Wednesday, April 15, 2009

45 Secret Agent

TITLE: We Can't All Be Tiger Trainers
GENRE: Women's Fiction

The last time I called Claire, she hung up on me. I knew she was sick, but what the hell?

“The doctor thinks she’s having a breakdown,” her mom whispered as she led me down the hall of Claire’s childhood home, a Beacon Hill brownstone. But I didn’t believe her. Claire wasn’t the breakdown type.

Mrs. McKenna knocked on a door at the end of the hallway. “Claire? Malia’s here.” She smiled, gesturing for me to go in. I flipped back my ponytail and entered.

Claire was resting on a double bed. She didn’t sit up and greet me—weird. Her hair frizzed around glasses I didn’t recognize, an unsettling look. I was used to glossy curls and contacts.

“Hi,” she said. Even with a comforter on top of her, I could tell she’d lost some weight. She had to be sweltering.

“Hey, Claire.” I settled in on the edge of the bed. “How are you?" I picked up her hand and noticed the extremes between our skin tones: Claire’s, nearly translucent, and mine, dark brown.

“How do you feel?” I said.

“I’m really sick.”

I was not enlightened. “Some kind of flu?”

Claire closed her eyes and slowly shook her head. A tear dripped down her cheek and plopped on her sleeve. I watched it melt into the cotton.

So much had changed in just one month. I'd taken off for a Senior Week camping trip in the Sierras, the same day Claire left campus for a debate tournament.

26 comments:

Amy Sue Nathan said...

I think you have a good start here, I'm intrigued.

A minor suggestion: I don't think a tear would plop. ;) Perhaps it drips down her face and lands on her sleeve. Love the image of it melting into the cotton...you could try the word disappear if the fact that tears don't really melt is ever an issue.

Alps said...

I'd keep reading. I like the melting tear too. :) And your seamless character descriptions.

I did trip up on the line about the unsettling look. I wasn't sure if Claire was giving her an unsettling look or if just her appearance was unsettling. I now know which of those you meant, but I had to read it through a couple times.

Also, I have to admit I don't like Malia very much yet. She seems insensitive. But maybe she has reason to be. I'd keep reading to find out.

Good luck!

Judy said...

I would keep reading. I want to know what is wrong with Claire.

slhastings said...

First of all, I LOVE the title, but that's because it's a secret dream of mine to train tigers. (Sssh. Don't tell anyone).

I think you have a nice start here, but it felt a little rushed, or maybe, jumpy to me.

I also agree that Malia comes off as cold– especially with the line "I was not enlightened".

I do want to know what's wrong with Claire.

Dorothy said...

I like this and would read on. There's a mystery waiting to be uncovered and I want to see how you deal with the bi-racial friendship.

Amy said...

Hello - I like the title and the bi-racial friendship as Dorothy mentioned above. That intrigued me and I'd flip through the pages at a book store.

Two things that threw me off (and I'm only dealing with 250 words so I could be way off) is the category "Women's Fiction" since Claire and Malia seem so young and the writing does as well. I also thought it was rushed. So much happens here!

Good work, I'd recommend slowing it down a bit, but off to a promising start.

AK

Jean said...

And...?

Why is it important or intriguing that this character we don't know is in bed and apparently not herself?

I like the first line. It has voice. There is potential here, but not enough in the first bit to keep me reading. Sorry.

:)

Katie said...

I'm totally curious. What's wrong with her? And did it only take one week to lose that much weight?

Stephanie said...

The scene is a little slow, but I am curious to know more about what happened to Claire, so I'd keep reading.

IQOkie said...

Something happened to Clair that would cause her to have a breakdown--so yeah, I'm hooked.

KMZ said...

I would definitely read on. The only thing that stood out a little to me was the line 'I was not enlightened.'

I love the part about the tear melting into the cotton. Great job!

Sheila said...

Love the title and the first line. I was immediately drawn into this.

Do ponytails flip? Mine always just hangs there, but my hair is not extraordinarily long. And I do agree that Malia seems a bit unsympathetic.

But I am intrigued and would read on. Well done.

Megs said...

Love the title.

First line.... I would cut everything after "she hung up on me". Otherwise it feels rushed.

Then the wording throughout could be nudged a bit so it reads more naturally.

Like:

I flipped back my ponytail

could be:

I flipped my ponytail back

LoriStrongin said...

I was totally hooked, until that last paragraph. It's an obvious set up to a backstory infodump. Right now, I'd rather stay in the present and learn more about Claire, than learn about what happened in the last month.

Also, if the mother is afraid Claire is having a breakdown, why not bring Claire to a psychiatrist?

ElanaJ said...

I found this interesting, but I'd like more emotion. How does Malia feel when she sees Claire? It sort of seems like she doesn't care, especially because of the second line. If she's sick, I think her friend would be more concerned about what's wrong with her and that emotion is missing here, I think. You do a good job of telling how Claire looks, but Malia's reaction to it is completely absent. I think if you added some of that, it would really shine.

fairchild said...

As I read, I felt that Malia didn't come off very empathetically--a sort of no-nonsense character. By your genre I assumed they were women but the voice sounded very young. (flipping her ponytail, having the mother escort her to Claire's room, use of the word 'weird', etc.)

Also, why did Claire have to be sweltering under the comforter? We don't know what season this is so she could just as well be keeping warm. Might consider giving some clues as to the room temperature, time of year.

The mention of their skin color is a good way to let the reader know the MCs race, but having known Claire for what seems like a long time, is that something that would strike Malia anymore? Perhaps if there were an indication that Claire's skin tone is not normal, i.e., she's paler than usual, that would be something to notice.

The teardrop melting was an odd phrasing, because it can't melt. You could use 'soak' instead.

By the time I got to Senior Week I had to do a double take. I debated whether you meant they were above 60, or that they were college seniors. Since there's a mention of a campus and the fact that they don't sound old, I went with college seniors.

That's my take as I read. Overall, I'm interested in finding out what's wrong with Claire and how Malia will deal with the situtaion. So that's a tentative hook.

susiej said...

I do want to know what's wrong with her.

And I respectfully disagree with the above comment about the comforter. I simply assumed it was summer because of that.

However, as for the other details- hair, skin color etc.- that's Ok but there may be a few too many. We don't have to know exactly how they look right away. Maybe that's why Malia comes across as unsypmathetic to some- she's so concerned with looks.

As for the comment of them being young- Senior Week, campus debate- They're in college, right? Though at first, I thought Seniors as in old people- sorry, I'm middle aged. Maybe you could rework that sentence-it was weaker than the rest.

All in all, I liked it.

shorty411 said...

I had trouble with flipping her ponytail because it seems like a weird thing to do before going to see a friend and I didn't see any purpose in it. Meaning, the gesture didn't convey character or emotion, I didn't view it as a nervous thing or something like that. Plus, if it's a ponytail isn't it already back? i mean I know long ones can creep up, but, I don't know, for some reason this line stopped me up short. I really liked the tear melting into the cotton though and feel like this has potential :)

vicki said...

Hi, loved the title, Genre more YA
I'd keep reading but want to mention some things didn't make sense. YA are brutally honest with each other = generic comments like 'I'm really sick' didn't ring true. Malia asking if it was 'flu' after noting the dramatic physical effects and being told it was a nervous breakdown =annoyed a bit. The last para, recalling the past when her friend is crying seemed odd. I'd expect 'Whats wrong with you? Just tell me."
Also odd that the mother hasn't been honest with the best friend?
Good luck with it.

Cheryl S said...

I really liked the voice and found the premise really interesting.

There was not too much back story... and the details about the pony tail and Claire's hair and glasses were inserted unobtrusively.

I liked the image of the tear melting into the sheet too.

I would definitely read on

Azimuth said...

I feel as if I'm more concerned about Claire than Malia and would read on only to see what was wrong with her. Malia seems perplexed but not worried. I didn't like the tear dropping. It seemed a bit melodramatic. Perhaps a reference to her eyes tearing up first. Before a tear is big enough to drip down a cheek there has to be some time. I'd think Malia would notice. Also, I thought the last sentence felt too infodumpy to me and would think it might be better to stay in the moment rather than draw the reader out of it with narrative.

Good luck!

jerzegirl said...

I am on the fence. Reading the first line and then the second made me wonder if she is thinking to her self. Then it jumps to a conversation with Claire's mother. It didn't set up the scene.. for me.

Please note I said for me... Also did not like the "I was not enlightened..." feels overwritten.. (just that line)

Love the descriptions of the differences in hands... feels real..

Secret Agent said...

These opening words do seem to fit a YA more than women's fiction, as others have said above. But my main concern it that I'm just not invested in the characters.

You've got a great opening paragraph, but then Claire and Malia just SIT there, and I don't care.

Sorry, not hooked. Curious, but not hooked.

Susanne said...

I'm hooked but I have a few nits. "How are you?" doesn't work to me. "What's up?" or "What's going on?" or something less formal. Also, I'd take out the first sentence of the last paragraph and start "A month ago I'd taken off..."
Depending on what Claire's problem turns out to be, I'd read more. If it's something "common," I'd probably lose interest.

danceluvr said...

I like this. I want to know what's wrong with Claire.

I like how you slipped in Malia's skin tone without drawing attention to it.

The only thing I'd ask you to watch is the xx-ing verb tense. (Claire was resting on a double bed.)

Great beginning.

Jenny said...

I am just a tiny bit curious about what is ailing the characters, but it really isn't terribly compelling. I wish there had been a more interesting setup than a debate tournament to grab my attention. Not hooked.