Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March Secret Agent Critique Guidelines

All rightie -- roll up your sleeves and give it your best!

Guidelines for Critique on MSFV:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
  • ENTRANTS: As your way of "giving back", please critique a minimum of 5 other entries.

March Secret Agent #40

TITLE: The Confessional
GENRE: Adult - Romantic Suspense

The room had an odd glow and felt unusually warm.

Michael Webb glanced at the wooden booth that encased him, wedged as it was in the walls of the nave. An elderly woman across from him with a blue-gray beehive and delightfully pointed glasses she could have worn since the fifties leaned forward on a hardwood chair.

The elderly woman's brow furrowed. Her neck craned outward like a curious Blue Heron as she peered at the man a foot away.

"Are you sure you're feeling all right, Father?"

Michael shifted uneasily, feeling strangely detached. Hair mostly gray, he wore classic black clerics with a purple embroidered stole draped over his neck, the ends of it lying on his lap. Beside him, a wooden crucifix lay on a table, along with a burning candle, a smattering of stones, fresh flowers in a vase, a list of penitential prayers and a half-emptied box of tissues.

"Father?" the woman prodded with a touch of concern.

His broad shoulders drooped and his mouth turned downward. His bewildered eyes fixed on the floor.

The woman smiled up at him. "You look like you've never seen a woman in a wet t-shirt before."

"W—what?!" Michael gaped, but the woman was gone. As were the walls of the church.

A twenty-something Michael stood in thick jungle foliage. Heavy rain began pummeling him, drenching his shirt, boots and jeans. Slack-jawed, he stared up at the sky. 

In front of Michael, under a canopy, men and women lay on cots.

March Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Never Not Broken
GENRE: YA - Contemporary

I read somewhere that humans love hands. We love them so much that when we can’t see a person’s hands that person’s attractiveness decreases. Since I read that I’ve been flaunting my hands all over the place to Jack, but it hasn’t seemed to work. Maybe there are some hand finesse tricks I’m missing out on--a special way to gesture or wave that works chemistry magic. Part of me - scratch that - most of me knows that I’m being an idiot and unfair to him and to myself, but still - a teeny-weeny little bit of me wonders if maybe he’s just confused. Maybe he thinks he’s gay just because he’s never kissed me. Maybe if he kissed me he would realize that the reason he thinks he doesn’t like girls is just because he’s never considered me as a girlfriend.

Ugh. I put down my guitar, stand up, and roll my shoulders. I shake my head hard back and forth. I’m so sick of being like this. I feel like this is all I do now when I’m by myself - sit around and think about Jack and how to make him like me. Playing music can’t even distract me lately, and it always distracts me.

I lean down to touch my toes and spot the heel of a tennis shoe poking out from under my bed. That’s what I need - movement. I dig the shoe out and after a solid ten minute search, find the other in the bathroom across the hall.

March Secret Agent #38

TITLE: Rossio 59
GENRE: YA - Historical

Lisbon, 1941

Antonio wove through the crowd, eyes alert for the best target. Maybe a suitcase, not too big. Not one belonging to a haggard refugee stumbling off the train from Madrid, or to a mother with clinging, crying children. No. Better to find one owned by a man with a smart suit and hat, who was certainly better off than Antonio and his grandmother would ever be.

All along the platform, men handed bags out the open doors, calling "Make way.” Beside them, tired passengers and grumpy children climbed down.

Antonio’s foot hit a pair of glasses, the lenses still intact. They skittered ahead of him. No owner in sight. Antonio bent down and slid them into a pocket. They’d be worth a few escudos.

Further along, among the jumble of luggage on the platform, a small leather suitcase lay on its side. Not too new, and unattended. A 17-year-old could carry it out of the station without attracting attention. Antonio knelt beside it, pretending to adjust his shoe, and gripped the handle. He started to stand, then froze.

From a few yards away, a slim girl about his age stared at him. Her clothes were travel-worn but stylish, and thick, shoulder-length hair framed a pale face. Her eyes narrowed.

Merda. It wasn’t even her bag. Antonio set the suitcase upright, as if that had been his plan all along, and pushed himself to a standing position. The girl tossed her head, still glaring. She wasn’t buying it.

March Secret Agent #37

TITLE: The Moth Girl
GENRE: YA - Fabulist

It was only a month between the first symptoms and the day they found my unconscious body floating three feet above the ground. I was fifteen. Those early symptoms were nothing to me, minor aches and a vague feeling of lightness that I brushed away like dust. How was I to recognize the storm of disease bearing down upon me?

One of my track teammates later told me I reminded her of a magician’s assistant floating above a table. But there was no magician, no trick, only the rebellion of my own cells. I try to picture it: my hovering teenage body, my limbs and hair hanging down like the roots of a pulled-up flower. It seems more likely, knowing what I now know, that my arms and legs lifted up toward the sky, but still I envision them dangling toward the earth as if to will me closer to it.

In the summer leading up to that fall, I spent my afternoons running and hanging around with my best friend, Smilla. There was a long finger of forest that stretched from behind my backyard all the way into the center of town, a secret passageway through the heart of suburbia, and I ran the length of it nearly every day. I knew each detail of that trail, each crumbling section of old stone wall, every initial carved inside every heart on the tall white pines.

March Secret Agent #36

GENRE: YA - Contemporary

My sister used to read the ending of a book before she even looked at the first page. She hated guessing, the not knowing of how something would finish. To me the beginning was the best part, the unknown potential of something great.

Mia and Ava. Ava and Mia. Our names interchangeable – similar - and as different as any two people could be, connected in a way impossible to define.

It sickened me how everyone claimed to be Ava’s best friend, their tears and fake sadness almost as bad as the police’s incompetence. Two more girls dying without any suspects or arrests.

Serial killer: the word ominous, evoking a strange sense of narcissism, as if any one of us could be a potential victim, as if we were even the sick bastard’s type.

Ava was his type, and since we shared the same womb and placenta, I’m his type too. The only thing saving me is my love of partying and popularity. He preferred the quiet, socially awkward girls who choose math club to cheerleading.

Girls like my sister

My fingers trailed along the rough edges of lockers, shadows threatening to overtake me. Voices thundered and whispered all around, everyone in their insular bubbles. Lives had returned to normal, but I no longer recognized normality.

How could I care about cheerleading and parties - or school at all - after they found her body broken and alone? I pretended to, somehow hoping to solve the problem before it killed me too.

March Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Comp Psi
GENRE: NA - Mystery / Suspense

I handed a soccer ball to the redhead with the amazing gazangas. She couldn’t find her student ID, something about changing shorts and not having pockets, so her friend signed the log book. I stuck his card in the desk drawer.

A girl with a blond ponytail and gymnast shoulders waved her ID and went into the exercise room, followed by two guys who came to lift weights.

I opened my Spanish book. A group of girls in Tri Delt tee shirts and tight black shorts approached the desk, laughing about something. The one with runner’s thighs asked for a basketball.

I bet she ran track in high school. Sprinter, probably jogged for exercise. I pictured running around the campus lake with her at sunset, her long brown hair floating in slow motion like a shampoo commercial.

I traded her ID for the ball. She signed the logbook while I conjugated verbs related to shopping. I paid little attention to the couple lifting weights and the professor using the elliptical trainer. As long as the students flashed IDs, I let them in. I didn’t even check to see if the people matched the pictures on their cards.

Confident that I could buy a pair of shoes (zapatos) or order ice cream (helado) in Spain without ending up with a live chicken (not in the vocabulary list), I finally looked at the exercise room on the other side of the glass wall.

It was empty, past closing time. I was the only one left.

March Secret Agent #34

TITLE: A Life, Eternal
GENRE: Adult - Science Fiction

I, Dr. Linwood Holbrooke, begin this journal in the name of science and to progress humankind. Someday, my research will be the most important ever done in defeating the disease called age. Fellow scientists, well-wishers, and curious minds, I am honored you are studying my work on radical life extension. By the time I complete this experiment to my satisfaction I hope to have lived for thousands of years.

I earned a PhD in human genetics from Stanford University in 1976 where I focused my studies on molecular evolution. The highlight of my career, until now, involved my anonymous collaboration on the Human Genome Project in the early 2000’s. We did something that had never been done before and changed the world. That experience taught me that humankind has unlimited potential.

Yes, my dear friends and colleagues, eternal life is possible. Well, in the quasi sense anyway.

If my earlier words resulted in a scoff, I do not blame you. But, I beg your indulgence through my explanation. There are creatures which hold the key to long life. Tortoises, Tapeworms and Tuataras possess the capacity to live over 200 years. Clams can live over 400 years. The Antarctic Sponge can exceed 1,500 years of life. The lifespan of many animals dwarf that of humans.

These creatures live in untamed and brutal environments. I find it interesting that humans have access to advanced medical care, nurturing families, and scientific guidelines to nutrition yet we only live to an average of 67.2 years. So, why is that?

March Secret Agent #33

GENRE: Adult - Urban Fantasy

         I let him keep the red Ferrari for an entire week before I blew it sky high.

         Of course, I waited until he was in the neighbour’s wife before I detonated, effectively killing two birds with one stone as they call it. At the time of detonation, I stood on an isolated plateau overlooking the gated community that harboured the privileged below.

         At my feet, the plateau dropped off abruptly, as if one of the gods had taken an axe to the mountain, shearing off its face. I peered over the edge, judging the drop to the lush mountainside dotted with luxury homes. Across the harbour, Van City shimmered like a high noon heat wave in Death Valley.

         A premonitory silence introduced the sun’s competition. A fireball seared upwards, cranking the heat on an already hot August afternoon with a deep, thunder-like boom. The death cloud shot up into the heavens, yellow and orange flames on a rampage for oxygen, licking over each other like lions fighting over scraps.

         The shimmer of the blast wave pulsed outwards, made visible by the dust it gathered. The explosion echoed into the rock face beneath my feet and rocketed through my body. As the supersonic shock wave hit me, it slapped me back savagely before ghosting across my face, lingering like a lover’s last caress. Then the blast wind reversed, whipping my long hair forward. I caught a runaway strand, tucked it behind my ear and surveyed my work with pride.

You get what you deserve.

March Secret Agent #32

GENRE: YA - Fantasy

Galatrin stifled a scream as cold fingers closed over her mouth.

“Not a sound, dear one.” Warm breath filled her ear, sending a shiver down her spine. “We must prepare to leave.”

Queen Lofstra came into focus beside her. She dropped her hand and looked at Galatrin, her eyes smoldering in the candlelight.

“Mother, what is it?” Her heart pounded in her chest.

“We’re under attack.” The queen picked up the small taper beside Galatrin’s bed, her hands trembling but her voice filled with resolve.

 Galatrin couldn’t recall a time her mother appeared more tired or distraught. Her skin was pale and thin, with veins visible just under the surface. The bags under her eyes drooped from lack of sleep.

“Are they inside, Mother?” How was that possible? Isenford was an impenetrable fortress. Enemy forces could not have overrun the outer defenses in a matter of hours. Galatrin tried to wrap her tired mind around what her mother was saying.

“Yes, it appears we’re under attack from within. I know it’s difficult to understand.  Isenford has always provided safety and refuge. But now…”

“Why now?”

The queen sighed as she fidgeted with the large, stuffed satchel at the end of the bed.

“Only Ador knows. Your father feared an attack would occur in our lifetime.” Her eyes seemed to briefly wander to a place Galatrin couldn’t reach.

“But now, we must move swiftly. Everything else you need for your journey can be acquired downstairs.” The queen gently grasped her daughter’s hand.

March Secret Agent #31

TITLE: River Spell
GENRE: YA - Fantasy

The war was over. I repeated the words trying to make sense of them. "What will happen now?" I asked, voice trembling.

"We live, Arresa," my father said. "As much as we can. The soldiers claim to have wheat for us to plant."

Live. What kind of life was there left to live? Soldiers had never been here peaceably before. And they had never brought food instead of taking it. I’d heard it had once been different. We had lived in a nice house, with lots of food and happiness. I didn’t remember it. Though there were enough charred house remains and empty foundations around my village to support the stories.

“You can put down the knife now,” he said.

I unclenched my fingers and placed the knife carefully on the rough wood table, then wiped my sweaty palms on my skirt. Immediately my hand itched to pick it back up. Soldiers. In our village. Milling around in plain sight rather than sneaking around stealing or killing. I shook my head at the wonder of it.

"It's late for planting. Still, we might be able to get a small crop," Father said. It would be difficult for him to prepare the field with one leg. He thumped his crutch against the floor and gave me a twisted smile. "We'll manage. We may even keep the harvest this year."

My stomach growled at that. Keep the harvest? Have food for winter and seed for next year?

March Secret Agent #30

TITLE: Ironheart
GENRE: YA - Fantasy

           I crouched at the nobleman’s bedside, soaking up his blood with my riding hood. I didn’t look at his face. I couldn’t. It made me think too much about what I’d done. But with my hood drying out, I needed his blood if I wanted to survive the next few weeks. Suffice to say, I didn’t want to die.

           I finished, then wiped my iron daggers on the already dry hood, replaced them at my hip, and tied the hood back around my neck. It settled around my shoulders like a warm embrace, not that I really remembered what that felt like. Blood dripped from the bed, mixing with the orange dust beneath my iron-soled boots. Even in a nobleman’s bedroom, the dust followed.

            My hood hummed, sending energy coursing through my tired muscles as the ever-present knot in my chest tightened. I hated this too – fighting against enjoying the feeling, but loving it anyways. The curse of being a Redcap, the King had told me when he offered me a position as a member of The Pack. At least this way I could use it for something good, for protecting my kingdom, even if it did hate me.

            I have to do this. I have no choice. I’d told myself the same thing so many times I’d lost count.

            You should just let yourself die, countered another voice. The one I tried and failed to keep sealed in the pits of my mind. Let the hood dry out. Let yourself die.

March Secret Agent #29

GENRE: YA - Psychological thriller

Five years since my cousin died, and we were nowhere near closure. Instead, the pain had coalesced into a jagged icicle in my chest, a reminder every time my gaze slipped to the woods down the road. An open lot of abandoned land, wild with yellowing weeds and brush, separated it from my house. My twelve-year-old cousin had wandered beyond that lot one day. Hours later, they had found her body half-submerged in the stream.

I averted my eyes from the trees and propped my bike by the door, waiting for the sound of double locks and safety chains sliding, a sure sign my aunt had been lurking by the window and had spotted me. It was something I’d gotten used to, like biking home straight from school because she had me timed to the second. School and home formed two neat little cages that corralled my life. Three, if you counted the evening shifts at the deli. But I knew how much harder it was for her. How much it tore her apart to let me walk out the house every morning.

But the door remained shut, and the knob turned easily under my touch. My fingers tightened around the cold metal. She always kept that door locked.


My voice cut through the living room. The chipped rocking chair in the corner, the place she usually occupied, was empty. Her shawl lay crumpled on the floor by the window, next to a tangled roll of pink knitting yarn.

March Secret Agent #28

TITLE: I Know I'm Alive
GENRE: YA - Contemporary, Realistic

Philadelphia is approximately six hundred miles behind me. It still feels too close.

As we drive past rest stops and gas stations and too many fast food restaurants, I note the mile markers and look at the sky for dark clouds, even though I know there’s not much of a chance for rain. I’m pulling out my phone and checking my weather app every few minutes. It’s become a habit of mine. If Dad notices this, he doesn’t say anything. But he’s driving and his focus is on the road. The U-Haul truck he rented has gotten us this far without any problems despite my constant worry we will break down.

Dad’s listening to a podcast of This American Life and I’m pretending to listen. I pretend a lot of things these days. This particular episode is all about extraordinary coincidences. Dad says “Wow” every few minutes and I nod like I’m sharing in the “Wow”. If I don’t nod or look like I’m listening, Dad will glance over at me with concern. I can’t handle that look of concern. Take that look elsewhere, man. Just keep it away from me.  
So I nod. Sometimes I even smile or chuckle. I stop just short of actual commentary.

The highway traffic picks up the closer we get to the city. The Chicago skyline is now in view. Most of the cars are leaving the city, but we still encounter plenty of drivers eager to get to wherever.

March Secret Agent #27

TITLE: The Elementalist
GENRE: YA - Fantasy, Romance

The weight of a thousand seething eyes demands my death. It could be what has my heart clambering out of my throat or the pulpy innards of the grapefruit someone threw at the windshield. My back is on the verge of snapping as different objects are pelted at the transport vehicle like raining bullets.
I’d forgotten about the cuffs, my hands having gone numb miles ago. The warmth of the vinyl dashboard spreads to my icy fingers as I lean forward. Metal shackles slide over my wrist bone, and I wince as they peel back a thin-layered scab. It’s a stinging proof I’m not imagining this.

Outside, a swarm of rioters block our transport vehicle— block the polished streets of an Alathian city blinding under the sun. A lynch mob, but without the pitchforks, not that these pampered idiots would know how to use one.

This is crazy. I had no idea so many people lived in the cities. It’s different when they’re all scattered around hidden behind their lavish flats, but bunched up like this is impressive. And all for me— how sweet.

Some of the rioters are more eager than others. They jab their signs towards the car as if they can impale me with the words: Changeling of Hell, Demons deserve death— oh, here’s a favorite, Filthy Vincam Spy. I throw myself back onto the seat and shift my gaze to the car’s floor, angry with the stubborn gathering of tears. It’s been an annoying, unmanageable reaction lately.

March Secret Agent #26

GENRE: YA - Contemporary

The metal is cool against my leg. I want to put it away, shove it back in the cabinet out of sight, forget it exists. I can't. Instead, I tip it and drag it across my skin, scraping slowly. Chills run down my spine, making me shiver. I spread my legs wider, allow my hand to slip to my inner thigh, totally giving in to it, edging the corner of the razor in.

I hold my breath and wait. The first crimson drop hits the water—the silent splash echoes in the room, shouts in my mind—then it disappears into watery nothingness. The buzzing in my head softens to whispers. I can breathe now and my heart starts to thump normally. The sharp pain eases. I draw the blade in a straight path. I love how the skin folds away. Like pulling the strip on a Babybel. Except I'm the cheese inside out.

“You’ve been in there 30 minutes!”

I pull at the roll of toilet paper and press a clump of it against the cut. The little s*** can wait.

“I timed it. Thirty stinkin’ minutes. You don’t own the freakin’ washroom!” The door reverberates from his banging.

“Shut up.” I wipe, but I've gone deeper this time and it keeps dripping. Grabbing more tissue, I manage to smear the blood, the mess looking a lot like my watercolor attempt last week. Mrs. Opal had described it as a sailor's warning, whatever the hell that means.

March Secret Agent #25

GENRE: YA - Fantasy

The darkness at the bottom of the dungeon steps ebbs like water. It’s safe, I remind myself. The war is over. He can’t do anything more to us. An itch crawls up my spine as I turn away, memories of the battle skittering through my mind. I turn back. I need to understand why he did what he did.
The steps disappear, eaten up by gloom. My foot slides on their damp surface, slowing my descent to a crawl. Dank air swirls around me. I wrap my arms around my chest to smother my shivers.

“Who goes there?”

Hurried footsteps accompany the voice and a guard emerges. His hand drops from his weapon and he smiles when he sees me.

“Oh, it’s you, Sir.”

As our army grew, what to call me caused some consternation.  Lavie was too informal for one so close to the prince, but any man who called me Lady would earn a swift kick for his trouble. So they call me Sir, or sometimes Sir Knight, after Prince Brendan touched my shoulders with his sword following the Battle of the Bloody Waterfall. It’s more than a title. It’s who I am. No longer a girl playing with a blunted tourney sword, but a practiced killer.

The first time I killed a man, the very sound of it made me retch. The second one turned my stomach, but I’d kept down my food. Same with the third and fourth. Somewhere along the way I stopped counting and stopped caring.

March Secret Agent #24

TITLE: The Wrath of Con
GENRE: Adult - Urban Fantasy, Crime, Humor

As kidnappings went, Josh Harlan thought he could do a lot worse than the trunk of an Audi. For one thing, it was spacious. Just enough room to bang your elbows any time you struggled with the zip-ties. Also, it smelled nice—carpet cleaner, nylon and a touch of perfume. It was cool and dark, and the steady hum of the tires on asphalt created a sort of sensory-deprivation chamber. Sure, he was on his way to almost certain execution, but Josh couldn’t help but doze.

He barked his elbow as the car drifted onto the shoulder. They came to a stop. Doors slammed. Gravel crunched, and the trunk opened, searing Josh’s retinas with high-noon sun. The vast shadow of a man named Tiny loomed above.

“I swear to god I wasn’t napping,” Josh said.

The goon yanked him out and draped him over his shoulder like a rolled carpet. They were in the desert, about a mile west of the Hoover Dam. Tiny hauled him over to a pre-dug hole a plopped him on the ground. Gavin Whelan followed, working a crease out of his blazer methodically.

“Where’s the diamond, Joshua?”

“Really, Gavin? Desert execution? Here I thought you were an original-type guy.”

Whelan shrugged. “Some things are effective.”

“Right. Theatrics.”

“I asked you a question,” the Tycoon said, patiently. This was the single most irritating thing Josh had ever found in the guy’s character. Here he was, about to kill him, and still reserved as a Catholic blow job.

March Secret Agent #23

GENRE: YA - Coming of Age

June, 1992
Monday – 9:18 a.m.

“He’s been looking for you,” one of the secretaries says.

I’ve just stepped into the lobby of the radio station and a blast of cold air hits me from the AC. I can’t remember her name, and how can I be expected to? She is alone behind the desk, which is odd, because there’s usually a coven of them: frosted hair and teased bangs, fishnet tops layered over lace camis, and acid washed jeans skirts left over from the 80s. They take the job hoping they’ll get promoted to DJ, but quit when they can no longer stomach the lewd comments from the actual DJs. I can’t keep the receptionists straight, but they all know who I am: Station Manager Dennis Burton’s daughter.

“Thanks,” I say, with an eye roll, which isn’t directed at her, though she probably thinks it is. I should stop and chat so she doesn’t think I’m a bitch, but she’ll probably be gone by the end of the week. And I am 18 minutes late. If I weren’t the boss’ daughter and if this weren’t the 150th summer I was “working” at the station, it would be a fire-able offense in my dad’s eyes. So I maneuver past the reception desk and head towards my dad’s office at the back of the floor. The desks that take up nearly every square inch of the main area are oddly sparsely populated for this time of day.

March Secret Agent #22

TITLE: Jessamine Rose, Monster Hunter
GENRE: Adult - Fantasy

May 16, 1854
Bloomsbury, London

Rain began to fall, drumming against the windowsill, its music somber and haunting. Each plip plop beat in time with Jessamine Rose's heart. Time marched forward, bringing with it yet another funeral. First Father, now Philip…

Frozen, lifeless, eyes shut and limbs not moving... Philip had never sat still, always drumming his fingers, pacing the floor. Seeing her brother in the coffin brought tears to her eyes. Blinking did not banish them.

The funeral commenced and finished without Jessamine hearing a word. Some might have questioned her presence, but Philip had been all she had left. She would not abandon him, not now, not ever.
A familiar lump formed in her throat, and she struggled to swallow past it. Dorothea, her dearest friend, was a rock by her side, but still, Jessamine felt isolated. No father. No mother. No brother.
No family.

After the funeral, she could not bring herself to return to her empty house.

No matter how much she had pried, Inspector Wilkins Pontisbury only gave her a general location for where her brother had been located. At first, she had only intended for a nightly stroll to settle her nerves and provide some relief, but she soon realized her feet were leading her toward those alleys the inspector had mentioned.

Jessamine pressed on with purpose now, her boots clacking against the cobblestone. Shops, saloons, this part of town was far poorer than Bloomsbury, a section she had never ventured through alone before.

March Secret Agent #21

TITLE: The Bach Double
GENRE: YA - Contemporary

Elise Reid yanked the vacuum across her carpet, fingers itching to practice her violin. She punched the off button, glancing around the room with critical eyes. Spotless. Alphabetized books lined the desk opposite the perfectly-made bed. Below a pristine mirror, a symmetrical row of knick-knacks adorned the dresser. Not a speck of dust or disorder remained.

Still he wasn’t home.

She straightened her All State Orchestra plaque. Since she was only starting her sophomore year, she’d left space there by the door for three more. But she needed her good bow.

The garage door screeched. She raced downstairs, only to find her father loosening his tie, empty-handed.

“Did you get my bow?”

He clapped a hand to his forehead. “I got hung up with my last patient and totally forgot."

Her breath caught like he’d dumped ice water on her.

He forgot. Why did that surprise her? She swallowed and half turned away from him.

“I’ll take you there now.”

“The shop closed fifteen minutes ago.”

“Why didn’t you text me?”

“Because this morning you said you would get it.” She hated the peevish tone of her voice and crossed her arms.

He reached a hand toward her, and she met his eyes. “You never used to forget things that I needed. A year ago you would have picked up my bow and brought it to me on your lunch hour.”

“Sorry.” Hurt churned in his eyes like she’d punched him.

They stood facing each other, more words threatening to tumble from her.

March Secret Agent #20

TITLE: The Portal
GENRE: YA - Fantasy

Quinn was in a violent mood, as she tested the bookend’s weight. Potential.

She launched it across the room, letting her frustration fuel the throw. The bookend connected with the floor- to- ceiling mirror. A solid hit.  Shards of glass splintered from the point of impact, but none fell to the wooden floor.

She bunched her fists, her molars grinding together. This wasn’t what she’d been hoping for. A weapon of some sort would have been nice but the Facility wouldn’t allow her the opportunity to escape, not again.

“Wonderful,” she muttered to the room. “Can’t even let us throw a tantrum properly. Just great.” She raised her hands to the security camera dangling in the corner. “WHAT? AFRAID WE’LL OFF OURSELVES BEFORE YOU GET THE CHANCE? IS THAT IT?”

No response.

She didn’t expect one. The only person she expected to see was her escort when he arrived to take her through the ceremony. And ooh buddy that wasn’t going to be a joyful interaction, for him at least.
Quinn began to pace. The glittering, wispy material of her white dress twirled around her legs as she crossed the room over and over. She was fidgety when nervous.

 This was her fault. She had no one else to blame. She was the one with the bright idea to volunteer for death- by- dragon.

Oh sure, let’s give the depressed girl the option to end her life. Brilliant idea boys! You’ve outdone yourselves.

March Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Always Gray in Winter
GENRE: Adult - Urban Fantasy

My spirit is shaken to its very depths.  But you, long?

Mawro stared at the on-screen melee playing over and over before him.  The speed and precision with which the two combatants fought surpassed even the human race's best martial artists and white arms experts.  He stroked the long whiskers on his chin, scrutinizing their every move, his stomach uneasy while he winnowed down the list of possible explanations for this spectacle.  With a sigh he leaned back in his rickety roller chair and laid his boots heel to toe atop his console.  The probable ones no longer seemed so farfetched.

He followed his operative's movements across the screen.  The young woman executed one technique after another, keeping her monolid eyes on her target while her bobbed hair flew across her face.  With neither misstep nor hesitation Hana landed every strike exactly where he expected, just as he had taught her.  Her hands moved with such speed their surveillance equipment could only display an orange-and-white blur.  Now and again the camera would capture a frame for a split second but would lose tracking right away.  The black stripes on her exposed forearms left artifacts behind, reminding Mawro of speed lines following Hong Kong Phooey from the Saturday morning cartoons of his childhood.

Hana's opponent captivated and chilled him at the same time.  In stark contrast to her silver gray facial fur, her uniform's digital camo pattern confirmed assertions by his Revolutionary Guard hosts--she was a US Navy sailor guarding Coalition supply lines through Iran into Afghanistan.

March Secret Agent #18

GENRE: YA - Thriller

Something's off. They should be out of the woods by now. It doesn't take this long to smoke a joint or do anything else harmless.

My dad's a military man. Navy. Highly observant. I guess I take after him because I notice things without even trying to notice them. Things like Martina's been gone far too long, and I don't trust that combination of boys to be gone this long with her. What could they possibly want with her? She's barely clinging to the outskirts of popularity, so whatever they want, it can't be good.

We're down on the shore of a lake on the outskirts of town. The fire blazes on the beach, yellow-orange flames jumping toward the sky. I'm wearing only short white shorts and a black tank top, but a trickle of sweat runs down the back of my neck. I've left my Toms back on mine and Barrett's blanket.

Katt's trying to tell me this story she thinks is hilarious about her failed hookup with Robby James last night. Robby is her summer fling. He won't last long. They never do.  She has to repeatedly draw me back into our pointless conversation. Her flat-ironed, frosted blonde hair fans over her shoulders, and her smile doesn't reach her eyes. It hardly ever does. But tonight at least there's a reason for her surliness--I'm barely listening to her.

March Secret Agent #17

GENRE: YA - YA Fantasy

Tranquil like Riley’s orchard.

A striking observance to Yafa as she hurried home. Because she wasn’t in her beloved orchard, and the displaced quiet in the heart of the city marketplace sounded eerie to her ears.

No merchants milled about as was typical in Hatovdon - entering and exiting with their exciting goods to share with the market. A concrete proof, to her, that her past utterances weren’t just the fears of a thoughtless girl with too big of an imagination.

She paused at a crossroad to peek over her shoulder at the city gates.


The large wooden doors stood bolted in place, seeming an insurmountable obstacle for all who would desire to enter. As always, soldiers paced back and forth along the top of the wall, but today, they seemed motivated by some unknown purpose. Something in the distance held their attention. Something troubling.

She wished for a moment she could discern the words of their anxious whispers, and see from their view. How magnificent it must be to see over the wall. Surely the other side would be more interesting than what went on inside.

Continuing forward, she chastised herself for her pauses. She moved faster, gripping her basket of bread close to her body and hoping her mother wouldn’t be angry at her tardiness. Her rush to get inside her small home caused a loud bang as the door hit the edge of the stone wall upon her entrance.
An angry yell erupted from the side of the room.

March Secret Agent #16

GENRE: Adult - Fantasy

“How the hell am I supposed to collect my favor if I can’t find you?” Quinn’s voice was a tight whisper, her flashlight cutting a wide slice of landscape from the moon-silvered dark.

Birch, rowan, juniper, and pine were shadowy specters, but there was no trace of the man whose touch haunted her skin. The monster who’d tricked her into Faery and ruined her life, and her only chance of getting home. She inched forward and hesitated, cringing at the crunch and pop of leaf litter under her thick-soled boots. Insects chirped and twittered, a dull hum beneath the forest’s dark canopy. Quinn imagined sharp biting things with gossamer wings, blood-smeared mouths and yellow-eyes.

Another step and a dread chill pulled through her veins, begging her to turn back. A blast of frigid air ripped through her sweater. A chorus of rustling leaves gave a hiss of warning.

Fae magic at work.

Shivering, she picked up her pace, breaking into a quick jog—trying to outrun her nerves. The faint rumble of rushing water filtered through the trees and she recalled that same melody—musical accompaniment to Danjon’s slow seduction. Ducking under a low-hanging branch, she stumbled over a reaching root. The flashlight flew from her hand, light spinning. Hooking her arm around a tree trunk stole her momentum, kept her upright. She grimaced. Even through her sweater, the bark had scraped her skin raw.

Fresh blood.

As if there weren’t enough eyes on her already, now she’d sent a freaking invitation.

March Secret Agent #15

TITLE: The Menagerie
GENRE: YA - Speculative Fiction - Adult Crossover

I shouldn’t have left the hotel room.

“Gentlemen! We have a special treat for you today! Feast your eyes on this pure-
I feel colder than some wingless bird in the middle of winter—even after the
spotlight scoops me up into its glow. As soon as they unveil my cage, I hear the
murmured ripples from an appreciative crowd. Though my display is segregated from the
main district areas, I can still make out the other girls in their pittances of lingerie behind
their own windows. Some kneel prostrate—younger ones mostly—while others tap on
the windows like a never-ending S.O.S, luring the attention of clients.

Every Glass District is different. This one is just fancier with its cobbled
pathways, gothic 14th century architecture, and expensive restaurants. However they dress
it up, to me, every district is just a yawning cavern ready to swallow its patrons whole.
The districts wear lust on their sleeves. Roll those sleeves up, all you will find are bruises
and brands on silken skin and needle marks confessing the art of submission and coping.
Skyways crisscross above my head where more advertisements beckon tourists to
view the district from the second level. Suspended just above my display are a series of
viewing boxes where the skyways all convene. Wealthier clientele rent these—those
interested in more than just one night, those with a more driven purpose. Some scout for
theaters, some for private clubs, or Museums like the infamous Temple; I shudder to consider that notion.

Prospective clients fill the viewing boxes.

March Secret Agent #14

TITLE: September
GENRE: YA - Contemporary

     So my mom left. Not that I was shocked or anything. Let's just say it wasn't the first time. We always managed just fine on our own until she got back--sometimes a couple days, sometimes a week. This was the longest--23 days.

     Auggie and I were just minding our business, sitting at the table eating toast and peanut butter on a spoon, when we heard a knock on the door.

     Normally, I wouldn't have answered. Normally, I would have told Auggie to freeze and not make a sound, but this time, I was the one who froze. Auggie rushed over and swung that door open so fast, you would have thought he was expecting the puppy deliveryman.

     He just stood there and stared at whoever it was. I walked to the door and saw a plump woman with a fake smile plastered on her lips, peering over her tiny hexagonal glasses and holding a clipboard. She looked like a lady who would collect cat figurines made of glass, or something stupid like that. I pictured her walking around her house, picking up each individual cat and swishing it with a feather duster. Checking it off on her clipboard.

     "Hello." She said. "You must be August and September. I'm Shirley with Child Protective Services."

     "Can I help you?" The words came out muffled as the peanut butter clogged the back of my throat. I put my arms around Auggie and pulled him close.

March Secret Agent #13

TITLE: Megathon
GENRE: YA - Alternate History

A simple postcard with an old-fashioned stamp navigated the space between the Two Worlds and joined a towering pile in the State Sorting Office in the Northworld city of Icebraker. A pretty worker picked it up. As she scanned it, her face paled and she immediately pressed a button to get a supervisor’s attention. The supervisor took one look at the postcard and put it straight onto the Eyes Only tray. Ten minutes later an Eye picked it up and passed it to the Left Eye, who perused it grimly. His hand hovered over the Destruction Chute as he exchanged glances with his partner.

    “Wait,” said the Right Eye. “Let this one play.”

    With a deft flick of his wrist, the Left Eye tossed the postcard into the Delivery Chute.

Two days later, Nick descended into the staff canteen, deep in the bowels of the Special Mission, and swore softly when he saw the length of the lunchtime line. By the time he plonked his tray down opposite his mother, and eased himself  awkwardly into a heavy wooden chair, she’d finished her meal and was sipping a grainy coffee.

    She tossed the postcard onto his tray.

    “This came for you today.” Her tone was disapproving.

    Nick picked it up and burst out laughing.

    “Relax, Ma, it’s just a joke.”

    It was the best one yet.

    Riordan had sent a black card with the word PARANOID written in bold white script across it and a pair of white cartoon-like eyes underneath.

March Secret Agent #12

GENRE: YA - Fantasy (Diverse)

Our two moons once foretold that I would become Queen of Hieros,Sun of the Four Kingdoms. But I had never been light. In fact,darkness had never left me. I lived in the shadows,and ruled under the light.

My mentor Raeki stretched out his arms at the other end of the Stone Room,ready to attack. Ready to hurt.

Piros!” A flame sprung from my fingertips,a blazing raindrop of orange heat that crept up my hands. I released the fire,allowing it to spread across the chamber like an uncaged tiger. In the always cold training room,only ten feet separated us and the rock wall,circling the space like a prison cell.

Although I had been practicing ‘The Mystic Arts’ for years,I still wondered how I didn’t get burned. I could not age. I could not die. The first time I generated fire with the power of my mind,I hadn’t said a word out of fear for three days. Now that my eighteenth Red Moon had passed,I was supposed to control my nature. Now I was supposed to become Queen.

"That's not enough,and you know it," said Raeki,as if he had read my mind.

"Don't pressure me." My hesitant voice echoed across the chamber.

You don't understand, I wanted to yell,but Raeki didn't care.

"I can do whatever I please," he said.

“Truenio!” A feast of sparks gathered over my hand as a storm of thoughts exploded in my mind, fear thundering within me like a laughing god.

But fear wasn't a god. Fear had a name: Arem.

March Secret Agent #11

TITLE: Jake Tenkiller and the Widow’s Lament
GENRE: YA - Science Fiction

Emily watched the traffic through the bars of her window, trying to imagine she didn’t exist. The hospital parking lot was filling up, and the interstate was thick with morning commuters. People she would never know were going places she would never see…and that was fine, the way it was supposed to be.

The door opened behind her, pulling her back from her daydream, but she didn’t look. People moved out of sight, busy at some task; a hinge squeaked and something locked into place, wheels rolled on linoleum, feet and papers shuffled. The sounds of retreating steps and the shutting of the door told her someone had left. The squeak of an office chair told her someone had stayed.

“Emily Gardner?”

She flinched at the sound of her name but resisted the urge to turn.

“Emily, would you come sit with me?” The voice was male and rang with authority. A small impatient silence followed when Emily didn’t move. “You can come by your own free will,” the man said, “or I can drag you over.”

Emily turned, somehow managing to keep her face a mask. A handsome man sat behind a small folding table. His eyes, a remarkable blue, might have been chunks of ice for all the warmth they held. A smile split his face, and Emily knew at once she didn’t like him.

The man motioned with his hand to the side of the table opposite him. “And bring your chair when you come.”

March Secret Agent #10

GENRE: YA - Adventure

Ari Chen awoke to a high-pitched yelp and the smell of burning pancakes. She felt the softness of the pillow, the drawstrings of sleep behind her eyes. But the fifteen-year-old girl eased her eyes open and rolled them to the side to see her alarm clock: Monday, April 13, 2043 - 06:59 AM PST. She let her eyes sink halfway back into sleep before a well-practiced sigh rolled off her lips.

The alarm roared. She reached across her nightstand and slapped it, sending it tumbling into a pile of clothes where it landed with a dull thud.

She rubbed her almond-brown eyes and smudged the cheap black eyeliner that she had left on the night before. When she saw it on her hands, her eyes widened. Crap, she thought, I fell asleep again. With a guilty expression, she reached behind her pillow and found her history textbook. Well, I guess I’ll have to read this later, she thought as she tossed it onto her nightstand.

She looked back at the clock. I could just go back to sleep. I don’t actually need to go to school. Right?

The fire alarm in the kitchen went off, and that was it. There would be no sleeping now. She half-wailed and threw the sheet off of her body. Fighting night owl nature, she swung her feet to the ground beside her twin bed. The hardwood was cold and jarring against her bare feet, and it sent a slight ripple up her lean frame.

March Secret Agent #9

TITLE: A Complex Solution
GENRE: YA - Suspense/Romance

The din quieted. Amanda glanced down the hallway. Her heart pounded in her chest. Loser, the voices whispered. Should have been you. A million thoughts filled her head as she shuffled down the hallway, her legs wobbling with each step. She needed to do this. Quickly. She slipped one hand inside her pocket and pushed open the girls’ bathroom door with the other. Her heart stopped.

    “Shouldn’t you be in class?” asked a girl leaning over the sink, touching up her mascara.  Petite, with white-blonde hair, and dressed in a micro-mini and tank top, she turned and looked Amanda up and down, her lips pulled back over her dazzlingly white teeth. “How tall are you, like six feet? And so pale.”

     Amanda froze, her fingers clutching the penknife in her pocket. She glanced away.

     “C’mon, Jess, let’s go,” said the girl’s friend, smacking her freshly glossed lips together. “No time to waste on this loser.”

     The two girls whirled around and headed out the door, their laughter echoing through the hallway.

         Amanda tucked into the last stall and shut the door. She gripped the knife tighter. Tears stung the back of her throat. She promised herself she would try, but it was worse here than home. She drew the knife out, set the tip of the blade to her skin and pushed it in. Her heart raced as the blood bubbled out and streamed down her arm. She grit her teeth, as a tear rolled down her cheek. The pain was like fire in her veins.

March Secret Agent #8

TITLE: We Both Bleed Red
GENRE: YA - Historical Fiction

          NOVEMBER 1, 1941      

            It was the kind of day I craved. A day in which nothing seemed impossible and the world was mine for the taking. Sitting on the steps of the front porch, I allowed the sweet sounds of Bullocks Orioles to hypnotize me as they flew purposefully between the patch of prairie behind our house and the towering Maples which surround it, constructing nests from fine silks of milkweed.

           Resting my head against the railing, I dangled my legs beneath me, claiming the perfect viewing place as I waited. Better than a tree fort, Papa had built the porch a few years back from leftover wood he had collected from the hardware store scrap pile. It was my favorite part of the house and my primary sleeping place on summer nights when Mama would drape cotton sheets from the rafters, transforming it into the mast of a large ship. Lying under a blanket of stars, I sailed the vast ocean waters in search of new lands and faces forgotten by time.

            My mind drifted as I sifted through the pages of my sketchpad in search of a clean canvas.  Watching the yard with expectant eyes, I squinted against the sun’s rays and listened to the wind as it whispered through the trees, softly calling the tall grasses to bow down before them.

March Secret Agent #7

TITLE: The Pursuit of Craze
GENRE: Adult - Romantic Suspense/Fantasy

It was a movement over the record exec’s shoulder that caught Allie’s attention. A door opening, a shift in the air. The record company guy’s name was Gary, and he had invited Allie and Kate backstage after spying them on the fringes of the heavy metal festival crowd, leaning against a fence, drinking beer out of clear plastic cups. As he mentioned at the time, by way of ice breaking, they didn’t exactly blend in. Right then, while Kate was busy helping herself to the free backstage alcohol, he was saying something about the other bands he worked with, how long he’d been in the biz, yada yada, and Allie was making a valiant effort to follow along.

More shifting, a change in the cast of players, and everything on her periphery went fuzzy. In the center of it all, in details so sharp the backs of her eyeballs prickled, stood Daemon Craze. Gary’s voice faded, like he was sliding underwater. Or maybe she was the one slipping under. Daemon casually made his way towards them, and his eyes were so dark she almost couldn’t tell where the irises ended and the eyelashes began. In person he was everything he had always been in pictures, but more so.

He stopped even with Gary, and locked eyes with her. She had to force herself not to yield to him and drop her gaze. Instead she tucked a strand of blond hair behind her ear, and dropped her hands to the pockets of her low-slung satin capris.

March Secret Agent #6

GENRE: YA - Fantasy

Needing directions to the king’s house was a new problem for the courier. Palaces and mansions were generally easy to spot. Even a fortress was conspicuous, though sometimes out of the way. He turned onto the rough dirt track, which wound high over the quay onto the clifftop. A single lit window showed a house built against the sheer rock face.

           Windswept scrub trees lined the pebbly road, their tortured limbs pointing the way upward as the rain gave up and the moon lit the foam on the beaches below. The house shrank as the horseman approached. It was smaller than the other village houses.

           Feeling foolish, and wondering if the villagers had tricked him out of directions and drinks, the courier knocked. He heard voices, then a woman, half-smiling, opened the door, stopping when she saw his clothes. He cleared his throat, removed his hat, and took in the fire-lit room. The ham, pots, and bunches of herbs hanging from the ceiling. The fishing-net spread on the floor. A bearded man looked up from where he sat on the rug, mending one part of the net. A girl of fifteen sat cross-legged next to him, helping.

           The courier’s embarrassment rose. “I come bearing a message for King Camberden of Ebbo, concerning his daughter Princess Synne.” Silence met this announcement. “Do you good people know where I might find him?”

           The man rose, wiped his hands on his trousers, and held out his hand, “Actually, it’s just Cam.”

March Secret Agent #5

GENRE: YA - Fantasy

There were theories of what hid in the night. Whispers from another world. Monsters that plucked your heart from your chest. Every day, as the sun kissed the horizon, fires burned bright all across Solbourne. It was the only way to stop the shadows from moving.

A flint cracked in my palm, igniting a broken lantern hanging outside the shop entrance. I exhaled in relief and pulled the curtain closed, cutting us off from the buzzing marketplace pathway. Dull sunlight peeked through threadbare cotton, casting a golden hue onto the dirt floor.

“Cleo,” Mummy Fortuna called, ancient voice raspy and impatient. “Quick, finish lighting the fires. We mustn’t make him wait.

Loosening a knotted string, a row of dangling candles lowered so I could reach. The flint cracked again, burning hot in my hands. During eveswallow, the few hours each day where the sun dragged itself low, though never dipping down far enough to disappear, it was law to light fires. The sun always had a place in the sky, at least in our half of the world. It was those few hours when light dimmed that made any hint of darkness illegal.

“He said last time he's not coming. Remember, Mummy?” Rom was so quiet and sickly I hardly heard his voice. “Remember, Cleo?” I shook my head, blowing on my hand to soothe a fresh burn. “Doesn’t anyone remember?” he pleaded, coughing a little. “Fine,” he said when we didn’t respond, and continued dusting off the customer stool with a pointed needle broom.

March Secret Agent #4

TITLE: A Deadly Grind
GENRE: Adult - Mystery
A Deadly Grind

“What are you doing here?”

            “We need to talk.”

            “We’ve talked already, I’m done. I’m tired of all of it; you always thinking you’re entitled to a chunk of what I rake in.”

            “I am entitled, you’re using my idea; in fact ideas is more like it. You couldn’t come up with an original concept if your life depended on it.”

            “You’re so full of s***!”

“Am I? Look around you; ninety-nine percent of this little ‘business’ came from me!  I set it up. I did the research. I figured all the angles.”

“You’re crazy! I put in my full share on this plan just like you. I don’t owe you a dime!”

“Ha! Now you’re the crazy one! What about that deal you’re trying to get off the ground?

“Hunh? What d’ya mean?”

“You know damn well what I mean!”

“Oh, yeah…well…I’m the one with the connection to that…”

“Which you wouldn’t have made without all my early leg-work! I expect half of all profits…and not a penny less!”

“I’m not giving you a thing. Now get the hell outta here before I…wait, what are you doing? Put that down!”

No! I’ve had my fill of you and your bullshit.”

“You won’t use it…not on me…you don’t have the bal…Ahh! Stop! Okay. Okay!

“Too late for that.”

“No. Really. We can talk. Fifty percent. You got it!”

“Why would I settle for half, when I can have it all?”

March Secret Agent #3

TITLE: Vision
GENRE: YA - Paranormal Romance

Jackhammer rain was pounding the concrete moat surrounding our Brooklyn brownstone when Lara shook me out of a deep sleep.

”Jack, did you hear that?” I stumbled out of bed and hurried down the hall in her wake, trying to remember if I’d locked the gate we’d put at the top of the stairs when we first found Shelby sleepwalking.

We tiptoed into our daughter’s room. She was in her bed, her long lashes dusting the cheeks of her cherubic face.

“Must’ve been the storm,” I said through a yawn.

I took my wife’s hand and started back to our room when a floorboard creaked downstairs. An intruder was in the house.

We scrambled back into Shelby’s room. As I scooped my daughter up, her eyes opened wide with fear. I covered her mouth and Lara signaled silence with a finger to her lips. When Shelby nodded, I placed her on the floor behind her canopy bed.

“Stay here, I’m getting my gun,” I whispered. My Glock 17 sidearm was locked in the biometric safe in the master bedroom-like always when I was off the clock.

“Jack, don’t,” Lara said grabbing my sleeve. “What if they hear you? Let them take what they want and leave.”

“Daddy please stay here. Remember what happened when I was your mommy and you were my little boy?” my daughter asked.

“When do you mean?” When my gifted daughter remembered something from a past life I needed to hear it before she forgot.

March Secret Agent #2

GENRE: Adult - Fantasy

One night, just one, Damien wanted to make it all the home without having to punch somebody.
It shouldn’t have been so difficult.

The short walk from his parents’ home to his own was up the city’s main roads, not through the side alleys with their inhospitable residents. And nowhere near the lawless low-ground, where drink was cheap and life even cheaper.

The route he’d taken was firmly in the mid-ground, near the heart of the city, and packed on both sides with homes and shops. Inns and drinking-houses.

 It was also quiet. And empty.

An unnerving silence had settled over the wide road minutes ago, as its residents hurried into homes and alleys. Out of sight. An upstairs shutter clattered as it was pulled closed.  A low drone of conversation barely filtered from the open window of an unusually subdued tavern. The silence, poisoning the air with anxiety, meant only one thing.


 Damien held to the right side of the road, in the shadows.  He’d be damned before he ran from a bloody high-grounder.

A wild laugh echoed from up ahead, and Damien could just see the outline of two gentlemen walking indolently down the center of the street, their heavy capes silhouetted by the faint moonlight.
A low curse caught his attention.

Stopping to glance back, he saw a woman fumbling with her key, hand visibly trembling.
Gods damn it.

“Excuse me,” he said quietly, walking back towards her.

She looked up, startled, but waved a dismissive hand at him.

March Secret Agent #1

TITLE: Daughter of Pele
GENRE: Adult - Mystery

Sweat trickled down Alexandra Drake's chest. Tropical air thick with the promise of rain tasted of the ocean blocks away. Hell, she hated waiting. Three years on Honolulu PD's Narcotics/Vice squad had exercised her modicum of patience, but that trait hadn't improved.

She rested a hip against an unmarked steel barrel behind the warehouse and prayed they'd finish this raid before boredom killed her. The vibrant tempest inside her skull assured her she wasn't the only one ready for things to get moving. Nothing like waiting until some judge could be bothered on a Sunday to sign a search warrant.

For three months the team had hunted the "genius" who was spiking the local coke with crank. They’d followed the trail of dead addicts, and when Panner's confidential informant finally gave up the location of Tosi's supplier, they landed at this storehouse on the edge of the harbor city of Wai'anae. Despite being a workshop for the ugly business of street drugs, there were no cameras, no guards here; the denizens didn't seem concerned about people sneaking up on them. Good for the cops. Bad for the crooks.

Her teammate, Officer Milo Nguyen, wiped his brow on his sleeve, and then checked his watch. "Any time would be good."

Alex glanced at the looming clouds above. Hawai'i's lush mountains were known for flash floods, and this location wasn't immune judging by the spidery channels cut into the foothills fifty feet away. "They wait any longer, we might end up swimming."

Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Oh, the birdsong!  It's one of my favorite things about spring.  In the winter, we grow so accustomed to the silence that it ceases to be a "thing" each morning.  Then, when the birds return--cacophonous beauty!  It makes me so happy.

Anyway.  Here's your reminder that MONDAY IS SUBMISSION DAY FOR THIS MONTH'S SECRET AGENT CONTEST.  (It's been quite a while since our last one, so I want to make sure it's on your radar.  Our participating agent is excited!)


I'd like to extend congratulations to one of MSFV's own Success Story Authors, Angela Quarles, whose novel MUST LOVE CHAINMAIL has just been named a finalist in this year's RITA awards.

Congratulations, Angela!

As for me?  I'm still happily drafting.  I've got close to 12,000 words smiling at me from Scrivener, and everyone knows, of course, that hitting 5 digits in the word count makes everything feel legitimate.

Yesterday, I started chapter 4, which is in a second POV.  I went back and forth with this for some time, but in the end, it felt like I would need two characters to tell this story properly.  I was actually nervous to start the chapter (how weird is that?), but as soon as I jumped in, it felt good.  My heroine's chapters are told from first person past, and the second character's chapters are told from third person past.  So far, it feels like it's working, though, admittedly, I have a long way to go.

And, too, these things are fluid.  I know that, if something isn't working, I can just...change it.  I've changed the tense on more than one entire manuscript (and once I did it twice on the same manuscript).  Tedious as all get-out, but not hard.

Still.  I'd like to get as much right on the first pass as I can.  That makes revisions less painful, yes?  Even though I STILL ADORE REVISING MORE THAN ANYTHING.  It sort of keeps me drafting.  As in, when this is finished, I'll get to revise it. 

Yep.  That's my happy spot.

And, finally, one more thing to share.

(Should I share it?  Hmm.  Yes, I think I should.)

I'm working on my Big Reveal. As in, I've finished the first installment of the Story of Real Authoress.  Complete with photos.

I've got to say, it feels right every time I read back through it.  I want to be me.  (Even though I am essentially already me every time I blog.  The only thing that's missing is my name and my face.  And a few life details to round out the picture.)

No, there's not a timetable yet.  But I wanted you to know that it's in the works.

And when the time comes, we'll have fun with it.  Having a guessing contest, share some prizes, that sort of thing.  (And you know I love hearing your ideas, so FEEL EXTREMELY FREE to share them in the comment box!)

So now you know.  Which means that I am accountable to finish writing it and set a date.  Yes?


And now, off I go to do all the Friday things.  Joy and hugs to you all!

Monday, March 21, 2016

March Secret Agent Early Info

Please note: This is NOT the call for submissions! The contest will open next Monday, March 28.

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES (please read carefully):

*To enter, please use THE SUBMISSION FORM HERE.  (Please note: email submissions are no longer accepted.)
*THIS WILL BE A LOTTERY: The submission window will be open from NOON to 6:00 PM EDT, after which the bot will randomly select 50 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.
* You may submit A DIFFERENT MANUSCRIPT if you've participated in any previous Secret Agent contests (or ON THE BLOCK).
* 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 or were one of the 60 entries in the Baker's Dozen Agent Auction), 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.

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

This month's contest will include the following genres:

* Science Fiction
* Fantasy
* Romantic Suspense
* Mystery
* YA (all genres)

Good luck!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Oh, my lovelies.  I'm drafting.  And feeling all alive on the inside.

My wee book is just over 5200 words so far, which is hardly anything, and yet it's everything.  Because the words are there, and every day the story grows.

1000 words a day.  6 days a week.  My end date is June 30.

This is normally the point where I'd say, "Because I always write my first draft in 3 months."  That used to be true.  But my book-on-submission took me over a year to draft.  IT WAS CRAZY.  Hardest thing I ever wrote.  (I hope that means it's the best.  Really, I do.)

So, while I have every intention of actually being finished on June 30, I do have an eyebrow raised.  As in, "You're not going to catch me off guard."  (I think I'm starting this draft with more clarity than the last.)

Anyway.  It's too early in the process for me to have gotten stuck yet (it's inevitable, though I keep denying it), so right now I'm just feeling the HOORAY! of watching this thing grow beneath my fingers.  When I hit 10,000 words next week, I'll be celebrating, because everyone knows that a five-digit word count means it's REALLY REAL, yes?

I love being a writer.  I really really really LOVE BEING A WRITER.

Are you drafting?  Wave your hand!

And I'll see you Monday (early info day for our next Secret Agent Contest!).

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Agent Wish List For Joan Paquette--Critique Guidelines

Today we have 4 offerings for Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy.  (See her wish list HERE.)

When leaving your critique, please focus your comments on the actual writing rather than on the query letter.  General comments about the query are fine and can be helpful -- things like "the premise drew me right in" or "I don't have a sense of what the stakes really are".  But try to avoid nitpicking the query.  (I'm not a fan of the overshopped query letter.)

Keep your eyes open for Joan's comments on these entries!  If she doesn't choose to ask for more material, she will let the authors know why.

Here are the general critique guidelines, as always:
  • Please leave your critique for each entry in the comment box for that entry.
  • Please choose a screen name to sign your comments. The screen name DOES NOT have to be your real name; however, it needs to be an identifiable name.  ("Anonymous" is not a name.)
  • Critiques should be honest but kind, helpful but sensitive.
  • Critiques that attack the writer or are couched in unkind words will be deleted.*
  • Cheerleading IS NOT THE SAME as critiquing.  Please don't cheerlead.
  • Having said that, it is perfectly acceptable to say positive things about an entry that you feel is strong.  To make these positive comments more helpful, say why it's a strong entry.
Have fun!

Agent Wish List: Joan Paquette #4

TITLE: The Ruby Locket
GENRE: YA - Dystopian

Dear Joan Paquette,

I am submitting a YA novel of 64,000 words for your consideration. Please find below the first 250 words. The Ruby Locket is a YA dystopian novel told from the two points of view of Kerina and Saxon. It tells two different stories about two different lives but one connected future. 

Saxon finds Kerina near death on the outskirts of the Utopia community. She wakes with no memory, just hunted images she struggles to understand.

Saxon discovers Kerina is Okodee, a genetically engineered trait found in few people. She is being is pursued by those who know her Okodee secret. Saxon finds out the death of his parents was no accident. To find answers they set off together on a quest of self-discovery.

Along the way Saxon learns the truth of his parents’ murder just as Kerina discovers her true identity and their worlds collide forever.

My debut YA novel, Destiny Road was released by Morris Publishing Australia (Sep 2012). The publishing contract was won through a writing competition. Destiny Road is a contemporary story of decisions and consequences for 16 year old Jessica. In 2015 I was honoured as a participant of the Maurice Saxby Mentorship Program. 


There’s nothing else to look at, except the body slumped on the ground.

‘Do you think she’s alive, Manny?’


‘Must be a wanderer.’

‘Shut yer mouth, Saxon,’ Manny hisses, looking around. ‘It don’t matter if she is ‘cause either way she’s dead. Now let’s go!’

‘We can’t just leave her here to rot.’

The dustland stretches out before them. A crimson stain spreads across the sky.

Manny checks his watch. ‘It’s late. Constance will be gettin’ worried.’

The days are longer at this time of year, but it will soon be night. They don’t want to be out here when darkness falls.

‘We gotta burn her,’ says Saxon. ‘It ain’t right not to and you know it.’

The brothers stare at each other, waiting for the other to give in. It won’t be Saxon. It never is.

‘All right, fine. We’ll come back and get her early tomorrow morn. You can help me take her to work at the Crematorium.’ Manny’s footsteps crunch on the gravel as he skulks away.

Saxon pinches the bridge of his nose. A habit of frustration picked up from his late father. It doesn’t sit well with him leaving the body here. Wild animals might find her. He squats and stares, careful to keep some distance. The girl’s long, black hair is matted, spilling out around her head. Her skin is blistered and peeling. Dirt streaks her face with dark lashes crusted closed. She might have been pretty before death found her.

Agent Wish List: Joan Paquette #3

TITLE: Pieces of Isla
GENRE: YA - Novel in Verse set in Thailand

Dear Ms. Paquette,

I completely enjoyed your own MG novel NOWHERE GIRL, which made me miss Thailand, where I grew up.

When fifteen-year-old Isla's dad doesn’t come home from his run, Isla’s world shatters. Isla's mother moves them from Emerald Isle, North Carolina to Bangkok, Thailand. But the culture shock of the new country only enunciates Isla’s grief and drives a wedge between Isla and her mom. Isla suspects her mom of jumping into a new relationship. The divide between them grows wider until Isla discovers her mother hasn’t been chasing after a new boyfriend. PIECES OF ISLA, complete at 19,500 words. Isla learns to navigate her new country, find a new normal, and develop a few surprise relationships along the way.

I hold a M.A. and M.F.A., both in Children’s Literature, from Hollins University, where I was the two-time recipient of the program’s most competitive honor, the Shirley Henn Creative Writing Award. I am the author of Ancient China (ABDO, 2015), and have also written for Children’s Writer, Appleseeds Magazine, StarrMatica, SRA/McGraw-Hill, Interactive Achievement, DIYMFA, and SCBWI Bulletin.  I am an elementary librarian and an active member of SCBWI and Julie Hedlund’s 12x12. I also write about mentor texts, both for the classroom and for writers, at I am planning to attend the Highlights Foundation workshop on Novels in Verse in May.

I'm looking for an agent willing to represent my middle grade novels and my picture books as well.
Thank you for this opportunity.

I look forward to hearing from you!



They named me Isla,
with a silent s,
like island.
Dad named me Isla.
I'd be strong
as an island in a hurricane,
fearless in fierce water.

Mom named me Isla,
for Emerald Isle,
where we grew up--
brushing the Atlantic
off North Carolina.
She hoped I'd be as priceless
as that jewel in the sea.

I can't live up to my name,
avoiding ocean,

I'm Isla,
awash in grief.

Bangkok, Thailand

We are running
from salty breeze—
the smell of Dad
after a swim
in Emerald waves.

The beach
sandpapers my heart,
rubs me raw
memories wash up with every tide,
drowning me.

Mom copes by dragging
me to Bangkok—
the farthest place in the world
from Emerald Isle.
If you go any farther,
you head back

We Are Here

Thirty-two hours,
layovers in Charlotte, Chicago, Seoul,
three cardboard dinners,
one breakfast,
two movies.

My eyelids drooped
but my mind stayed awake.

My backpack
strapped to my stomach,
protects the Mason jar
tucked in the front pocket.

My restless legs
itch to run
down the aisle,
across the tarmac.
I’m a marathon runner
at the back of the pack—
thirty-six rows
from freedom.

Mom shoots me a be-patient stare,
my legs wrestle
to go.
Get out.

Bangkok air sucks
the breath
out of me,
thicker than North Carolina air,
a mix of sewer, sweat,

Agent Wish List: Joan Paquette #2

GENRE: YA - Contemporary

Dear Ms. Paquette:

Seventeen-year-old Tomoe Ikeda wants to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps and become the best ninja in Japan. Too bad her skill as a shinobi is matched only by her propensity to get into trouble. By day Tomoe excels at taijutsu, but by night she’s nearly burning down the bonsai in the greenhouse.
But things turn serious when Tomoe stumbles across an older ninja who’s been fatally wounded by an unknown assailant. When the incident is covered up, she begins to suspect her teachers might be hiding something. Tomoe decides to investigate on her own, but doesn’t know who to trust as she uncovers secrets about both her grandmother’s past and her school’s escalating conflict with the rival ninja academy.

Being a twenty-first century shinobi wasn’t supposed to be this complicated. Now Tomoe must discover the killer who’s assassinating innocent ninja - before she loses her chance at becoming a shinobi forever.

CAST IN SHADOW is a contemporary young adult novel, complete at approximately 65,000 words.
After earning a black belt in both karate and taekwondo, I majored in Japanese at university and lived in Tokyo for a year. While there I also learned both kendo and iaido, two forms of Japanese sword fighting. All of these things inspired me to write a novel set in Japan about the life of a young shinobi.

Thank you for your time and consideration.



So many myths surrounded us. Silent assassins. Invisible spies. Mercenaries without allegiance or honor. It all sounded very dramatic.

But really, all I wanted was to win my bet.

I stared at the ceiling, letting my body sink into stillness. Silent. Focused. I’d bandaged the nicks I’d gotten from today’s training. They’d heal fast enough. But my sternum ached with each measured breath. That would take longer to go away, although I’d deserved nothing less for losing control of my momentum. A rookie shinobi mistake. Grandmother would’ve been disappointed.

My heartbeat sped up at the thought. She hadn’t spent countless hours practicing with me so that I could fight like a novice. Angrily, I pushed it from my mind. I forced myself to take deep, even breaths. Concentrated on tonight’s goal. If I wanted to slip out of the dorm, the other girls had to think I was asleep. Despite the mess of a day, a smile tugged at my lips.

My fingers fiddled with the plain silver necklace – the last gift from Grandmother - before ghosting over the homemade smoke bomb tucked in my pocket. I couldn’t wait to try it out. If only she could see me now.

When the last of the girls around me settled into a heavy sleep, I made my move. Soundlessly, I unwrapped myself from my bedding and pulled on black jeans, a black t-shirt, and black shoes. Color that blended with the night. I’d hoped for an overcast evening, but light from a bright, full moon filtered through the windows. It made my job infinitely harder.

Agent Wish List: Joan Paquette #1

GENRE: YA - Contemporary

Dear Ms. Paquette:

Ivy Ransom’s seventeen-year-old palate has died and gone to heaven when her family trades small-town Wisconsin for a five-month stay in Chennai, India. As an aspiring chef, she leaps at the chance to try new recipes and expand her repertoire of spices.

But staying in heaven requires a hellish compromise—top marks in all her online classes. Not only is her father a teacher, but her mother is a former professor who is dead set on getting her daughter into Harvard. If Ivy can’t keep up her grades, she’ll be back in Wisconsin before she can master the art of the perfect dosa.

Although Ivy would rather explore Chennai than spend hours at her studies, she manages her daunting workload. She even adheres to her mother’s strict no-dating rule, despite her feelings for Raj, an Indian-American expat who’s become her confidante. As their relationship heats up, Ivy struggles to balance cooking lessons, schoolwork, and stolen kisses. For once, she’d like to take control of her life, but defying her parents could put a swift end to her India adventure and crush her romance with Raj.

Complete at 79,000 words, A WORLD AWAY is a young adult contemporary novel that will appeal to readers who enjoy books set in far-flung destinations. The story was inspired by my own experiences, living with my family in South India.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


When it comes to late-night misery, the only thing worse than jet lag is sharing a bed with a squirmy eleven-year-old. I jab Miles with my elbow. “Quit kicking me.”

“I can’t sleep. And I’m thirsty.” He sits up and pushes the covers away. “Do you think it’s okay if I fill my water bottle from the tap?”

“Remember what Dad told us? We can’t drink the tap water here.”

“Could we go buy some? I think I saw vending machines when we were up at the pool.”

Chances are good our parents won’t miss us. They’re crashed out in the bed next to ours, snoring away. But it’s almost midnight and we’re eight thousand miles from home, at a high-rise hotel in India. These aren’t normal conditions.

“Please, Ivy?” Miles says. “Otherwise, I’ll never get back to sleep.”

“Fine. But let’s be quick. If Mom wakes up and sees we’re gone, I’m the one that’ll get in trouble.” The last thing I need is another lecture on responsibility.

I scrawl a note and leave it on my pillow: Went to get water. Back in five. Following Miles into the hall, I ease the door shut behind me.

When we emerge from the elevator onto the roof, hot, smoggy air envelops us. The pool is eerily silent, the light shimmering off the water. From below, the barrage of horns melds into a noisy blur. I wonder if New Delhi is like New York—a city that never sleeps.

Monday, March 14, 2016

A Wish From Joan Paquette

Joan Paquette of Erin Murphy Literary Agency has a couple wishes!

Joan's wishes:
  • a YA novel that has an unconventional storytelling structure, series of interconnected short stories, or the like
  • a richly written YA set in present-day Asia: particularly Nepal, Tibet, Thailand, or Vietnam

Does your COMPLETED manuscript fit one of the above?  If so SUBMIT AS FOLLOWS:

  • Send your QUERY LETTER and the FIRST 250 WORDS of your (completed) manuscript to me via our online submission form.  (Please note:  If you neglect to include your query letter, YOUR ENTRY WILL NOT BE CONSIDERED.)
  • Be sure to include the TITLE and GENRE of your work.
  • Choose a SCREEN NAME that is easily identifiable.
  • Submissions will open at NOON EASTERN TIME today, and will close 24 hours later, or as soon as I've received 50 entries--whichever comes first.  (I will be reading all the entries, so I have to limit the number I accept.)
Questions?  Please ask below!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Hello, loves!

First of all, here's what's coming up on the blog for the rest of March (mark your calendars!):
  • Next week:  Our second AGENT WISH LIST!  Submissions Monday, winners post on Thursday.
  • March 28 -- SECRET AGENT CONTEST!  Submission info will post on Monday, March 21. 
That should keep us hopping for the next few weeks, yes?

Second of all, thank you for your warm and encouraging comments last Friday.  It's official -- my "baby" is flying from the nest and landing on the desks of editors.

I've travelled this path before.  You know I have.  But -- dare I say it? -- this time it feels different.

Maybe it's because this novel was the hardest one I've ever written.

Maybe it's because my agent is so excited about this project that she makes me feel like it's Christmas Eve every time I hear from her.

Maybe it's because so many of you keep reminding me to look forward instead of backward, and to trust that good things are around the corner.

Or maybe, despite all odds, I've actually learned to remain optimistic.  (I've tried the cynical route--it doesn't feel good.  At all.)

At any rate, we're off and running.  And I'm trying to settle my spirit and dig into some new work.

For now, though?  Ballet class, lunch with someone dear to me, and perhaps, later, a we're-on-submission celebratory glass of champagne with Mr. A.

Have a glorious weekend, everyone--and thanks for being so very present!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Another MSFV Success Story

This is a lovely, indirect success story, proving once more that there are SO MANY DIFFERENT PATHS our success stories can take.  Please note that EACH OF YOU WHO OFFERED FEEDBACK TO THIS ENTRY are a part of this story!  In the author's own words:

When I entered the Baker’s Dozen contest in fall 2014, I was beginning to lose hope that my middle grade novel in verse would ever find its place in the world. (I’d just been in “PitchWars” with it and received zero agent requests.) I was thrilled when two agents started bidding on my entry! The agent who won the full manuscript ended up passing on it, and in the end, I never did sign with an agent. Doesn't sound like a success story, right? But it is. See, the comments I received on my entry were so encouraging. They helped me keep believing in my story, and that made all the difference.

Bolstered by the Baker’s Dozen feedback, I decided to query a publisher directly. They asked for the full, and then …They offered! I’m so grateful to you and the wonderful online writing community for encouraging me and helping me stick with it until my story found its home. Thank you for all you do to help and support writers!

ROOT BEER CANDY AND OTHER MIRACLES will be published by Pajama Press this fall.

Shari Green

Congratulations, Shari!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Friday Fricassee

Final stretch.

Final read-through before handing in The Manuscript.

Then, a final read-through from my agent.  Maybe she'll find more little tweaks that need to be done.  If she does, I will tweak.

If not, then we're officially ready to go.

Everything's in place.

She's excited.

I'm excited.

And just a wee bit terrified.

It's so hard at times to not allow the past to define our present, yes?

I'm not going to ask you to stand behind me, because I know you're already there.

I'm not going to ask you to cheer, because your cheering has never ceased.

Thanks for being a safety net.  A peanut gallery.  A tribe.

That is all.  Now if you'll excuse me, I've got 18 chapters to go.

(If you've got a spare hug, though, I could probably use it.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Use "Said" or Die

I'm going to say it in a loud voice:  SAID IS AN INVISIBLE WORD.  PLEASE USE IT.

If you're a seasoned writer, you already know this.  But if you're newer to the game, or haven't dived into the arena of feedback and critique partners yet, then you need to hear it.

I'm not sure who to blame here, but my theory is that the propensity to scramble for words to use instead of said comes from a combination of misguided creative writing teachers and an author's quest for originality.  To the teachers, I say, "STOP IT."  To the urge for originality, I say, "DON'T PRACTICE BEING ORIGINAL ON A WORD NOBODY IS SUPPOSED TO NOTICE."

I recently edited several chapters for a client who seemed to feel it was his duty to avoid said at all costs.  It's not his fault--clearly he learned this somewhere along the way (and I sincerely hope I have helped him to unlearn it).  Within only a few chapters, I found the following words-that-aren't-said:

summoned (WTH?)

Those are all perfectly legitimate words, and some of them are rather juicy.  But words like this should be used sparingly or not at all, depending on your genre.  When I see words like this in a manuscript, my brain immediately screams, "Thesaurus Abuser!"  And it's probably true.  Thing is, we don't need to waste time coming up with substitutes for said, because WE DON'T NEED TO CALL ATTENTION TO THIS WORD AT ALL.

"But, Authoress!  Sometimes I really do need a word other than said!"

Of course you do.  And here are some that you can use with impunity:

ASK  (because characters do ask questions sometimes)

WHISPER  (if your character is truly whispering, then it's obviously okay to say so)

YELL/SHOUT (but again, only occasionally--it's much more effective to SHOW us that your character is yelling by the words he is speaking, rather than TELLING us)

The rest?  Use them the way you would use ghost peppers in your homemade chili.

As for the trusty Thesaurus?  DON'T USE IT TO LOOK FOR REPLACEMENTS FOR THE WORD SAID.  Not ever.  If you're thinking that hard about a dialogue tag, you're putting your energy into the wrong thing.

Just. Use. Said.

"The end", she piped merrily.