May 31, 2010


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Dear Agent Awesome,

I am querying you because you represent young adult novels and have expressed interest in Steampunk on your blog.

As the third daughter of the queen, seventeen-year-old Aniri is consigned to a life of elegant teas, diplomatic dinners, and an arranged marriage when she comes of age. She consoles herself by peering through her aetherscope and sneaking visits to Sasha, a charming courtesan from the rival queendom of Samir.

Rumors of a powerful flying machine push Aniri’s country toward war with the barbarians to the north. When a barbarian prince proposes a peace-brokering marriage to Aniri, duty requires her to turn her back on Sasha, a boy she has no right to love. But when Sasha reveals that the weapon is a ruse, intended to distract her country while the Samirians invade, Aniri fears she may be marrying into a trap that will bring war, not peace.

As mysterious accidents threaten her life, Aniri dodges her would-be assassin and searches for the truth about the secret weapon. But when she discovers Sasha is lovers with the Samirian ambassador, Aniri must decide who she can trust and whether refusing her arranged marriage will trigger the very war she is trying to prevent.

THIRD DAUGHTER is a 95,000 word young adult novel filled with political intrigue, steampunk weaponry, and courtesans trained in the arts of love, etiquette, and deception.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Susan Kaye Quinn

{Contact Info}


The cloudless night whispered sweet promises to Aniri. She pressed the soft leather eye cups to her face and peered through her night glasses. A gentle breeze rustled the forested hunting grounds below, and lights flickered in the distant embassy windows. But otherwise the night was as still as the stone rooftop beneath her feet.

The clear skies gave her the perfect excuse to be at her observatory, gazing through her aetherscope, should she be caught. Chances were slim that anyone would visit her private retreat, and she shouldn't be missed from her room. But before she ventured any further, she had to be sure.

She slowly turned the brass knobs on each eyepiece. The new barrel coating had eliminated the ghostly echoes of light that had been haunting the glasses. She could just discern the broken edges of the river and a beaten stone bridge in the distance. A moving black shape slipped into view and then disappeared into the shadows under the bridge.

Time to go.

Aniri set the night glasses on the edge of the balcony and checked below for stragglers from the Queen's dinner party. No one should be outside unescorted at this hour, but there was no sense being caught by someone who broke protocol with a nighttime stroll. Opening the leather satchel at her feet, she uncoiled the sheet she had twisted into a rope and checked the knots. It would cause quite a stir if she plummeted to her death while climbing down the palace wall.

She looped the rope around the massive stone lion that guarded the parapet and lowered herself down, hand over hand, as her silk slippers pawed uselessly against the mossy wall. She dropped the final two feet to the landing below and scampered down the labyrinthine of steps of the complex. If she hadn't taken up residence in the diplomacy wing of the palace, she would never have slipped away so easily into the encroaching forest. Then again, she wouldn't need to.

She leapt over the manicured hedgerows as if she had fled the palace grounds a hundred times before. Her unbound dark hair flapped behind her, and the cool night breeze fluttered her black silk nightclothes against her skin like a thousand butterfly wings. Aniri wondered why she had not tried this sooner.

She slowed her pace and picked through the darkened brambles catching at her legs. Had she worn any normal attire—starched cotton with layers upon layers of silk—she would have stuck to the needled branches like a royal pincushion. She smiled and slipped through the forest like a phantom, black on black, silent and stealthy. When she broke out of the forest, her slippered feet stumbled on the wet rocks bordering the river. She made a mental note to find more secure footwear, should there be a second time.

Her eyes darted to the footbridge ahead, an ancient sentinel over the constantly new chatter of the river. She hesitated when she saw no sign of movement. Had she been mistaken? Was she too late? But then Sasha stepped out from the shadows, showing his face to the moon as if he had nothing to hide.

She skittered over the pebbled and sandy creekside and flew into his arms.

"Aniri," he said, but she was uninterested in wasting precious moments with words. They couldn't convey the heart-pounding rush she felt whenever she saw his bronzed cheeks or dark, humor-filled eyes. She shut him up with her lips, pressed fiercely to his. She knew he was well trained in all forms of entertainment, but the artistry of his lips moving slow yet urgent against hers made her forget her own name.

He was still dressed in his diplomat's attire, tightly wrapped in silk and starch. Her hands glided over the smooth shoulders of his jacket, and its gold buttons turned silver in the moonlight when she broke their kiss.

His smile sent a shiver through her as his eyes and hands lingered on her.

"You look . . . enticing this evening."

She flushed and smoothed her loose nightshirt. He had never seen her in her nightclothes before and probably never would again. "I could hardly retire to my room dressed for tea."

"I suppose." His smile grew. "I didn't know if you would come. Sneaking out of the palace grounds has to be a dangerous business."

"No more than sending a note through the hand maiden. What if she read it?"

His smile crooked at the corner. "I'm sure that she did. But what could she make of a poem declaring your beauty in the moonlight? I imagine she thought it quite romantic."

"Your little message could have easily been understood. You took a risk." She tried to put admonishment in her voice, but it came out weak. She had no heart for it tonight.

"A moment with you, even stolen, is worth the risk." He pulled her close again, and his hand brushed back her hair as the wild strands tangled with the evening breeze. "Did you think it romantic?" His voice teased her.

Words swelled up in her throat, and she had to swallow them back down. She put a small, empty space between them. "Romance is for fools and naive little girls."

He frowned and let his hand fall to his side. She cleared her throat and forced the words out before she lost her nerve. "I have news. I am to be married."

His eyebrows shot up. "What?" Anger pushed on the corners of his eyes. She knew this day would come. She could never marry a courtesan, no matter how entrancing, but she had hoped they could pretend a little longer. And that she would marry someone better than a dirt-grubbing Jangali. "Prince Malik has made an offer of peace. For my hand."

He sucked in a quick breath. "No!"

"I know. It's a horror almost beyond imagining."

"But . . . but you're not of age." He seemed to be casting about for reasons to keep her, which made her words even more difficult to say.

"I will be eighteen soon enough. This day was inevitable, Sasha."

His eyebrows pulled into a dark line of concern. "But . . . . please tell me this is not your wish."

"Of course not! How can you ask that?” she said. “Do you think I want to marry a barbarian? It's these cursed troubles in the north, and the rumors of that new Jungali flying machine. This is the only way to bring peace."

His eyes went wide, and he grabbed her shoulders. "Aniri, listen to me. You must refuse him."

"Sasha, my love." She winced at the strength of his grip. "It's my duty."

"Please . . ."

"Your Highness?" The gruff voice came from behind her, and she jerked out of Sasha's grasp in surprise. She recognized the owner only when she whirled to see his scarred and angular face.

"Queens breath!" she exclaimed. "Janak don't startle me like that."

"It is my job, m'lady."

"Your job is to protect me, not frighten me halfway to my grave."

His hardened face was impassive except for the small lift of one eyebrow. "Sometimes one requires the other, your Most Royal Highness."

She glared at him and turned back to Sasha, who had retreated a pace from her, restoring a proper distance between them.

"My lady." Sasha gave her a small bow, all proper etiquette returning, as though they had not just been caught in each other’s arms. "If it pleases you, I would have a word in private."

She sighed and longed to have his hands on her again, even in that rough embrace. His fear of losing her reassured her that maybe she was not alone in loving him beyond reason.

She threw a daggered look to Janak. "Wait for me. Over there." She gestured with a single raised eyebrow of her own that he should stand apart by the bridge. He inclined his head and took several steps backwards, his eyes glued to Sasha’s properly attentive form. She closed the distance between them with a step and dropped her voice to a whisper.

"Don't worry about Janak."

"I worry about you, Aniri." Sasha’s hushed voice stayed between them. "I must speak to you," he glanced at the glaring figure of Janak, "alone."

"We are alone.” Janak could surely overhear them, but he could be trusted.

“Not here,” he said. “I'll explain later, but you must refuse Malik's offer. Will you be at the Queen's Tea tomorrow?"


"Can you meet me," he glanced at Janak again, "in the place we once discussed?" When they first met, they argued the merits of the Queen’s favorite tea garden.

"Yes." What he could possibly have to say, that he couldn't tell her in front of Janak? He stepped back from her again.

"Very well," he said. "I bid you a gentle night, m'lady." He bowed deeply in farewell and turned to slip away into the darkness. She watched after him, the shadows swallowing him and her last chance of a carefree life before duty called. When she had composed her face, she turned and marched with slippered feet to Janak.

"You'll not speak of this." She brushed past without favoring him with a look.

"Of course, Princess Aniri." He shadowed her back to the palace, as though he expected her to bolt for freedom and disappear into the dark after Sasha. She only wished that were possible.

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Query Me This... The Spy I Loved

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Dear Mr. Agent,

I am seeking representation for my 75,000 word alternate history novel, The Spy I Loved.  Set in the days just before World War II, it follows a lowly MI6 secretary who learns that her country is being lured into war with America in order to weaken it before the coming German invasion.

Playing Girl Friday to Britain's most clandestine secret agent isn't exactly the glamorous life Dilys Griffin hoped for.  Most days, she spends more time locating cuff links than saving the world.  But Dilys wouldn't trade her job for anything.  After all, she's serving queen and country, as any Briton should.  And there are those times when she's almost sure that Agent Maxwell Lloyd is looking at her with more than professional interest.

When Max disappears while on assignment, Dilys defies MI6 protocol to go after him.  She follows him to India, where she learns he was killed.  Heartbroken, Dilys recovers the last dead drop Max made before his death:  photographs showing America mounting an invasion force to wrest India from the British Empire.

Pursued throughout the back alleys of Bangalore, Dilys will have to use every trick she ever learned from Max to complete his last mission and bring the photographs to light.  But everything is not what it appears to be.  The photographs are doctored.  The invasion is a lie. And the spy Dilys loves is not only not dead--he's not even British!

The Spy I Loved could function as a standalone novel, or could anchor a series in which Dilys serves her government as a spy throughout the events of World War II.  Previously I was a story writer for the popular online game City of Heroes, known for its intricate plot lines.  I studied writing at Florida State University.

Thank you for your consideration,


"Good evening, Mr.  Lloyd.  It is indeed an honor to finally make your acquaintance."

Dilys smiled and nodded to herself.  The sound from Max's bug was coming in just fine.  She could make out the nasal tones of the French ambassador's voice almost as clearly as if she was in the next room.

She wasn't, of course.  While the ambassador and his entourage were wined and dined at the Everett Club with the better part of London's social elite, Dilys was halfway across town at MI6 headquarters, hunched over a notepad with a pair of ten pound headphones flattening her hair.  It was about ten times more exciting than her usual office routine, which generally involved filing, dictation, and brewing about six hundred pots of tea.  Still, she longed to be at the ball herself, wearing a blue satin dress, or maybe even a red one.  Sipping champagne, and trading ever-so-careful repartee with dangerous men.

"The pleasure is all mine, ambassador."  That was Max.  Dilys found her smile deepening at the sound of his voice.  Her pencil scratched lightly over the notepad in front of her.  She had long ago perfected the art of dictation, and since the Akron Affair, the Director had decided to put her talents to good use.  Akron wasn't the first time someone had tried to kill Max before he made it back to MI6 with his findings, but it was the first time someone had nearly succeeded.  And so the bug had been developed.  Concealed in Max's clothing, it transmitted a radio signal powerful enough for Dilys to pick up at MI6.  Even if Max were killed in the line of duty, nothing that was said would be lost.

She had it down to a science now.  Three pencils:  the second in case the first one broke, and the third in case the second one wound up worn to a nub by the end of the evening.  A comfortable chair.  And absolutely no tea.  She couldn't afford to miss a bit of vital intelligence because she had to pop off to the loo.

"Quelle est la durée de votre séjour?" Max asked.  He had switched to French, a pretty compliment to the ambassador.  Dilys had never liked French, with its over reliance on Q's and X's.  But at least she could understand it.

"Duex semaines."

Dilys's pencil paused in mid-scribble.  Did she hear that right?  She read over the words she had just written.  Duex semaines.  Suddenly her heart was racing.  Surely Max had noticed?

No, he hadn't.  Max was going on pleasantly, as thought the French ambassador hadn't just revealed that he wasn't French at all.

Dilys leapt to her feet.  The headphone cord snapped taught, and she jerked back into her seat.  The men's small talk continued to rattle on in her ears, but Dilys was no longer transcribing.  Her mind was churning over a single, burning question:  how could she warn Max?

The radio signal on the bug was strictly one way.  She could telephone the Everett Club, but she knew the staff would be running their feet off tonight; there was no guarantee someone would deliver her message.  There was no help for it.  She would have to go warn Max herself.

She looked down at her attire:  a brown tweed skirt, a simple white blouse, and sensible shoes.  There was no way she was getting into the Everett Club in sensible shoes.

Dilys took a deep breath and removed the headphones from her ears. There was only one place she knew where she could get all kitted out in less than an hour.  She hated to have to go there.  But it was a matter of life and death.

Exactly seven minutes later, Dilys stood on the stoop of her sister's house, ringing the bell.  She had a stitch in her side from running most of the way.

A face Dilys didn't recognize swept aside the curtain covering the window beside the door.  The face was male, and mustached, and sleepy-looking.  It squinted at her.

"Who're you?" said the man inside her sister's house.

"I'm Mabel's sister."

The man's brows drew together.  "Who's Mabel?"

At that moment her sister's face appeared behind the man.  Mabel was wearing a red robe that had some sort of Oriental stitching on it in gold.  She peered out over the man's shoulder, and when she saw Dilys her eyes lit up.  "I'm Mabel, darling.  Be a love and let my sister in?"

The man did as she asked, and Dilys discovered that he was wearing even fewer clothes than Mabel.  Just a towel, fastened around his waist (and none too securely, it seemed).  Dilys quickly averted her eyes, a trick that was difficult to pull off when the person in front of you seemed keen on introducing himself.

"Nice to meet you," he said.  "Name's Bill Atherton.  Any sister of Belle's is a friend of mine."

"Pleasure," said Dilys, staring hard at the ceiling.

The merry notes of her sister's laughter filled the room.  "Come on inside, Dilly.  Don't just stand there gaping at my ceiling as though the face of God was staring down at you.  Bill, go get some clothes on.  Can't you see you make my sister nervous?"

Dilys felt her cheeks redden at these words, but she was nonetheless grateful when Bill withdrew to Mabel's bedroom.

Mabel opened up her arms for a hug.  "I'm going by Belle now.  Much more fashionable, don't you think?"  Mabel squeezed her hard and then went to the sidebar and began fixing herself a drink.  "Silly Dilly, you've always got just the worst sense of timing!  It's been far too long.  Tell me, what are you doing here?"

Even in a threadbare robe, with her hair all a tangle and her calloused feet bare, Mabel seemed to pull all the light in the room to herself.  Dilys felt shabby just standing near her, even though she had spent a good ten dollars on her skirt.  She cleared her throat. "I need a dress," she said.

Mabel's eyes lit up.  "Oh?  Going out with someone special, are we?"

"Sort of," said Dilys.  She pushed her hair back over her ears. "Actually, Mabel, I need it right away.  It's a bit of an emergency."

Mabel took a sip from her glass and regarded Dilys thoughtfully over the rim.  "An emergency?  All right, if you say so.  But this is beginning to sound a lot less like a hot date."

Mabel opened the door to her bedroom.  "Out, Bill.  Make us some omlettes.  There's everything you need in the kitchen."

Bill, thankfully fully clad this time, obeyed without complaint. Mabel flung open her closet.  "Now then, Dilly.  What sort of dress did you have in mind?"

Dilys took in a breath.  "The red satin," she said.

Mabel's eyebrows went up.  "Oh?  That one?  Maybe I was wrong.  This is a hot date after all."  She pulled the dress off the rod.  It was a gorgeous thing, sleeveless and scarlet, with rivers of glittering sequins emphasizing it's every curve.  Mabel regarded it lovingly for a moment. Then she held it out to Dilys.  "We'll have to pad the bust."

Dilys had already thought of that.  As quickly as she could, she shucked her work clothes and slithered into the dress.

Then she looked at herself in the mirror.

"Oh."  The fabric clung to her body like a well worn glove.  Against the bright red, her skin looked as pale and delicate as a fresh laid egg.  And her hair--her dull, black, boring hair seemed to have taken on new luster.  It curled around her bare shoulders like a living thing.

"You look like a dream, Dilly.  As long as you don't forget these." Mabel stuffed a handful of socks into Dilys's bosom.  "Or these."  She rooted around her closet and came up with a pair of crimson heels.

"Thanks, Mabel."  Dilys slipped the shoes onto her feet.  They pinched.

"Thank me by going out there and grabbing a man," Mabel said.

Yes, thought Dilys, that's exactly what I intend to do.

She arrived at the Everett Club slightly out of breath and scanned the ballroom for Max.  There he was, still chatting amiably with the faux-French ambassador.

Seeing Max before he saw her was a new experience for Dilys.  Usually he took her unawares, coming up behind her desk while she was deep in some routine office task and startling her.  He liked to see her jump.

But this time she had the advantage.  She took a moment to admire him.

It was worth it, she thought.  The hard work, and the low pay, and the lack of recognition -- worth it, because she could be of help to him.  Any woman would want to do that   Only she could.

As though he felt her eyes on him, Max turned his head in her direction.  Their eyes met.  He scowled.

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Dear Agent:

Travis Walters just lost his part-time job at the 7-11. His stepfather refuses to put in a good word for him at the auto shop. And the Army recruiter, whose office is next to the food court at the mall, flatly tells him he is “not suitable” to enlist in the armed forces.

On his way to the unemployment office, Travis is knocked to the ground by a blast that rips through a federal court house. A dozen other attacks occur simultaneously throughout the United States. Humdallah, a previously unknown terrorist group, claims responsibility. The US mobilizes its forces in search of Humdallah terror cells throughout the Middle East.

Ashamed of his lack of heroism the day of the bombing, Travis looks for a way to prove his patriotism. He meets Daisy, pretty but surly, at a pro-war rally. Daisy introduces Travis to her brother, Maurice, who recruits Travis to join a covert group to defend against the next terrorist attack.

Travis finds his purpose. Maurice and his fellow vigilantes teach Travis the ins and outs of weaponry and explosives. Daisy begins to take a romantic interest in Travis. Travis catches the eye of the leaders of the group, who assign him a key role in a special mission to Washington, DC.

On the morning of his mission, Travis walks in on Daisy and Maurice making love among the firearms. That’s Travis’s first clue that maybe Daisy and Maurice are not who they say they are. He suspects that Humdallah and this covert group of ex-military aren’t what they claim to be either, and that the real threat to his country is closer than he ever imagined.

THE NEXT ATTACK is a five-page thriller. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Travis was jaywalking when the bomb went off. The blast knocked him flat on his back, and an oncoming Ford F150 pickup nearly ran him over. Travis scrambled to the curb, in the direction of the unemployment office, where moments before he was turned away by a chirpy girl behind a cold, gray counter.

Something trickled down the back of Travis’s head. He took off his baseball cap. His hand was bloody. The sound of sirens floated through the air and filled the space around Travis. He looked up from his bloody hand.

Down Peachtree Street, Travis could see the smoke and debris. Men and women covered their heads with their arms and briefcases as they ran down the sidewalks and into the street. Gray ash covered everything -- the people, the cars, even the dogwood trees on each side of the road. A few customers from the Starbucks across the street stuck their heads out of the doorway of the shop, unsure if they should flee or stay put. Travis did not know what had just happened, but he knew it was big.

Then the second bomb went off.

He was looking right at the courthouse when it happened. A brilliant plume of orange fire leapt from the windows and doors of the building, the fire’s massive energy blowing out the brick and mortar onto the street. The brightness of the plume darkened as it grew into a black cloud. Fragments of glass, stone, and metal fell to the ground like horrible confetti. Travis did not see the wave of people rushing towards him, then past him. So he was surprised when he ended up flat on his back again.

The driver of the Ford jumped out of his truck. “Get on up, son,” he said, scooping up Travis from the sidewalk. “Get out of here before something else blows.”

“Huh?” Travis said. His ears were ringing. He didn’t remember hearing any explosions, but the sound must have been deafening. Travis blinked, and tried to rub away the burning from his eyes. He turned to follow the man from the truck. Two steps in, Travis lost him in the mass of people running down the street. Travis let the crush of people take him away, like a fallen branch whisked downstream by whitewater rapids.

A couple of blocks later, the crowd slowed. Travis craned his neck to see what was ahead of him in the road. Police already had set up a barricade, and Travis was on the wrong side of it. An officer on horseback directed the crowd through an opening in the barricade. Travis funneled through, and gasped for breath once he was on the other side.

“You okay?” someone asked him.

“What?” Travis shouted, his ears still ringing.

“You’re bleeding. Are you okay?”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know. You look like you were there. You tell me what happened.”

Travis looked back towards the unemployment office and the courthouse. A column of dark smoke climbed towards the sky.

“Was it the terrorists?”


“Was it a bomb? Was it the Muslims? Didn’t you see it?”

Travis didn’t have an answer, but it didn’t matter. An EMT carrying a mylar blanket approached him. “Come with me, sir,” the EMT said, wrapping Travis in the blanket and leading him to the sidewalk. About a dozen people sat on the concrete. They were all covered in varying amounts of ash and blood, and all wrapped in silver blankets. Shiny refugees rescued from some unthinkable fate.

The EMT sat Travis down beside a young woman wearing a dark green uniform. She gripped a cell phone in her right hand, her left arm motionless at her side. “Damnit, I can’t get through.” She looked at Travis. “Can you get through? On your phone?”

Travis remembered. His phone. He left it back in the car, along with his wallet. That’s why the girl behind the counter at the unemployment office turned him away. “Sorry, sir,” she had said. “You’ll need a photo ID to enter the building.” He was just going to run down the street to the parking garage and grab his wallet. It was only going to take a couple of minutes.

The woman in the green uniform -- her nametag said her name was Tasha -- continued to curse her phone. “How are my kids going to get home from school?”

“I can’t make any calls either. Worthless piece of garbage,” said a grungy kid with a pierced nose. “What do you think it was?” he asked no one in particular.

A man with tiny cuts all over his face and hands turned towards the kid. “Do you think it was a dirty bomb? Radioactive, or chemical?” The man started to shake. “I was running late for a trial. I was supposed to be there.” The man’s mouth was still open, but he ran out of words. Tasha slide across the concrete and put her good arm around him.

“Don’t you worry,” Tasha said. “Somebody’s looking after us today. You’re still here, aren’t you?” The man buried his face in Tasha’s shoulder and he started to cry.

“It’s not just Atlanta,” said a young man with a laptop and long, bloody gash running down his leg.

“God help us,” Tasha said.

“Cell phone systems are overloaded, but the Internet’s fine,” the young man continued. “They’re saying there were also explosions in LA, Phoenix, and Boston. Early reports of something happening in Houston, too. Nobody has taken responsibility yet.”

“Al Qaeda?” someone asked.


“Goddamned Democrats,” offered a man being bandaged by an EMT.

“If you’re gonna blame the Democrats,” said the guy with the laptop, “I’m blaming Glenn Beck.”

Travis watched a news crew work their way through the crowd. A reporter jumped among a pack of onlookers, waving his hand and trying to capture the attention of a group of police officers near the barricade. Travis held the mylar blanket over his face as the news camera panned in his direction.

An EMT crouched next to Travis. “Look this way,” he said. He shone a light in Travis’s eyes. “Can you tell me your name, sir?”

“Travis Walters.”

“What’s today?”


“Who’s the President?”

“Jimmie Johnson.”

The EMT smiled. “I’m a Dale, Jr. fan myself. But other than questionable NASCAR taste, you seem alright.” The EMT slipped his pen light back in his shirt pocket and patted Travis’s shoulder . “If you pass out or vomit, head to the ER. Otherwise, you’ll be fine.” The EMT jumped to his feet and offered Travis a hand up.

Travis looked at the EMT’s hand. He didn’t take it. “What do I do now?” Travis asked.

“Go home.”

It took Travis hours to get home. The police shut down the MARTA trains because of security concerns, but the buses were still running. Travis asked around and got directions to a crowded bus stop, but wasn’t sure which route to take. He always drove his father’s old, green Monte Carlo -- a car that would have been a classic if Travis had any idea how to take care of it. Travis refused to ask his step-dad for any help, even though he worked at an auto shop since before he married Travis’s mom.

Travis waited at the bus stop for a solid hour before any buses showed up. Half a dozen overloaded buses hammered past the stop before Travis managed to squeeze his way onto an express bus going in the wrong direction. The bus driver eyed Travis as he squeezed onto the bus.

“Fare?” the bus driver called after him.

Travis stopped, and just shook his head. The driver waved him on. “Go ahead, kid.”

After two transfers and a mile walk from the bus stop, Travis was home. His mother stood in the doorway of their house. “Travis, where the hell were you?” When she opened the screen door and stepped onto the front steps, she started yelling -- a river of curses and blasphemies the likes of which Travis hadn’t heard since the night he told her Cheryl was pregnant. “Jesus H. Christ, what happened to you?” Travis was covered in a thin layer of gray dust, his shoulders slumped by fatigue, and he was toting the crumbled mylar blanket under his arm. Travis didn’t realize he was still in his silly, shiny wrapper until a little girl on the bus asked if he was Superman. He didn’t want to leave it behind on the bus for someone else to clean up.

“Oh dear Lord, what happened?” his mother said, her voice a good octave higher than usual.

“They blew up the courthouse.”

“I know that, Travis,” his mothered ushered him into the house. “Everybody knows that.” When Travis passed his mother she shrieked again. “God damn it, Travis! Why is there blood all down the back of your shirt?”

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Query Me This...INCANTATA

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Dear Mr. Agent

I am inquiring of you because of my knowledge of your preference for complex military political struggles that satisfy a reader’s desire to savor a fresh stylized work.

Quantum physicist Pierce Daniels is lead up an alley of death to see if he can survive a gauntlet of assassins. A new technology leads to a struggle between America circa 2012 and an infinite array of futures viewed that always lead to America’s annihilation. Thirteen miles of Hellfire separate America’s death from
our protagonist 7337th death.

Each thoroughly crafted section of THE INCANTATA is a tightly mapped stand alone Science Fantasy saga of 125,000 words written for a broad audience based on comprehensive research and state of the art
understanding of the subject.

The first five pages are appended for easy browsing.

Thank You

Paralyzing force bound Pierce Daniels to the black chair. It was always a different face and always the same gun. The only constant known to a man who walked a lonely razors edge between two nations
forever at war.

Growling in the pit of the stomach sent gentle waves of euphoric
relief trembling across his slow silenced mind.  The first word would come soon after wondering what the first word might actually be. Seven Three Three Seven.
He was known to both Gog and Magog as Mr. Magoo.  A cartoon character nickname for someone both sides felt they could play with as they chose and slap around with impunity. No wife and children and parents buried long ago lead both versions of the United States of America to under estimate the titanic level of resolve with which he played this most fatal of games.

His eye twitched and he tried to smile but his body wasn’t ready yet. Alert to his quarry the shooter shuffled his feet. Pierce relished the return of his hearing. With that sense restored he fantasized about the sounds of waves and pieces of music he had heard and grown to love. Trying to rock forward from his chest he detected the movement in his groin area. Clocking forward he knew only two minutes remained before he would speak. Now, thinking clearly he silenced his mind voluntarily restoring his true instincts.

Sitting on a soft, carpet, antique desk-map to his right; was a bold typed message awaiting decryption. The encoding was obvious to anyone who had the knowledge to survive the great war of 2012. There were only two very popular television shows ever broadcast and viewed by a colossal sized audience in real time. The type of effect the government clandestine experimenters had sought to use as a process to acquire a benchmark gauge that would determine the power of synchronized mass consciousness on the quantum fields that generated the future and past.

The first show broadcast in 1966 was the hopelessly titled; THE TIME TUNNEL. Experimenters were unaware people existed who were already capable of using such simple cause and effect relationships as a
television broadcast and the power generated by the viewing audiences’ consciousness to initialize the type of devices required for time travel.

Einstein was long gone and the picture of reality had changed dramatically since his departure into the grave.

       HUGO=HUE GO HUG15
       MR. EKO=51115 OK5
       OG218=OG Vs. MAGOG
The decoded message was a shop worn deception.

Pierce opened his eyes and looked at the shooter.  This was the first executioner he had ever recognized. Struggling for composure he allowed no...
“Where is Einstein?”

“Heads in a jar; his dicks in Doc’s flux capacitor.”

Pierce waited for the muzzle flash. The shooter had yet to raise his weapon. Looking downward he noticed it was still the same Arsenal 44. Magnum used on him every time before. Unable to move his limbs yet he studied the face of the look alike wondering why it took the NSA so long to finally try this trick. The shooter looked at the single gold pen on the desk before moving to a semi-squatting position to examine the underside of the white board drafting table Pierce used as an oversized work board for math problems.

“There are no marks under the table.”

“The count is accurately reckoned at precisely 7337.”

“We’ll see.”

The shooter put the weapon on the table while asking if Pierce was a fan of Star Trex.

“Portnoy’s Complaint is more my cup of tea mate.”

“A Fool’s Mate can easily be avoided.”

The shooter began preparing a pot of tea by selecting three bags from the glass jar on the old kitchen’s counter.

Three bags were silently denuded of their strings and labels before being quickly watered logged in the stout white china tea pot now headed towards the far end of the top floor apartment in the 1920’s art deco building.

The shooter paused before entering 6:00 into the microwaves key pad.  Pierce picked up the pistol and glanced under the table. Reassured there were no jump calibrations marked underneath he placed the gun in
his mouth and pulled the trigger. The shooter pressed the start button on the key pad hoping to avoid an awkward moment. The pistols firing hammer clicked resolutely against the empty chamber.

“How many times have you made it to Canyon De Chele and succeeded in jumping off the cliff?”

A sinking heart and an empty pistol were laid on the table for his opponent to play with as he pleased. The long interrogation followed by the innocuous opportunity for an escape was the standard script from this point on. The long drop from Mummy’s Cave into Canyon De Chele was now certain to lead right back into this chair paralyzed again by time.

“The CIA put LOST together for you with great care to assure you the mission was understood and very successful.”

“The Chekhov’s gun on the table bit then?”

“Orientation time. Can you move your legs?”

“Load the gun.”

The shooter pulled Pierce to his feet shouldering him forward and out the door left open on the previous trip to the microwave. The shooter loaded the gun while leading his target to the roof of the building.  Loaded and replaced in its clip-on belt holster; the snap of its removal audible.

The weapon and holster were passed to Daniels, he complied by walking towards the sleek dark red four seat jet copter.

One minute later they were in the Shell gas station parking lot on the southern side of the railroad access way
obscured by well fed overgrown brush. They crossed the intersection formed by a rural highway and the rail bed.

Pierce knew the snipers nest were arrayed at both treetop and ground level interspersed at fifty yard markers all the way to Facility-1 of The Advanced Intraphase Research site.

Shooter and target walked calmly through the dense bramble curtain of prickly brush. The shooter smiled after holding the web of tangles aside for Pierce’s passage into the kill zone known as The Bell Devil’s Walk of Hellfire.

“Hurry Pierce.” That phrase was never spoken before. Daniels composure broke as he quickly tapped his beltline for tranquilizers. The first five dozen silenced shots spit out entered the shooter who let go and fell on his back quietly smiling. “God’s luck to Self 7338.  Hang tough Doc.”

Pierce walked inwards. “Today is a good day to die.”

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Query Me This...Star of Aurora

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Dear Rick Daley,

I am seeking represenatation for my Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy novel, Star of Aurora, complete at 60,000 words, and hope that you will consider me for your list.

Fennel Starshade, an assassin and retrieval specialist, is assigned the task of retrieving Diandra Samadaxtra, the kidnapped heir to Helathon Samadaxtra, leader of the Planet Aurora Prime. Fennel is accustomed to dangerous missions, but he is more of an executer than a planner, so when he finds himself thrust into a tangled web of deadly interstellar political intrigue he finds himself in uncharted space.

To succeed on his mission, Fennel must join forces with a man he neither trusts nor likes, William Braxsis, an old classmate who was once his best friend. Together they rescue Diandra, but as if the tensions between himself and William wasn't enough to deal with, Fennel now finds that he has the added complication of controlling his feelings for Aurora First Princess.

After a shocking revelation, these three journey to five different Planets and find out that each leader of each Planet holds a terrible secret, each one horrifying by itself, but when all are fitted together, like the pieces of a sinister puzzle, spells disaster. Fennel and William with the help of Diandra solves this puzzle and find a solution, just in time to save millions of people from destruction.

I have pasted the first five pages in the body of the e-mail for your perusal.

I look forward to hearing from you,


K. D. Vassall

Our protagonist has found evidence that the government is being lured into war.  If the country engages in the conflict abroad, its military will not be able to deal with an imminent invasion by a rival nation.  The problem is that the source of the information is a double-agent, and our protagonist is being set up to cause the war he/she is trying to prevent.

Star of Aurora

By K.D Vassall

    Fennel Starshade sat at a corner table nursing a drink that the bartender had dubbed Fireangel. Bluish flames licked the sugared rim of the glass and Fennel sucked in a breath intending to blow it out, but that breath, polluted with smoke and cheap perfume lodged in his throat when he saw the face of the woman that had just walked in.

   She lingered at the door for several moments, the heavy winds behind her blowing her dress around her, molding it to the generous curves of her hips. She cast her eyes around. He knew the exact moment her gaze settled on him. Heat licked up his thighs to his groin, travelling in a rush through his belly to warm his cheeks. The woman gave him a slow smile, her plump lips spreading across even white teeth. He smiled back, enjoying his reaction to her. It made no sense to hide it, she would have seen the flair of red in his Aura.

   She moved through the room towards him. The heat in the bar rising several degrees the deeper she came. One man fell off his stool as she lowered herself into the seat in front of him.  Her blond hair bounced around her and intense green eyes settled on his face.

    “Fennel. You look well,” she said, her voice dripping like honey.

    “So do you…as always Layla.”

    “Well, that is my job,” she said, raising a long, slim finger to summon the bartender over.     

   Fennel grinned. This was not the sort of place where clients were served at the table. You were expected to go to the bar and order your drink. Still Fennel wasn’t surprised when the bartender almost tripped over his feet in his rush to reach her.

   Lalya Cynon was beautiful, and not just in the ordinary way. It was much deeper than that. It was her scent. It was the way she moved. Every shift and shuffle was pure seduction. He had known her for six years. She was one of ten recruited by the Demetrius organization to undergo aural enhancement and trained as a spy. Her number had been three. Classification: a Delilah. She had undergone the procedure to boost her natural talents, which was to capture the attention, to inspire lust and desire.

   At first the other members of the group had underestimated the value of Layla’s ability. One man had called her ‘a glorified cocklifter’, but Layla had proved to be one of the most effective agents that Demetrius had ever recruited.

   Off the ten of them only three remained, number seven, Matthias Vendry: Classification: a Solomon, a man with an incredible talent with computers and general intelligence gathering, and myself, a David. I whittled giants down to size.

    “Demetrius has been in touch. We have an assignment,” said Layla, pushing a thin console across the table towards him.

Fennel saw her aura flair, and the air was suddenly filled with the heavy scent of her perfume, she shifted seductively in her chair. She had everyone’s attention. Fennel knew that this was a trick Layla used on purpose to distract the others sitting close by from what they were saying.

   “What is this?” Fennel asked, even as he took the file and started reading.

   “Details of a plan to invade Earth.”

    Fennel’s eyes lifted to merge with Layla’s green gaze. “It says that the attack will come from Aurora Prime.”


   “The Mage Rulers of that planet have been Earth’s allies for the last three hundred years. They fought alongside us in the second Interstellar War. They would not betray us, not without reason.”

   Layla broadened her aura. The man at the back of the room began to drool. She speared her fingers through her hair, all eyes in the bar fixed on that simple motion.

   “But what if someone gave them a reason?” she asked.

Fennell froze.

   “Have they?”

   Layla gave an almost imperceptible nod. “A Mage Princess has been taken.”

   Dread settled in Fennel’s stomach and wound itself tight. “There are several, which one?”

   “The first Daughter of the Prime, and heir to the throne, Diandra Samadaxtra.”

   Fennel felt the blood drain from his face. “The heir…The heir has been kidnapped…are they certain?”  

Layla gave a curt nod.

   “But by whom?”

   “According to the intelligence, by a rogue faction within our own government.”

   “Why would anyone within our government want to start a war? Surely The Mage Emperor would see that this is a set up?” asked Fennel.

   Layla raised an eyebrow. “The mage Emperor is well versed in Earth History, and knows that there are many humans that value money and power far more than they value peace.”

Fennell sighed, he couldn’t argue with that.

   “Who provided the information?” he asked.

   Layla hesitated before she answered. “William.”

   “William? William Braxsis?  He is a traitor.”

   “He likes to call himself a freelancer…” Layla began.

   “He’s a traitor. The only person William is concerned with is himself. Why would Demetrius even think that any information coming from William is accurate?”

   “Demetrius has never lost contact with William. He has given the organization several leads, all of which had proven to be true. Demetrius has no reason to doubt him now…however…”

   “Yes?” snapped Fennel.

   “Considering the gravity of this situation, Demetrius wants you to verify the information.”

    Fennel nodded, “which is?”

   “That he knows where the Heir is being held. If it’s true Demetrius wants you to escort her to Earth.”

   Fennel’s eyebrows reached for the sky.  “To Earth? Why not home to Aurora Prime?”

   Layla gave a delicate shrug. “Proximity.  If William is right, she is being held in our own solar system on the dwarf planet Haumea, in the catacombs under the Celestial City.  The United Governments will arrange for her safe passage back to Aurora, when you bring her here.”

   Fennel blew gently on the flames rising out of his glass. The red liquid underneath it swirled. He was silent for several moments, gathering his thoughts before he spoke again. He controlled his aura easily, keeping it a steady dark blue so that Layla wouldn’t see his inner turmoil. William was once a member of the Demetrius organization, but his tendency to deceit had gotten him expelled from the program. William had been a David like himself, a highly trained assassin and retrieval specialist. He had a complex, devious mind. Fennel didn’t trust any information coming from William. However if Demetrius had checked it out and declared it to be accurate…

   “This is not usually the sort of matter Demetrius handles. Why doesn’t the government send in its own people?” Fennell asked.

   “You forget that the Haumean Emperor has no great regard for United President Suri. How do you think he would react if Earth’s government forces landed on his planet? Furthermore, Haumea has been in trade talks with Aurora Prime for the last Decade. They are anxious to go forward with their mining project on Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede, but they need Seraphim, which as you know can only be found on Aurora Prime, to run the drills. The First Prime has refused to provide them with it. What do you think they would do if they found out that the daughter of the First Prime…the heir at that was being held on their planet?” 

   “I see your point,” murmured Fennell.

   “Will you take the assignment? Demetrius needs and answer tonight.”

   Fennel looked down at his glass again. The fire had burnt the sugar into a slick paste. He took a deep breath and blew out the fire before bringing the glass to lips. The sugar burnt his lips even as the sweet red liquid slid down his throat.

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Query Me This...On Her Majesty’s Special Service

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Lady Alexandra Beckwith-Smythe’s mission was simple--infiltrate the household of William Payne, the suspected leader of the American colonial terrorist organization the Sons of Liberty, and stop him by any means necessary.  Simple until she discovers the same Prussian agent who supplied information on Payne is also selling munitions to the Americans.

Simple until someone within the Special Services Ministry betrays her to the colonials.

Now, she has to convince Payne to help her, instead of blowing her brains out, because he let slip one crucial bit of information.  The Prussians have a new weapon, modified Chinese rockets that can level a city.  And she has no doubt that once the Prussian Kaiser is finished blowing Mother England to shreds, he’ll come after her colonies next.

On Her Majesty’s Special Service is an 80,000-word steampunk thriller.

Chapter 1

It took all of Lady Alexandra Beckwith-Smythe’s training and discipline not to scratch at her moustache.  Jehoshaphat, the glue itched.  If it weren’t for the infernal irritation underneath her nose, she’d more thoroughly enjoy the freedom of wearing trousers.

Instead, she raised the opera glasses to her eyes and scanned the crowd.  A loud buzzing filled the hall, the peerage greeting each other before assuming their seats.  Her body tensed each time a personage approached her charge, but most simply wanted an alliance with the Orleans heir to the French throne. It didn’t matter his own country had exiled him.

From the taunt lines of Prince Phillippe’s shoulders, the noble was too immersed in his own anxiety to notice hers.  She had to give him credit though.  His charming smile hid whatever nerves threatened his composure.
After sending another simpering baron’s daughter on her way, he leaned closer to Alexandra.  “Have you seen anything?”

With the level of noise, his whisper didn’t carry more than the few inches between them.  Still, she lowered the glasses and glanced around before answering.  “No, Your Highness.  The Ministry is closely watching the situation.  I assure you there is no danger to yourself.” 

An unprincely sound snorted in her ear.  “I am not worried about myself.”

Alexandra bit the inside of her lip to keep from laughing out loud.  Of course.  He would be worried more about his mistress of the moment.  And in the happenstance her associates should fail to protect the opera singer tonight, she had no doubt the prince would find another comely bed warmer rather rapidly.

But the light in his eyes made her reassess her estimate of the prince’s feelings.  She dared to lay a hand on Phillippe’s arm.  “I assure you.  Miss Melba is quite safe.”

The dimming of the gas lamps prompted a hustle for seats.  Alexandra nodded toward the prince’s box.  He turned to follow.

Movement in the crowd caught her attention a moment before a masculine voice shouted, “A word with you, Prince Phillippe.”  Something metallic rested in the man’s hand.

Protocol be damned.

Her hard shove sent the already off-balance prince sprawling into the crowd.  A scream shattered the air.  Alexandra charged the approaching man, focused on the derringer in his hand.  Fear and exhilaration strangled her bowels upon the realization the firearm was double-barreled.  A gunshot blasted in her ears as she grabbed the man’s fist.


The next morning Alexandra kept a stoic front as she stood in the wood paneled office of Captain James Stewart, the nominal chief of Her Majesty’s Special Service.  The dressing down was unavoidable after the previous evening’s fiasco.  Best to bear it and proceed with the next assignment.

He slapped the earliest edition of the newspaper on his desk, its headline emphasized her superior’s glare.  Cuckolded Husband Attempts Murder.  Underneath, the subtitle blared, “European Prince in Affair with Noted Opera Star Nellie Melba.”  When Alexandra failed to wince at the gesture, he resumed his shouting.

“Just what am I supposed to do about this!”

She stared at the portrait of the queen hanging behind his desk.  “With all due respect, sir, my task was to guard the prince’s person-”

“Not at the expense of his reputation!”

“For all I knew, the gentleman was anarchist assassin-”

“You shoved the prince into the Duchess of Wessex!”

“Given the duchess still wears old-fashioned hoop skirts, their falls were cushioned quite well, sir.”

A deep chuckle sounded behind her.  She pivoted to find the unofficial head of the Special Service Ministry standing behind her.  The curtsey was so automatic it took a second to realize she never heard the door open.

“Tut, none of that in here.”  The Prince of Wales waved a hand before claiming a chair next to the desk.  His expression turned serious as he eyed her.  “However, Baby is quite upset this morning over the hole in her favorite hat.”

Alexandra did wince at that statement.  The one wild shot Melba’s husband fired had come perilously close to hitting Princess Beatrice, the queen’s youngest daughter.  She bowed her head once again.  “My sincere apologies, Your Highness.”

“The queen wants you exiled,” he continued before taking a sip from the cup of tea the Captain handed him.
Pain stabbed Alexandra’s stomach.  He wouldn’t go along with this demand, would he?  “She must understand-”

“That will be enough, agent!”
She glared right back at the captain.  “I performed my duties exactly as you ordered me-”

The prince’s raised finger silenced her far more effectively than the captain’s shouting.  “At least Prince Phillippe relayed the information he brought to London before last night’s adventure.  I believe we have a solution that will appease the queen and keep you in our employ.”  He favored her with a smile, one she was sure boded ill.  “What do you know about the Sons of Liberty?”

“An American revolutionist organization from a century ago.  They failed in their attempt to secede from the empire. . .”  She watched as the two men exchanged looks.  “Surely, you are not suggesting they still exist?”
Stewart reached into his top drawer and withdrew a sheaf of papers.  “Someone is selling a great deal of munitions to unknown civilians in the American colonies.  Our Prussian contact has confirmed the transactions.”

She stepped forward and took the papers from his outstretched hand.  Her heart leapt to her throat as she perused the numbers.  Numbers far greater than necessary to keep the colonial border with New Spain in check.  A quick glance at the men confirmed this was no joke.

The prince set down his cup on the edge of the desk.  “One of our local operatives in New York has obtained introductions for you to join the household of William Payne.  We believe he is the head of the Sons.”

Her heart quit trying to exit through her mouth, instead seeking a different egress.  It wasn’t pride instilling such desperation.  It was fear of exposure.

He continued as if he was suggesting a walk through one of Buckingham’s gardens.  “A zeppelin ticket and papers issued in the name of Alexandra Hemmings-”

Enough was enough.  “You cannot be serious!”  Her family had taken to many pains to erase their connection to the New World.  For him to flaunt that link went far beyond the bounds of their relationship.

“I am serious, agent.”  Ice blue eyes bore into hers.  “Unless you are submitting your resignation?”

He knew she couldn’t resign, and damn him to Hell, he knew why.  But arguing never worked with him.

Arms spread in supplication, she tried a different tack.  “Bertie,” she ignored Stewart’s startled expression at her undue familiarity with the prince, “for whatever respect you had for my husband, whatever affection you may have had for me, I beg you not to ask this of me.”

He rose and reached for her free hand, his giant, pale palms encasing her much darker skin.  The irony was not lost on her.  Mother England swallowed everything she touched.

“Alex, darling, there is no one else who could succeed in this mission.”

Of course.  Queen and country came before anything else with him.  One would have thought she’d learned that bitter lesson in the months after Henry died.  She swallowed the giant mound of sand in her throat.  “And what exactly is my assignment, Your Highness?”

He withdrew his touch at her formal tone.  “Discover who is supplying arms to the Sons of Liberty and assassinate their leader.”

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Dear Agent,

Dan Weathers has a gambling problem, and he’s finally hit rock bottom.  He’s $10,000 in the hole, he doesn’t have a dime to pay toward his debt, and he’s got high school to deal with.  It’s going to be one hell of a senior year. 

The situation worsens when Dan finds a bet that can clear his debts, but to win it he has to throw the game against the Tigers, the worst football team in the league.  As quarterback of the top-ranked Lions, Dan is just the guy for the job.  But if he pulls it off, the Lions won’t have a chance at the title, and Dan will lose a bet he already made: that the Lions will match up against the undefeated Bears in the playoffs.  And then he’ll be right back where he started. 

Dan’s online sports bookie – screen name Odd$Ball – wants his money.  He sends Dan some signals: a flat tire here, a broken window there…but Odd$Ball himself remains hidden.  Which is good for him, because as the head coach for the Bears, Odd$Ball has been playing the odds himself, coaxing Dan into each wager and trying to ensure big payouts on his own bets on the Lions and Tigers and Bears.  Oh my.

LIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS is a 65,000-word Young Adult novel.  I’ve been following your blog, and I chose to query you based on your success in selling YA books and your love of sports. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Rick Daley

Chapter 1

Dan closed and locked his bedroom door.  His Dad never come in without knocking, but his little brother Jeffrey wouldn’t think twice about it, and if Jeffrey saw Dan with his laptop, the little shit would tell their father in a heartbeat.

Dan pulled the laptop from his backpack and sat down at his desk.  He booted it up, but stopped it from connecting to the home wireless network.  His father had been monitoring all network traffic since he caught Dan betting big – and losing big – online.  Poker and football were the primary culprits, but an occasional round or six of blackjack snuck into Dan’s playing time.  But Dan was on a winning streak now. 

He scanned the available wireless networks.  There it was, his ticket online: linksys- Unsecure Wireless Network.  Luckily, the Millers next door weren’t as tech savvy as his Dad.  Dan caught a free ride on to the Internet and sat back in his chair as his gaming account stats filled his monitor.

Account Balance: $5,000.  More money than Dan ever had in his life.  Made the sweaty rolls of ones and fives he earned delivering pizza seem like chump-change, something you just throw in a jar and let accumulate for a couple years.  But this was real money.  Dan liked to stare at the figure on the screen and spend it in his head. 

Account Balance: $5,000.  He bought his girlfriend Tara a sweet leather jacket and earrings.  He took her out to dinner and gave them to her at the restaurant, that steakhouse downtown.  Then he took her to a hotel, and he gave her the black lace lingerie.  Tara was so thrilled with the jacket and earrings she modeled the lingerie for him, and afterward she finally granted him the access he’d been practically begging for since they started dating sophomore year.

Account Balance: $5,000.  Dan got ground effects and a spoiler for the back of his Mustang, then installed the fattest sound system available.  He tinted the windows and laid an inch of rubber halfway down the block, new tires squealing and bass thumping.

Account Balance: $5,000.  Dan knew what he would really do.  He would do the same thing he did when it was $50, and the same thing he did when it was $500.  He would find the right bet, and double-down. 

Then he would fantasize about spending $10,000.

Dan checked his inbox.  A reminder from his Dad to clean the gutters.  He started to reply, but deleted the draft email.  It was a set-up.  His Dad would know he had been online if he replied, and then Dan would lose the laptop forever.  That was worse than being banned form the Internet and having to hop a ride on the Miller’s wireless network.

His SPAM filter held 17 items.  Dan looked through them.  Nigerian bank accounts, dick pills, some religious inspirational bullshit from his Aunt Sarah, and finally the message he was looking for.  An email from Odd$Ball, his online bookie.

Odd$Ball was a Godsend.  Dan met him at an internet poker table and bumped into him at other tables in the virtual casino from time to time.  Dan started to hit real paydirt when Odd$Ball reached out to him about a bet on the Stanley Cup playoffs last year.  Even though Dan didn’t follow hockey and had no clue which team was really better, he followed Odd$Ball’s advice and won $1,000. 

Dan opened the email:
Got a sure thing for you.  Fast action, have to act now.  5 grand gets you a 3:1 payout.  Go double you get 5:1.  Can’t beat those odds with a stick.  You game?
Holy shit.  If he went double, he’d be looking at a five-to-one payout on ten grand; $50,000 was much as his Dad made in a year.  Never mind the fact that he didn’t have the other $5,000 if he lost.  He didn’t need it to make the bet, and when Odd$Ball said sure thing, he always won.  Always.

Dan replied:
I’m in for the large haul.

Fifty grand.  This was going to be one hell of a senior year.


After school the next day, and stopped at Starbuck’s on the way home.  His Dad was a fool for trying to keep him offline.  The Internet was everywhere. 

Dan ordered an iced coffee and a slice of lemon cake and took a table in the corner.  He fired up his laptop and checked his email.  There it was, in the SPAM filter.  Message from Odd$Ball.  He opened it:
Sorry, man, this one was a bust.  Happens to us all from time to time.  Payment due ASAP.  Maybe next time.

“Fuck!” Dan yelled.  Everyone in Starbucks looked over at him.  His face was redder than the zit at the end of Artie Howard’s nose, and Dan was just as ready to pop.  He read the message again.  This has got to be a joke.  No way.  No FUCKING WAY!

Dan slammed his laptop closed so hard the lid cracked.  He didn’t care.  He shoved the laptop in his bag and walked out to his car as fast as he could, leaving his food and drink on the table, untouched.

He drove around to the loading docks behind the grocery store and parked.  He started at the ford emblem in the center of his steering wheel until it blurred and he saw double.  He owed Odd$Ball $10,000.  He had one choice: he would have this evening to parley his $5,000 into bigger, better winnings to cover his debt.  He could do it.  He just needed some time at the high-roller table.  Thursday was Dad’s date night so he wouldn’t be around.  As long as Dan could keep Jeffrey out of his hair he could pull it off.

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Dear Mr. Agent,

The year is 2020; seven of the fifty states of the Unites States have taken emancipation and separated – Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin – and have formed Trenweca, a seven-year-old goldmine of a country. Timothy Westwood, an American expatriate with a grimy past involving suspicion for murder, has been given exclusive information via a covert Trenweccan agent about an imminent war Trenweca plans to go on against USA, in fear of USA itself declaring it, even with an unprepared army. Timothy is told by the agent that Canada is knowledgeable of these plans and that they will use Trenweca’s weaknesses to attempt an invasion over it. Timothy, with the help of this mysterious agent, is able to get into Trenweca’s parliament, and is given instructions that will supposedly cease any further ideas of war by Trenweca.

In Darker Times is a 90,000 word crime fantasy thriller about how an unwitting man is manipulated and catapulted into a world of lies, secrets and where no one is who they appear to be. With the help of the strong-headed Violet, an ex-agent for Trenweca, the only one who he can seemingly trust, Timothy races through a cornucopia of reverberating revelations of every turn, including facing the possibility of his own death.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Aleeza Rauf

Phone Number:

Email Address:

Mailing Address:

First Five Pages:

The office was dead silent, pitch black, devoid of any life except for me sitting in a desk in the right end corner beside the window with the panoramic view from the forty-fifth floor, and the light that shone from down below and the buildings surrounding the one where I worked, Gary & Wilkes Accounting Associates in the Edward Steyn Towers was blocked by the floor-length vanishing folds. A minute ago, there would be a spot of light from where I was sitting, emanating from my monitor that had just been put to rest after an extra-long day of work. Normally, my face would’ve been twisted in a disgruntled grimace at the indignation of working overtime, but at the moment I was much too in anticipation to be in any sort of complaining or somnolent state. The email I had received had erased any lethargy lurking in me, which it always did at the middle of the workday, ever since it had made its arrival on my inbox.

I was tempted to open it and read it again, but I managed to control the urge by reminding myself I had reread it at least fifteen times – I could almost recite it by heart now.

Hello Mr. Westwood,

You probably don’t know who I am, but I happen to know you somewhat, as I work as an agent for a secret department of the Trenweca Government. No, you are not being spied upon, but yes, I do have certain business with you that relates to your native country, the United States, and the country you currently reside in, Trenweca.  As I am well aware, you are not in any way related to Politics at the moments, nor keep any significant interests centered on it, but you may be vital to its potential invasion by Canada.

Reply me a blank message if you wish to meet, which I advise should be done as soon as possible. I will arrive at your office at 12:00 A.M. sharp. Please make sure the office is empty completely except for your presence.


James Cassidy

I drank another sip of my cappuccino and glanced once again at my cell phone as I waited for the mysterious sender of the email to arrive.

11:59, the bright numbers shone on the wide screen. There was still a minute to go before he’d make his grand entrance. Some punctuality he managed.

The door to the office opened after a light knock that acted as a rising action to the climax, thus erasing all doubts for any legitimacy of the email vanished, and my heart began to beat a notch faster.

“Mr. Westwood?” a smooth, generic voice rang out to me.

I stood up from my swivel leather seat and responded, “Yes, that would be me. Let me turn on the lights, please.”

Some shuffling of the feet took place while I walked faster than normal to the switches.

Lights illuminated the face of the speaker. A silver three-piece-suit topped off with a sheen outlined the slim, athletic figure of the man, whose face contained, clean-shaven, aristocratic features, topped by bronze, neat matted hair.

He held out his hand. “Cassidy, James Cassidy.”

I took it, surprised by the vigorous squeeze I received. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Cassidy,” I said. “If you don’t mind, I’d like to quickly get ahead with our business. Quite frankly, I’m dying to hear more details about your brief but intriguing email. Not to mention baffling.”

He smiled as he took a seat on the desk nearest to us, then motioned for me to roll a chair beside him. After I had done so, he said with an air of, “I assure you, this talk will clear away all the baffling.”

“Let’s get straight to the point: Canada is threatening to take over Trenweca?”

“Why is it so surprising?”

I made a derisive snort. “Trenweca is one of the leading developing nations in the world. Our per capita income happens to be the fifth-highest in the world, and it’s been what, seven years since we declared our freedom from the United States? We took seven of USA’s fifty states – Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and have turned them almost as wealthy as the United States – respective of their sizes. And now you’re telling me it might just be taken over by Canada.”

“It is very much all of the above you mentioned. What it is not is properly armed for a war.”

My cynical self evaporated. “War?”

“With the United States.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You heard me right, Mr. Westwood. Although it isn’t out for anyone except the intense insiders to know, your beloved country may well as be preparing for it. The United States was never happy with your segregation, and its current President, Cynthia Faulkner is going to look to bring you back, and in the opinions of Trenweca’s Parliament, even if it involves a war between the two nations.”

A while after I drank it all in, I asked him, “Why are you telling me this?”

“You’ve done a Masters in American History from Brown University, summa cum laude. Back when the United States still consisted of fifty states.”

“But I work as an auditor. I don’t understand –”

“You worked two years as an assistant to the Secretary of State before you partook in the independence movement by Trenweca.”

“I moved mostly because I was incarcerated for involvement in the murder of Alexa Jennings and Walter Jennings. After that, I was forbidden to ever seek a political job in the States or in Trenweca.”

His smile was sly. “The charges will be removed from your records when you perform a task for us.”

“I don’t mind them being there in the first place, you see,” I retorted, “since they’re false. Alexa Jennings was killed at the hands of her psychopathic father, Walter, who attempted to kill me using the same knife. I grabbed it from him while he tried to thrust it into my abdomen, and I had no choice but to use it on him when he grabbed his loaded rifle. That’s why the knife contained my fingerprints, Mr. Cassidy. Not because I killed both of them, or because I am a mad killer running on loose.”

“Mr. Westwood, I assure you I am not blaming you for anything. I came here to ask you of a simple task you could do to let go then, of those charges, which may as well not matter to you, but have made you an outcast in USA, which is why you dislike their justice system so highly.”

Gritting my teeth in annoyance, I said, “What task do you have in mind?”

“When you sign my contact that includes all the minor details, the major ones will be that, first, I will erase all charges in all files in Trenweca that are held against your name. For this, you will need to apply for a job in the Trenweca Parliament, which, by my help, you will get easily. Your job will be to follow our instructions to prevent Trenweca declaring war in a rash movement before America does, in fear that it will any day do so themselves. What they don’t know is that Canada has gotten wind of this very interesting piece of news, and they plan to use it their advantage. While your country uselessly battles with USA, Canada will let USA suck out every ounce of blood from Trenweca, then when it’s about to collapse, it will lend a pillar of support in the form of their own army, which they will use as a route to gain into your country – and you know the rest.”

I stared at this man before me, who had just asked me to go as on a secret mission for the wellbeing of my country. “Who are you again?” I asked.

“I work for a covert division under Trenweca’s political offices. It was created by a leading leader in the Trenweca Independence Movement, Kyle Worthington, which I’m sure you know of. I don’t have much time Mr. Westwood, I can only grant you three days’ duration before we switch to another candidate. We, or I, thought you’d like a life free of stains of a crime you were never involved in. That you would like to save the country that granted you a second life, a life of normality and let you release the burden of living as a pariah. I hope I was not wrong. Till next time, if there is one, Mr. Timothy Westwood. Email me your response on the same ID as you did today by Monday. Have a safe weekend. I can say confidently it isn’t likely so many more are to come here.”

He left me without further ado, leaving me sitting in my chair, in a daze of disbelief and giddiness. And another feeling – an indescribable feeling that tugged at me. An unpleasant feeling.

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Query Me This...BLOOD LINES

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Rick Daley,

My fictional thriller novel, Blood Lines, contains the action of John Grisham novels, the scientific intrigue of Jurassic Park, and a wry protagonist who longs to be as smooth as an Ian Fleming character. In my 65,000-word novel, Eric Brodie is dying of cancer. He also has first-hand knowledge that American is being lured into a war they won’t win against Britain.

Eric is invited to participate in human drug trials for a possible cure for cancer by Fred O’Brien, the head research chemist and a World War II army buddy to Eric’s late father. Unknowingly, Eric is the only participant in the trials being equally funded by Britain and the United States. After both Fred and the research results suddenly disappear, a bombing at the American military hospital containing the lab is announced to be the work of terrorists working for a British double-agent. America has declared they are willing to go to war if either the results or Eric are not in their hands within 48-hours. With the lab destroyed, Eric must untangle the web of promises and clues to locate Fred and the test results before anyone finds them, or him. For no one, not even Eric, knows for certain if the drug has failed or if he is the only living carrier of the cure for cancer.

I am an as-yet unpublished author of historical fiction, with one completed novel in editing with Kristen Weber. I have owned my own marketing and advertising agency for more than five years, writing creative and technical copy for my clients’ collateral and website projects. I’m the editor and lead writer for the Church Hill newsletter. I have selected to send my query to you because of the experiment you are conducting. I have used it as an opportunity to write something that was out of my genre just to see if I could do it, and with the outrageous hope that it will lead to a book deal. Thank you for your time and consideration, and for the fine premise. I embellished it based on a dream I had in which my particular blood had mixed with a drug resulting in the only known cure for cancer.


Chapter One

It is because of my cancer my country is preparing for war. Not my cancer, really. Me, really. Me and my damned habitual belief that I could throw enough of my father’s money at any problem and it would simply go away as quickly as he did. While I’d like to blame the man for the position I’m in, I’m not so stupid as to recognize everyone has choices.

It’s only now I can clearly see how poorly I’ve played the game since my father exercised his ability to finally stop living. I’ve been looking at the chessboard of my life completely wrong. I was so consumed with taking the most out of the move I was currently making that I couldn’t see I was the pawn and not the king. Nor did I realize even the king is there to protect the queen.

It’s only now, waiting for this call on my cell phone and successfully getting lost in a crowd in Manhattan, I know I have to visualize the moves ahead. In the next 48 hours if I don’t drastically change the game for everyone else, then what comes next will feel like an eternity. To the world. To me.

The phone is vibrating in my pocket, and the physical sensation triggers the thought that perhaps the best way to come up with a new strategy, is to examine some of the moves that lead me to standing in this spot. The number showing up on the phone is Fred’s. His voice, at this moment, I would love to hear more than any other in the world.

* * *

Dr. Fred O’Brien’s comforting voice was there for me two years ago. Fred always had that wonderful bedside manner they give to doctors on TV who work for their patients versus the pay. His head of fuzzy grey hair his large hands were constantly fingering, and the bushy eyebrows he could hind behind when the news was bad, seemed out of sorts with his tidy appearance. When his hands went up to his hair, and he bowed his head to deliver the news to me, I felt glad that he had to be the one to do it. Although Fred was only five-foot-seven, he suddenly seemed to be the one six inches taller than me. I heard some of the words, but not in full sentences because my heart was giving me such a pounding from the news. Prostate cancer. Went valiantly. Spoke of me. I’d have been proud of him. In the end.

My brow drew tight. “But he looked so healthy just last week,” I heard myself saying through the thunder and waves. “Did I just not see it? He was fine. He hadn’t told me.”  It wouldn’t have been the first time my father hadn’t confide in me.

Again Fred spoke, as he placed his hand on my shoulder, and his words continued to come. Breathe deep. Was a good man. Didn’t want to burden you. Valiant decision. Stopped the treatment. A loss to so many.

“You’ll have to meet with the lawyers tomorrow, Eric,” he said. I finally met his eyes. “You’re obviously the executor of his will.” He looked at me steadily waiting for the realization to come. I was the only family I had left.

“I’m sure it’s precisely spelled out so I won’t be left making any important decisions,” I said. That was an understanding we had had for a long time. My father handles things. I don’t.

Fred stared at the floor, and then up at me through those eyebrows and said nothing. He handed me a business card for the attorney’s office with the appointment time scribbled on the back.

“Ten o’clock tomorrow,” he said, knowing I wasn’t going to be able to read the writing. “Do you want me to come?”

I shook my head, and he said, “I’m sure the estate is going to be enough for you to handle in the next few days, and I can arrange a proper military funeral. Your dad and I went through some terrible times together in France. We didn’t know which of us would go first, so we made promises. Let me do this for him and for you.”

I nodded and he steered me toward the door. “Where is he now?” I asked.

“He was at Walter Reed this morning under my care when we lost him, so his body is there. Do you want to see him?”

I thought about it briefly. “No, what good would that do? I’ll have plenty of time for that in the next few days.”

The truth was I wasn’t ready. I wanted to see how my father had left things before I decided how to look at him in the end. The thing about being my father’s son is I always have this irritable hope that maybe this time things will be different. Inevitably, the feeling usually lets me down. Or he does. Or I do.

The door was open, and I went through it trying to figure out what to do with my time between now and ten tomorrow. “Get some rest. Have a drink,” Fred said. The door clicked shut between us.

* * *

Now, as I flip open the phone to speak to him, my heart is once again driving the sound of waves into my ears. With a breath, I wrestle down the sound and calmly said hello.

“Where are you?” Fred asks.

“The nearest cell tower is letting everyone know where I am right now. Do you have the tickets for me?” I ask.

“It’s all arranged. Meet me in Washington Square tonight at seventeen hundred hours. Rush hour. Near the statue. I’ll give you the tickets. The passport. Tomorrow you’ll head to London. From there you’ll go to the new lab. It’s remote. Protected. No one will know you’re there except for the two of us, one security guard, and the lab tech. Any questions?”

“Nope.” I click the phone shut and toss it into the nearest trash bin. I set off on foot weaving through the crowds at Times Square until my brown tweed jacket and blue jeans disappear in a throng of people heading downtown.

I hate down time. It’s one of the few things I inherited from my father. Impatience. His resulted in a life of action. Mine in a series of unfinished jobs, hobbies and relationships. This is the first time in my life I can see action as the right course. I have two hours before the meeting with Fred–just enough time to duck into The Strand bookstore and do a little research on platelets in their medical stacks. “18 miles of books” as their tagline says, will surely contain the answers I need to fill in the last steps of the blood line that began in the attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. two years ago.

* * *

There is a sense of anticipation when you’re about to read someone’s will that you’ll finally get the real scoop on the person. Like seeing them in their underwear for the first time. Not naked. In underwear, which I think is much more revealing. It’s what they’ve really been walking around in all these years, and they’re finally letting you see it. It’s how they truly see themselves. Boxers? Prints or stripes? Thongs? You get the idea. Part of me wanted to find out my dad preferred the lifestyle of a bright pink push up bra. It certainly would be more exciting than the plain white briefs I know he wore every day.

At ten o’clock I was escorted down the hall and into a room to wait for Mr. Cutlass. The attorney’s office was cold–either because it was winter or because of the inhabitant. When Mr. Cutlass stepped into the room and shook my hand, his lifeless gaze confirmed which.

“This shouldn’t take long, Mr. Brodie. We met with your father only four weeks ago for the first time, and he came to us with a structure that was fairly simple and straightforward.”  The attorney cleared his throat and looked down at the open, thin folder on his desk. “He had three homes, all of which he sold the before the end of last year, contents included. His four automobiles were sold as well, and all investments and/or stocks were cashed in or sold. All the monies from those assets went into a simple savings account.” Mr. Cutlass never raised his eyes as he licked his fingers then flipped the page. “His savings account also contained the military pension he had received for the last thirty years, which ceases upon his death, and any insurance money received after your mother’s death is still in the account as well. He had one life insurance policy, of which you are the sole beneficiary. Within the week, his remaining possessions will be delivered in three boxes to your residence by our office. The total of his savings account and the life insurance policy is 202 million. We only need to have you sign a few papers today to get everything transferred to you, and we’ll close out his yearly taxes three months from now. Any questions?”

I stared open-mouthed until finally Mr. Cutlass asked again. “Hell, yes I have questions, Mr. Cutlass. How did he amass 202 million? He was a retired soldier and a biology professor after that. And what about final requests? He left no instructions? Is there nothing else,” I hesitated and swallowed, “about me? I mean, did he leave nothing other than cash and the insurance?”

“The three boxes,” he smiled. The temperature in the room dropped. “But no note or last words, if that’s what you mean. I’m afraid everything I’ve told you is the extent of the will, Mr. Brodie. He wanted it wrapped up simply.”

He wore over 200 million dollars in plain, white briefs.

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Dear Mr. Agent,

Emma is a mayor's daughter in a frontier America full of magic. Humans  hold power over machines, while sprites--evil spirits forced into hiding by humanity's wards--can manipulate nature. When Emma fails her magic test and turns out to have sprite magic, the sprites claim her as their savior in a battle against the elves and brownies of England.

As Emma learns to use her magic, she also learns that the sprites' fight with the English fae has ties to the United States' increasing aggression against England and uneasy coexistence with the neighboring French colony of Louisiana. She finds herself increasingly in sympathy with the downtrodden sprites and repelled by the human world of politics that her father's bid for governor propels her into. But as she learns more about the sprites and their plans, the more she suspects she's being deceived.

When Emma discovers that the help she's giving the sprites is actually provoking the United States to go to war with England, exposing their flanks to Louisiana, she refuses to help them anymore. But the sprites can't fulfill their plans without her, and if she won't help them, her murder--supposedly at the hands of English spies--will.  Emma must save herself and outwit the sprites to keep her father and her country from an onslaught on three fronts: England, Louisiana, and the sprites themselves.

Age of Steel and Stone is a fantasy novel complete at 112,000 words.

This is my first novel. Thank you for your time.

Best wishes,
Jennifer Shafer

       Mr. Chambers opened the door to the examination room, and Emma knew she had failed. His face was too kind, his mustache too rumpled from furious rubbing, for any other conclusion.
       Her heart felt hollow, and her hands cold despite the weltering heat.  She was surrounded in magical debris, but she had allowed herself to hope that perhaps the onslaught had been part of the test. What will
Daddy say? she thought, followed by,  What will Michael say? Her older brother had passed his test with one of the highest marks possible.
Everyone had expected her to do the same. She had expected it, until the objects on the examination table had started flying around the room and she had been unable to stop them. What had gone wrong?
       "Thank you, Miss Pierce," Mr. Chambers said, then hesitated. "Shall we join your parents so that they can hear the results?"
       She followed him with her head carefully erect, shoulders straight, face calm. She would not embarrass him or her family by breaking down. The dark, narrow walls of the corridor, smelling like damp wood in the
heat, were a comforting presence flanking her. She felt exposed when they entered the town hall in the center of the building, where her parents sat waiting.
       "Mr. Pierce," said Mr. Chambers, with a nod, and Emma wondered how he felt, delivering such bad news to the mayor. "Mrs. Pierce. Your daughter has completed her magic test."
       "Completed?" her father said, half rising. "Not passed?"
       "I'm afraid not," Mr. Chambers said, and patted Emma on the shoulder without seeming to notice what she was doing. "I've never seen anything like it before. At first she seemed to have a good grasp of magic, but when presented with the test objects she was completely unable to manipulate them."
       "What does that mean?" her father said, on his feet now, his dark eyes locked on Mr. Chambers's.
       "I don't know," Mr. Chambers said, but of course he did. Everyone could work magic, except for the disabled and the very stupid. Emma was far as she knew.
       Her father dismissed Mr. Chambers and gave Emma his hand. "You can retake the test," he said. "Michael can help you practice. I'm sure it was just nerves."
He kept up a stream of comfort all the way to the carriage, which Emma hardly listened to because she was watching her mother. Her mother didn't look surprised, or suspicious, or sad. She merely looked thoughtful, as though she had learned nothing new today but only been reminded of something she had known long before.  But she said nothing on the drive home, and nothing when they entered  the house, and in having to face Michael's politely kept back incredulity and her younger brother Bobby's confusion she had no chance to ask.

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