Wednesday, January 14, 2009

48 SECRET AGENT

Genre: Mainstream YA
Working Title: Eden
Seven o’clock, Sunday morning, my mother clipping peach-colored roses from the bushes, humming to herself. I slip past her unnoticed, slide in through the den window, brushing the last of the dry field grass from my shoulders, my hair, my pants.

Silently pad by the kitchen where the dog sleeps near the stove and my father reads the paper with his back to the door. Careful up the carpeted stairs, avoiding the two creaky spots until I reach my room.

I ball up my clothes, put them beneath a pile of towels and pull on my nightgown. I take the long one with sleeves that skitter down to my knuckles. I have just pulled the quilt over my shoulders when someone knocks.

“Come in,” I call.

“Oh, you’re awake,” my mother says, “I knocked before, but you were still sleeping.” She is holding the roses. “I cut these for you. I thought they would look so nice on your bureau the way they match the smaller roses in your wall paper. Look here, Missy.” She taps at tiny roses on the wall. “At these.”

“Yeah.” I slide further down into the quilt.

“Well, you don’t seem excited, but I guess that’s to be expected at your age.” She comes nearer to me on the bed. “Why are you wearing a winter nightgown on such a warm morning, Missy?”

“Cold last night,” I murmur. I want to say, I’m wearing it to hide my arms, Mom. I cut them for you.

39 comments:

gailciminokrause said...

The easygoing opening does not prepare the reader for the shock at the end. GREAT!

I want to know why she goes out in the field to cut herself.

I'd continue reading. Wish there were more.

Lo said...

Very compelling. I do want to know what's going on with her.

Two things to consider: 1. I might rework the opening paragraphs. I don't think the fragments are working for you--they kind of trip the reader up.
2. The mom calls the daughter "Missy" twice. Is this her name or a term of endearment (like "Miss Thing")? Regardless, I don't think many people actually repeat someone's name twice in one conversation. It lends an artificial quality to the writing.

That said, good luck in the competition!

Sarah Jensen said...

I was on the fence until the last sentence. Now I'd read on for sure. And yeah, why the field to cut? Of course, that doesn't matter, I had a friend who would hide behind their boat.
This is a topic that should be written about, so good luck.

Chelle said...

Oh, loved the last line. That where I got hooked.

You could tighten up the writing in places, but over all I wanted to know why she was sneaking back in and then once I saw she was a cutter- I wanted to know more!

I too thought her mom was calling her "Missy" in a sarcastic way rather than it being her name.

Mora said...

I'm interested in the premise, and the last line is great, but... I can't get past the fragments. They do lend a certain dreamlike quality to the scene, but it's just too much, at least for me.

Siobhan said...

I felt the last line was a little melodramatic and almost manipulative. I can't imagine anyone thinking to themselves "I cut myself for you, Mother."
So because of this I would not read on, since I can imagine more this kind of awkward melodrama. Which is too bad because it's good writing otherwise

Elaine S. said...

The "fragments" work for me because I feel I am inside the girl's mind. The mother seems irritating by the repetition of Missy.

And - guess I am the only one - I knew the girl was going to reveal some kind of secret at the end.

So yes, I'm hooked.

Secret Agent said...

Whoah, that ending has a whopping sting in its tail - for which congrats! I immediately wanted to reach for my red pen, because this could all flow more fluently (you haven't quite mastered the tone - old-fashioned vs contemporary; the blend of lyrical vs edge). BUT there's something strange and mysterious about this - it feels fresh. And one doesn't see 'fresh' very often.

Amber J said...

I tend to agree with the rest of the posts here. I wasn't wild about the sentence fragments but the last line really hooked me. You might want to consider starting closer to the ending of this to really draw me in from the beginning. I'm definitely hooked now though so nice work!

AC said...

Who wouldn't want to read on after that last line?

Although I, too, was tripped up on the sentence fragments. Also the "sleeves that skitter down to my knuckles"--that seemed awkwardly descriptive for the dreamy voice.

The last line was great, although seemed a little bit like something one of those creepy children say in horror movies. But I know we're only getting the first 250. I'd love to read more.

Barb said...

The ending line was a grabber, and I would read on because of it. But I also felt that line was there because of the 250 word cut-off point, and that if the cut off had been 500 or 1,000 words, that's where the line would have fallen. So I felt kind of manipulated.

On the other hand, you were supposed to get our attention in 250 words and you did. So I'd read on and give it a chapter or two to see if the rest held up to the promise of that last line.

ColoradoKate said...

I'm hooked, too, by that last line, and by the ambiguity of it--is it "cutting" as in self-mutilation, or is she doing something else that ends up cutting her arms?

I liked the girl's voice (Missy? Is that her name or a term of endearment?) but the mother's voice struck me as stiff and not quite authentic. Why does she make such a big deal of almost forcing the girl to look at the wallpaper? But, then, maybe Mom is supposed to be stiff and a bit strange!

The present tense narrative works well here, I think, and the fragments add to the voice, IMHO.

Angela said...

The ending grabs, but the opening is a bit stumbly. The fragments don't work, IMO.

I'm assuming this is about self-mutilation?

lilianamama said...

Ok, now I'm wowed. Nice ending. And if it is manipulative, I think that's alright as what the girl is doing is a passively manipulative action, really. The fragments were a little too fragmenty, but I liked being that much in her head. Maybe don't take them out, just cut back. Yeah, I thought the mom was being Mommy Dearest with "Missy".

C.N. Curtin said...

Wow!

Cutting really disturbs me and you gave me that "sick to my stomach" feeling when I read the last line. Good job!

I'm hooked. Love the mom, already. She's sounds crazy!

Megs said...

No.... there just is a lot of information stuffed in right up front. You don't want people to feel like they are reading the 'setting' part before a play.

Jarucia said...

My only comment is I think this intro can really appeal (or not) to people on a personal level.

While the writing is a bit choppy to start, it's decent.

The last line turned me off, and not because of the cutting issue, just how things were presented to that moment and how the girl thinks of it. Overall, this didn't appeal to me.

Kate said...

I'm going to have to agree with the Secret Agent on this one - the writing is fresh and the mood is established right off.

Yes, I'm hooked. One of my favs so far. (not necessarily the subject matter, just the writing) -- Kate

alice said...

Wow. Terrific punch in the gut.

Alps said...

Like everyone else I loved the ending line. YIKES! Gave me the shivers. And I think you have beautiful writing - reads like poetry in some spots, which I love. I think the thing I would really work on is making the dialogue more realistic. It sounded contrived to me. Great job, though, and good luck!

Trish said...

I love the hook at the end. Great! It could mean many different things.

When the mother tells her to 'Look here, Missy' I thought she was telling her off. I had to read that part twice.

Great work though. I would read on for sure.

Anonymous said...

I'm hooked.

I'm an ex-cutter. There, I've said it. Unfortunately it was unheard of when I started doing it in university, so I thought I was alone. I'm glad more authors are writing about it. I wish you, from the bottom of my heart, every success on this one. It is definitely a hard topic to write about. Probably as hard as post rape trauma syndrome which my entry is about.

Anonymous said...

The last sentence shocks. Well done. However, I don't like 1) the heroine's self-awareness that she's cutting due to her emotions towards her mom, and 2) the excessively long description of her movement at the beginning.

"I slip past her unnoticed, slide in through the den window, brushing the last of the dry field grass from my shoulders, my hair, my pants. Silently pad by the kitchen where the dog sleeps near the stove and my father reads the paper with his back to the door. Careful up the carpeted stairs, avoiding the two creaky spots until I reach my room. I ball up my clothes, put them beneath a pile of towels and pull on my nightgown."

This did not add atmosphere for me in what's otherwise a very strong first page.

beth said...

I am not so hooked. The opening was choppy for me; too many fragments at once.

And the premise at the end didn't appeal to me--not a subject matter I like, and the narrator sounded a little emo for me. However, there are obviously people here who really liked it, so that's just an opinion thing.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with Anon comments as to the MC's awareness of her cutting due to her emotions towards her mother (sorry, I getting tired so that might not have made sense). I knew exactly WHY I was cutting (not for the attention, because no one knew I was doing it). If she didn't know what her trigger was, then I'd be concerned.

Julie Butcher-Fedynich said...

The opening paragraphs are too passive. She hummed and clipped, not the -ing words.

It would be interesting to see why she cut herseld and if you can pull this off and still make the character likable, not nuts.

No for me

mermensing said...

I am hooked.

I like how you see that her parents don't even notice when she's not in the house.

I think simplifying the description will help us feel the MC better. I don't know much about cutting, but wouldn't she feel mellow? Not so alert and edgy? So the description would be sparer.

Also, at first I thought the mother was a little stiff. Now I see she's an out-of-touch moron. Maybe make her ditzier, so there's no question that she's totally disengaged from her daughter.

"I cut them for you" is so...passive-aggressive. Great.

Angela said...

I almost quit reading BUT I am so glad that I didn't. Good job. Last line really gets you!

Anette J Kres said...

I’m on the fence…
Because the kid sneaking back in is interesting and the last thought “I cut them (her arms) for you (Mom)” makes me curious. However, the present tense distracts me and I feel that there are just way too many unnecessary details in this opener.

Lori said...

It's an intriguing premise in the last line, but I'm not sure the disjointed sentences prior to it really pull me in. It just doesn't seem like a realistic narrative voice to me.

Crimogenic said...

ohhhh... this looks good. I would definitely read on. But I do think you could tighten up your dialogue a bit. Best of Luck.

Suzette Saxton said...

Though the mother's dialogue seemed stilted to me, you write extremely well in present tense. I'm hooked. Good job!

sally apokedak said...

I think the writing is very good in this. I am not into reading about cutters, but otherwise I'd be hooked. I loved the voice here.

John Zeleznik said...

Not for me. The opening sentences didn't work for me. They read more like a screenplay or a script than the opening to the novel. And cutting...not something I'm overly interested in.

Bethlene said...

Troubled teen who cuts. I don't think I'd read more. Too disturbing for my tastes. Your descriptions are good, though.

dragonlady said...

That was a great last line - and a great contrasting setup in terms of style.

The tone at first was awkward for me to read - but your last line made me definitely want to read more.

Sissy said...

I've tried to comment on this three times now! I don't know what I'm doing wrong.

But for all the effort, I'm sorry to say I wouldn't read on because of the subject matter.

Your portrayal of mom wants me to cut her!

mjb said...

Serious subject and I'm drawn to the MC. I would read more, at least a page or two to see if this is a story with hope.

danceluvr said...

I'm not pulled in, even though you write well.

Sorry.