Wednesday, September 9, 2009

41 Secret Agent

GENRE: YA paranormal romance

The purple crystal on the plastic-covered table only made my palms itch at first, easy enough to ignore. I made fists and tucked them under my sweaty arms, swearing not to touch it.

“Lookin’ for somethin’ particulah, dawlin’?”

I tore my eyes away from the rock’s reflective surface to smile at the white haired black man operating the little booth, ignoring my quickening pulse and tightening chest. Despite the pins and needles flaring up inside my fists, I faked my best dazed-tourist look and glanced around the crowded open-air French Market instead. “Not really. I just moved here.”

The old man looked me up and down, not sweating at all in his polyester pants. “Let me guess. You a Yankee, girl?”

“Is it that obvious?” The sheen that covered my body as soon as I stepped out the door this morning had grown to a dripping sludge. I freed my itching fists. When my tingling fingers slipped toward the stone, I snatched them back empty-handed. “My mom’s from here, though.”

The man gave a low, raspy laugh. “Dat makes you only half-Yankee!”

Only half-Yankee.

That didn’t make this sweltering inferno my home, with its crowds of sticky tourists and tacky stores selling cheap plastic crap. I was melting in my jeans, too stubborn to put shorts on today when Mom told me how hot it would get. I hadn’t uttered more than a monosyllable to her at a time since we got into town last night.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This seems like an interesting story with great potential, but its overpopulation of adjectives is jarring.


    Try relying more on strong verbs rather than adjectives; it will make your writing more interesting.

  3. I agree with Ina. I adore description, believe me, but the amount of adjectives here was distracting for me. I would take and trim off some of the excess and I bet this would be much more engaging.

  4. I liked it. I would definitely read more.

  5. I'm not really drawn to this story. But maybe the agent will feel differently.

  6. I'm not totally hooked. I liked the premise of the mom moving her down south, but I agree that the abundant descriptions get in the way of the story.

  7. I'm definitely hooked.

    I get right into the story and wonder what's going on with this stone. I also love the tension of stubborness with the mom.

    the one part the description was a little weird for me was when her fists unclench and go for the stone, but then she pulls them back. I didn't have a clear picture of exactly what was going on here.

    first sentence I would offset "easy enough to ignor" with a -- instead of a comma, as it is practically its own sentence.

  8. Many of your descriptions are adjectives directly before the noun...maybe switch that up a bit? There could be a lot of potential to describe a black man in contrast to his white hair that could give ambience to the booth - a creepy impression or an exotic feel or possibly the man is like many other booth owners. How unusual are his looks to the MC's eyes?

    I don't get much of a feel for the MC except that she was short with her mother and stubborn to the point of unwise. some sort of action or hint that will make me like the MC would help this opening.

    I'm not hooked, but I was curious about the purple crystal.

  9. I agree with Ina, but I would keep reading. This character is intriguing, as is her relationship to the stone.

  10. I too had a problem with the plethora of objectives.

    For a first paragraph, the sentences seemed to run on a tiny bit.

    I'm wondering if there is something mystical about the purple crystal, or the character is just a kleptomaniac. It would hook me more if you hinted at either one.

  11. Love this. Makes me think about how much I hate the heat when visiting southern relatives (who don't have AC in their old house for that matter).

  12. Can she really know if he’s sweating in those pants or not? How about checking out his forehead instead? Dripping sludge? Eek. A lot of business with fists and hands.

    Tell me what crap they are selling. I crave examples. Otherwise, nicely done

  13. Maybe a black author could carry off having an adult male black character speak in a dialect this thick - but maybe not. It's horribly stereotypical (and demeaning) to have an adult black male say "Dat." Maybe later in the manuscript white characters speak this way, too, but I wouldn't keep reading.

    And the fact is, a little dialect goes a very very long way in a manuscript.

  14. Writer here, and yikes, I have no defense for the plethora of adjectives in this opening. I appreciate your feedback.

    catspit, the MC steals the crystal before page two, to ease your curiosity. She thinks it's kleptomania, but it isn't.

    Anon, I see what you mean. Thank you.

    SJH, just wondering if you've ever seen a Saints' Game? ;) The rhythm of the way this man speaks is an important part of his character, and I put a lot of thought into whether or not the dialect would come across as demeaning. But I stand by my decision and I do continue to use dialect in places in the manuscript.

    Thanks again to everyone, hooked or not.

  15. I like this one. While it's a bit adjective heavy, I liked the exaggerated (or maybe not!) dripping sludge sweat, and melting in her jeans. Anyone who's been in the South during the summer knows how this feels.

    (I'm confused at the comment that a black author might be able to pull off the thick dialect. Does that mean someone who's not black can't? And how would anyone know?)

  16. Neat. You can really feel her compulsion, and I'm getting curious too, to know why she wants it so bad.

    Good job.


  17. Although I'm curious as to why she would want to pick up something that makes her itch, it's not enough to keep me going. Had you not come on here and told us she's about to steal it, I never would have thought this was a rhetorical itch. I literally thought she was having an allergic reaction because she initially held it and was in need of some Benadryl. Either way...I need something more interesting to make me turn to page 2.

  18. I was hooked and intrigued. Why are her hands itching? True, there are a lot of adjectives, but it didn't bother me. I'd keep reading.

  19. Author: No, I've never seen a Saints game. And never hope to see one. (With apologies to poet Gelett Burgess.)

    But I'm from Tennessee and have heard tons of dialect, from people of all races. I'm not suggesting that people don't speak this way, but that in this usage, it's offensive - possibly worse because it's the beginning of the book and we know little to nothing about the black character except that he speaks nearly unintelligibly.

    I'd suggest having ten black people read it, and see if they find it offensive.

    And in general, readers (and editors) tend to hate reading this much dialect. Here's a viewpoint from an editor, who happens to be black.

    Would be interesting to know reactions from editors and agents on this.

  20. Sara, just to let you know, I *am* an agent's assistant. I read slush for money.

  21. Oblivious Yankee, here.

    I had no problem with the dialect, the adjectives, or the heat. I especially liked the dripping sludge part.

    The first sentence made me think of hives. Maybe rephrase it to something like 'My palms started to itch when I saw the purple crystal on the table, but it was easy enough to ignore.' Just to clarify that it's not a contact thing.

    I'm hooked and I'd keep reading. This is one of my favorite posts.

  22. Instead of saying the stone made her palms itch, perhaps say she was drawn to the stone, had to have it, something along those lines, maybe even have her think she's a klepto. As is, I do think it isn't clear as to whether or not her itch is physical or not.

    I agree about the overuse of adjectives. You can make this much stronger by using better verbs, and when you do use adjectives, by putting a bit more thought into your word choices. Go for something more original.

    Is it that obvious? - It would be obvious the moment she spoke. He'd pick it up in her accent right away.

    I'd also suggest dumping the ending parg about mom and save it for later, and bring the story back around to the crystal.

    As for dialect - you're not going to please everybody no matter what you do. Having ten Black writers read your work will get you as many different views as having ten White writers read it. Some people, regardless of race, will be offended, some will thing it's appropriate to make it feel 'real.' Some won't care at all. Some won't like it only because it's hard to read. It's your novel. Write it the way you want.

  23. Could be hooked. I actually didn't notice the adjectives much, though the phonetic spelling of the man's dialect did grate on me a little. I wasn't really offended by it; I just think you have to be an amazing writer to pull it off effectively, and it's hard to judge that from 250 words.

    The thing I find most interesting about this one is the disconnect between the genre and this beginning. It's refreshing to see something besides the usual new-kid-at-school-sets-eyes-on-mysterious-stranger motif.

  24. Having relocated from Alaska to the sultry south, I laughed out loud at the description of dripping sludge. Even read it to my husband. You have the setting down pat and I'm really curious about why she wants the stone. Good job.

  25. Wow. Yet yet ANOTHER book I've requested. I requested this, a few months ago (I recognized the title) and so yes, I'd request it again this time. I passed on this one, too. (This is the third one, right? all near each other, too! Weird).

  26. I'm not sure how relevant this is, but I think it's worth mentioning anyway. As a non-American, 'Yankee' to me means... well, American. I'm assuming from its usage here that to everyone else it means, er, not-southern-instead-northern-American. Also, I had no clue that the setting was the south. I'd assumed it was the Asian tropics or something, with cheap market stalls everywhere. The black man's dialect isn't enough of a clue to me, because I don't ever hear it!