Wednesday, January 13, 2010

36 Secret Agent


April 10, 1941

Dear Mama,

I hope you are doing well. PLEASE COME GET ME AND OTIS!

I’m tired of working in the field picking cotton and corn and tobacco and whatever else Grandpa Lum grows for the “BOSS MAN.” I thought slavery was over! I want to come live with you, Mama. NOW! And Mama, you’re not going to believe this, but yesterday, when me, Hattie, and Otis were out in the cotton field pulling weeds, Grandma Jenny hit me over the head with a hoe! She said I was too slow. Mama, I was just tired. Tired from walking the mile home from school. Tired from the heat. Tired from¾


Oh no. Someone’s coming up the ladder! Grandpa Lum will skin me alive if he finds me up here writing to my mama.

Shoving aside the worn notebook she was writing on, Cleo Holmes swung her brown, mosquito-bitten legs over the side of the bed, narrowly missing the jagged metal springs poking through the thin mattress.

With the finished letter still in her hand, she hurried across the room and quickly pushed aside the dark sheet of the makeshift closet. Pulling down an old, tattered shoe box from the back of the top shelf, she placed the letter in the box alongside her blue ribbon ink pen (won in a most-books-read-over-the-summer contest). She scooted to the middle of the room just as Hattie, her twelve-year-old aunt, appeared at the top of the ladder, sweat streaming down the sides of her pecan-tanned face.


  1. I really like this setting.

    I find the switch from a letter, to inner monologue, to narration a bit too much for 250 words. Also, it says the letter is finished but it shows it stopping mid-sentence.

    Overall, this has great potential but needs some tweaking.

  2. Historical in 1941? Damn I feel old.

    To me, historical is one of the harder genres to get right. Kudos for tackling it. Very good to put out there how kids were treated as property.

    Cotton, corn and tobacco? All in one place? I'm having trouble figuring out where this is geographically. Tobacco might be southeastern U.S. Cotton is limited to the deep south these days, not sure about 1941. Corn - I think more of the midwest for that one. Of course, this might not be in the U.S.

    Details are very important in historicals. That's one of the reasons I think it's harder to take on. Lots of researching to be done.

    Because my mind hasn't shifted yet to thinking of historicals being in the 20th century, I'm having trouble figuring out if the voice is spot on or not.

    Nit - the letter's not "finished".

    Lots of good details in the living arrangements and such things like mosquito-bitten legs.

  3. I liked the first part, the voice is very strong.
    The last paragraph, in particular, is a bit of a distraction. She's putting her notebook away. Given that she's having to hide it in a hurry, the descriptive passage removes the sense of urgency.

  4. Good voice. It caught my attention and made me want to read on. I also found the switch from letter to thoughts jarring; I thought first it was still in the letter. Nice details!

  5. I liked the voice. Just a few nits others picked out already.
    Would keep reading.

  6. I agree about the transition out of the letter. You may want to make it clearer that the creak is a noise the main character hears.

    You do a great job of getting the setting across.

  7. I really liked the voice in the letter, but not so much in the narration at the end. If that portion was also in first person, or at least a closer 3rd person POV, I think I would like it better. Right now it feels very removed, like a narrator is describing what is happening. My main concern is that the rest of the story will be from this distant POV, rather than Cleo's.

  8. Good job, I like this but I wonder if it would work better told from first person? Just a thought... and it may just be because I had trouble switching from the letter to the action. I'd read on!

  9. I really like this voice. A few minor things--I don't think in 1941 that walking one mile would be enough to complain about--maybe 2 or 3 miles?

    I like the mosquito-bitten legs and jagged metal springs descriptions. But if someone is already coming up the ladder, it doesn't seem like she'd have time to hurry all the way across the room, pull out a shoebox and hide her letter, then get back to the middle of the room before they appear. Not trying to be picky, but I think it's important you don't have anything that's going to pull a reader out of the story, and that made me pull back and wonder.

    Last comment--pecan-tanned doesn't work for me because it sounds like she was tanned by pecans. Like suntanned. But I like what you're going for, maybe just rework a bit.

    Overall, it grabs my interest and I like the character so far.

  10. I really enjoyed the feel of this, but the points that everyone else has mentioned already (the letter not being finished, and the time crossing the room) made me look twice. I did really want to know more about why her mother had left them there, and what their situation was.

  11. I love the voice and the setting, the only nit is the letter. She hadn't quite finished it, yet in the last paragraph you said, "With the finished letter still in her hand.'

    I'm hooked though and would read on to see what happens next. I loved the names of all the characters. They came alive for me.

  12. I would echo most of the earlier comments. I find letters tend to be tedious and artificial and would rather just be told the story. However, you are getting a lot of detail in that letter. I wonder if you could weave in the detail of why mama is not with her kids.

    I like the blue ribbon pen detail, but I agree it slows things down when she's obviously in a hurry.

    I feel for the M.C. but I'm not quite hooked. Maybe it's because her situation seems hopeless to me. I wonder where the story goes from here and if there is a better place to open it.

    You've got some great details! Keep on!