refused to get out of the car. She clutched a picture frame.

The neighbors saw leaves swirling in summer dust devils around the car. They saw the father jerk the single suitcase out of the back seat.

August Secret Agent #31

GENRE:   Contemporary romance

The irritatingly dramatic voice sliced through her eardrums.

 “Claire Gibson! Where have you been hiding?”

Sometimes she cursed the day she moved to this small Pacific Northwest island. Couldn’t she get a stinking cup of coffee without running into half the people she knew?

Okay. One person. Just her luck for it to be the biggest mouth in town.

 Claire dug a five-dollar bill out of her jeans pocket, slapped it on the counter, and grabbed her extra-hot vanilla latte. “Thanks, Tyler.”

“Take care, Mrs. G.” Tyler gave her a sympathetic smile from behind the register as she turned to leave.

“Hi Bea. Sorry. I’m in a hurry.” She attempted to brush past the large woman.

 No such luck. A simple shift of weight was all it took for Beatrice Atwell to block her exit.

“But I’ve got wonderful news.” Bea leaned in confidentially, although her volume didn’t alter a bit. Apparently she’d never learned the difference between inside and outside voices that any sane mother taught her children. “I’ve found someone for you.” She bared her teeth in what was probably supposed to be a smile.

“Excuse me?”

“A man. He’s taking over Dr. Wainright’s dental practice. I know several women who would love to meet him, but you’re at the top of my list.”

As if anyone could replace her husband. Anger and tears fought their way to the surface. Claire focused on the anger. She’d cried enough in the last two years.

August Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Nice Girls Don't Date Rock Stars
GENRE: 20-something women's fiction

The aisle between Matt and I is narrow but clear, with the moment I’ve dreamed of since I was a kid only a few palpitations away. I had faith it would happen, and this delicious anxiety was worth the wait. Val's hand squeezes mine and I know anyone looking at me will surely see a woman shining like the sun.

It’s warm for February in San Jose. The nightclub’s smoky air is sweaty and thick with lingering notes from the previous song. My brain’s telling me it also reeks of beer cans stewing in recycle bins behind the bar, but my heart is savoring every aspect of the evening.

I always believed hearing my hero perform a song he’d written just for me would be momentous. Right on par with a wedding proposal or my unborn child’s first kick. Alright, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but since sharing my childhood attic bedroom with my older sister Karine, nearly every other dream paled in comparison. Look at Karine’s side of the wood-panelled room and you’d have seen Buffalo Bills and Yankees posters, clippings of Clinton’s presidential campaign, and softball awards. Look at my side and you’d have seen no panelling at all thanks to Matt Hartley’s face and interviews covering every square inch. “You and your artsy-fartsy stuff,” Karine would say each time I tacked up a new page. Her jaunty dismissiveness fell on me with all the power of spring raindrops on a steel roof.

August Secret Agent #29

TITLE: Edgefield
GENRE: Mystery

March, 1955

"Can’t you hurry up? Jeezus ain’t going to wait forever!” A lanky man with piercing, charcoal eyes and a chiseled jaw spat out the words as if fired from an automatic pistol.

The short, pudgy man stuck out his lower lip. “Jesus can just wait till I finish my hamburger. Ain’t had nothin’ to eat all day.” He scuffed the toe of his boot against a hollow lamp pole.

In a park near the river, a naked light bulb haloed two figures in the night chill. With his leather bomber jacket zipped tight, the taller man paced back and forth with choppy steps. The other fellow plopped on a bench and crossed his chubby legs beneath a threadbare, trench coat. He clutched a half-eaten Tastee burger like it was his last meal, his free hand hovering beneath his mouth to capture escaping crumbs. With each bite his lips smacked.

After slurping the last morsel, he let the wrapper fall and sucked salt and grease from his fingertips. “Well, guess I’m ready. Where do I find this Jesus guy?”

The tall man’s voice changed to a purr. “On the other side of the river.” He waved his hand like a wand toward the far side of the Willamette.

“I don’t see nothin’.” The short man, craning his neck, squinted into the darkness.

The thin man strode toward the river, flashed a feral grin, and beckoned. “First, my friend, you gotta get closer to the railing.”

August Secret Agent #28

TITLE: Eavesdropper
GENRE: Paranormal Romance

Ryan McLelas didn't need his supercharged ears to hear the telltale sounds of sloshing liquid, the crystalline hiss of shattering glass, the bawdy cursing. His left eye twitched behind his mask. The syndicate had deliberately sent a drunkard for tonight's exchange. Insulting. How long before one of the crime groups dividing the city felt provoked enough to spit bullets?

The German shepherd by his side pawed a loose block of pavement.

"Steady, Romeo." Ryan set a gloved hand on his dog's neck. "Trust me, if making him a midnight snack wasn't bad for our cover, I'd let you chow down."

"Klepto! Bet your sister's gotta pay the johns t'get some action," the contact slurred on approach.

Muted lamplight gleamed in ribbons over black fur as Romeo dropped onto his haunches. "Like I'd eat that."

Ryan stifled a grin under the hood of his alter ego's disguise: the black mask, trench coat, and cargo pants that marked him as Klepto. "I don't have a sister."

"Your brother, then." A clumsy, obscene gesture followed.

"You're late." The bag of cash in Ryan's hand swung over his chest as he crossed his arms.

With the wit of a third-grader and in quick succession, the younger man proceeded to insult Klepto's father, mother, dog, best friend, and non-existent woman. Any humor Ryan had over the situation waned fast. If Relek City's syndicate cease-fire held, it wouldn't be due to mutual respect among peers.

"Hungry, Romeo?" he muttered under his breath.

August Secret Agent #27

TITLE: Take Two
GENRE: Adult Contemporary Romance

Maddie Bauers was seconds from fleeing full stomp back to her car. She had been hesitant to go out when she thought Bree just planned to drag her to a nightclub. Now, outside the Woodland Hills house, the bass from a stereo pulsing loudly indicating a party in full swing, Maddie planted the heels of her flat sandals and refused to budge.

“Oh, come on!” Bree flashed her puppy-dog eyes, the ones that usually got her anything and anyone.

Maddie pursed her full lips. “You said one drink, Bree. This is not one drink. This is a noise violation and disorderly conduct ticket waiting to happen.”

“This is fun waiting to happen,” Bree said, tossing her long blonde hair behind her shoulder. “I know you’re frigid and anti-good times, but one f****** party isn’t going to kill you. As your best friend and roommate, it is my duty to tell you that you need to chill-ax. Have a good time.”

Bree leaned closer to Maddie. “And I heard from someone who heard from someone else that the cast and crew of the latest Davenport indie might show up. That means hot celebrities.” She raised her hands triumphantly above her head. “Woo hoo!”

“First of all, I couldn’t care less about celebrities. Secondly, how do you know they’re hot?”

Bree waggled her eyebrows. “Let’s just say I heard some rumors.”

Maddie groaned. “I’m so leaving.”

“Come on. Don’t you want to celebrate your graduation even a little bit?”

August Secret Agent #26

TITLE: Daisies for Ella
GENRE: Women's Fiction

Grocery bags slapped against the sides of my calves, as I waddled through the lobby, passing the faded curtains, and a “Free Wi-Fi” sign. My stomach clenched as I thought about the event, which led to the heavy sacks cutting off the circulation to my fingers.

Again, I threw something at Sam’s head; it wasn’t glass this time, just a sneaker. Last night, I apologized and begged for forgiveness. He kissed me before bed, and said, “I love you,” but this morning his hug felt cold, not icy, but slushy. Please, let the wine and dinner erase my disgusting behavior from his memory.

“Maggie, Maggie.”

I turned toward Mrs. Livingston’s voice, and spotted her pushing her walker toward me.

“Tell Sam my smoke alarm is beeping. And, Maggie, who was that handsome young man carrying a suitcase, I saw knocking on your door?”

“I’ll Sam tell about the beeping, and I guess it was someone knocking on the wrong door,” I replied, before heading toward the elevator.

I elbowed the “Up” button, and waited for the brass doors to open. Inside the elevator, I gazed at the diamond sparkling on my left hand. Soon, I would be Mrs. Sam Hutchinson; mood swings were not going to destroy my happily ever after.

The elevator clanked to a stop. I shuffled down the hallway, set the bags on the floor, and groped around in my pocket for the key. As I opened our door, I heard a noise coming from the bedroom. “Sam?” I called out.

August Secret Agent #25

TITLE: Driven
GENRE: Commercial Fiction

Jimmy Rickliefs idea of a good time did not include sitting in his wife’s car with his head in a trashcan. Waking up with unbearable stomach pain at three in the morning also did not qualify. But lucky for him, his wife was levelheaded; he’d had this pain before and this time, she was doing something about it. Now, gritting his teeth against the never-ending waves of pain, he barely noticed the houses zipping past as his wife headed for the hospital.

Allison stopped the car at a light, and he heard her ragged intake of breath. Being levelheaded didn’t mean she couldn’t be scared. He reached for her hand, as much in need of comfort as she was. Her hand was shaking slightly, and he squeezed it in time to another wave of pain, relieved when she proceeded into the intersection. As a particularly violent spasm raked his back, there was a flash of light, and Jimmy felt as if he were being crushed.


Ryan Vasser was driving down Third Street when he saw a truck barreling towards the intersection in front of him. He slowed down, hoping that the car crossing third would get out of the way in time; he knew before it happened that it was too late. The truck plowed into the car and almost rolled it. Ryan got out of his car, pulling his phone from his pocket.

“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”

“This is Ryan Vasser, I’m at the intersection of third and Main and there’s been an accident.”

August Secret Agent #24

GENRE: Thriller

I leaned against the Plexiglas divider of our lane, watching Abby empty magazines with no fear.

She knew exactly how to turn me on.

The safety glasses kept slipping, the earmuffs dwarfing her head, but the confidence fit like a 
glove; by the time a spent mag hit the floor, she’d already clicked a new one in, racked and fired.

Here, she couldn’t falter, and I liked that, but being here also did for her what the meds 
couldn’t, and I liked that more.

My Glock therapy was promising.

All her shots center mass, I gave her a thumbs-up and she rolled her eyes, changing the targets and giving my shoulder a sympathetic pat before I took my place on the line.

I was halfway through the set when my phone vibrated against my hip, my partner’s number on the screen. Holstering on instinct, I picked up as I shouldered my way through the door, the brass bell going off behind me, then again as Abby followed.

“Nick,” I said, crossing the lot to my unmarked, pulling at my earplugs. “What’s up?”

“I’ve got one hot off the presses. Where are you?”

“Doesn’t matter,” I said, reaching for the door of the Crown Vic.“Where’s it at?”

“It’s twenty-six Hawkins, in the Silver Terrace development.”

“I’ll be there.” I said, ending the call, Abby watching me over the hood.

“You’re leaving.” She said.

Watching me fish the duty ammo from my pocket was more than enough confirmation.

Therapy was over.

August Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Doomsday's Wake
GENRE: Science Fiction

Utokra didn't believe in killing; he believed in piety and reason, the knotted strands of which had occupied him so fully, he had not seen the tangled noose pulling close around his world. He wasn't old just yet, though he already had a dozen arthritic joints in his legs and grasper tentacles, and the fur on the crown of his skull had gone red. He was also a bit absent-minded-vexingly so at the moment. A bristly, yellow bloom had drawn him into the ice-garden to sample its sour perfume. Now the summer snow had turned to sleet just as the light faded, and as he stretched to reach the top of the Center gate, he stretched also to remember.

Ashwan, the largest moon, still slept below the treetops. Her three lumpy little sisters were all overhead, their sunlit and moonlit faces overlapping in bright, almond crescents like the eyes of a Chot'oul. Indeed, this rare conjunction was known as the gaze of Chot'oulea, and its appearance had long been known as an omen of change. Utokra pulled the latch-wire over the post and leaned close to the gate, parting the beaded vestigial tentacles dangling around his face. He peered through the wire mesh and over the shadows crisscrossing the snow covered courtyard beyond. The contributions jar still sat on the kiosk outside.

Absent-minded indeed; dealing with the council bureaucrats was making him senile. He wouldn't need any contributions if they would just restore his stipend.
. . .

August Secret Agent #22

TITLE: Makes You Stronger
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

Tori eased down from the truck, careful to keep the weight on her right leg. Even though the bullet wounds had healed, the surrounding muscles and tissues protested when she stayed in one position too long. She was tired of being injured. Sick of being observed. She wanted to be anonymous. To live again. Maybe then the ache would go away.

“You’re expecting too much, Victoria. The wounds, both physical and psychological, are fresh. Give your mind time to absorb and accept it all.”

Hopefully a Montana vacation would push her in the right direction. No one here would demand answers or watch her with questions haunting their eyes.

“Well, howdy there young missy. Welcome to the Silent K. You must be the city gal Margie’s been telling me about.”

Young missy? Howdy? Really? Tori turned and came face to face with a genuine western stereotype.

Grizzled gray hair stuck out from under an old cowboy hat. A handlebar moustache drooped past his chin. His faded denim shirt sported one of those string ties and faded jeans highlighted the most bow-legged legs she’d ever seen. A huge gleaming silver belt buckle – showcasing a bucking bronco no less – set off the entire look to perfection. Wow.

He touched the brim of his hat, “I’m Bo Palmer, ranch foreman”

Tori stuck out her hand, “Nice to meet you Mr. Palmer. I’m Tori Carter. You’ve got a beautiful place here. Makes me feel whole just breathing in the air.”

August Secret Agent #21

TITLE: Inner Demons
GENRE: Paranormal Urban Romance

Sometimes the simplest things end up being the hardest things.

Like not turning left across Main Street into the liquor store parking lot. With both hands gripped to the steering wheel, I kept my eyes straight ahead. Cold beer on sale tempted me, flashing red and blue hypnotic lights against the lengthening shadows. Aisles and aisles of vodka, scotch, gin, rum, wine – everything I needed to replace the bottles dumped down the drain.

You can do this. Don'’t turn left.

Slowly, agonizingly slowly, my Civic crawled through traffic until the neon signs blinked in my rear view mirror.

Don'’t turn the car around.

I drove up Prospect Street, up the snaky hill, releasing my breath as I parked the car in the laneway and turned off the engine. A little victory for me, but there was no one to share it with.

I banged through the door, expecting resistance from the sticky frame, but the weather had been dry for a change and the door yielded effortlessly. The old farmhouse enveloped me with its scents of old dust and firewood, the powdery fragrance of Aunt Helen’s perfume lingering as if she’d just walked by, making me miss her all over again. After dumping out the day’s worth of textbooks and notes on top of the mini-freezer, I hung up my backpack. My housemates were already home, working on dinner.

Bear glanced at me as he drained the noodles. “Hungry?”

“Not really.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I said.

August Secret Agent #20

TITLE: The Toast Bitches
GENRE: Contemporary Romance

Hana hesitated on the unnaturally clean sidewalk and glanced at the note in her hand. She looked at the street signs again to make sure she had the right address. This wasn't a newspaper office.

Ninth and West 48th. Streets with numbers, a world away from McCann and Dunkling.

She'd read about Michael Preston's swift rise through Dempster Media, and his determination to remain a bachelor as his empire grew. She didn't care about the trail of broken hearts. She had her eye on that starting salary.

She pushed her rimless glasses up her nose and studied the polished brass nameplates. She pressed the red button beside number three.

Nothing. She pressed again.

"Who is it?" His voice sounded okay, but what can you tell from a voice?

"Mr. Preston?"


"I'm here about the job."

"Come on up. Third floor." The door clicked, and she pushed it open. The scent of lemon polish wafted through the small lobby. She struggled with the ornate elevator door, ripping off a fingernail in the process.

"S***." She sucked her finger and tried again. Finally, the lever budged and she entered the elevator.

At the top floor, the door slid open to reveal a sparely furnished loft. Late afternoon light spilled from a large multi-paned window onto a faded Oriental carpet. "Hello?"

At first, all she heard was distant birdsong from outside, but she soon detected the clatter of cutlery.

She followed the sound and found the great Mr. Preston doing the dishes.

August Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Secondhand Sinners
GENRE: Women's fiction

She was nine-years-old when she first suspected her mother didn’t like her, fifteen when it became clear she hated her and eighteen when she had to surrender any hope that the woman who gave birth to her wanted her in her life. Now, at thirty-five, Emily Matthews was dangerously close to becoming just like her mother.

Why else would she have hesitated to answer the call when she saw it was from the school? Why else would she have considered telling the nurse she couldn’t come get her son because she was about to go into her first job interview since her ex-husband left? Why else would she be sitting in her car instead of storming into that building where her son was lying on the floor of the cafeteria having a meltdown?

These moments of hesitation, consideration and desperation didn’t last long — five to ten seconds at the most. But they cut her, bled her, drained her. Jack deserved a better mother, one who wasn’t bleeding all the time.

Emily took one last second to wallow in her pity and then got out of the car, hurrying in long strides to rescue her son. She was almost to the front door of the school when a man walked out to greet her. She immediately identified him as the school’s psychologist. They all looked the same with their clipboards and uneasy approach. This man’s white hair and beard were a nice touch, though. Made him look a little like Santa Claus.