Wednesday, March 23, 2011

March Secret Agent #49

GENRE: YA historical romance

A trumpet blast, followed by silence. We were all frozen on our marks. Center stage, my arms were raised in a V, and I saw the insides of my eyelids turn from pink to black as the lights went out and the curtain fell, sending the odor of musty velvet swirling around us. Applause filled the house, but on our side was the swift click-clack of tap shoes, the whisper of tights against taffeta, fishnets and feathers. I dropped my arms and exited stage right. My eyes were dazzled after the glare of the spotlight, but I'd done this so many times, I could find my way blind. I caught the small hand waiting for me in the wings as I passed. Not so small anymore, I thought as we navigated the maze of boxes and scenery back to my dressing room.

Everything was drenched in the odor of grease paint and cigar smoke. My throat was dry from singing and the cornstarch used to absorb the damp, and my soles crackled from the rosin that helped us not slip on the glossy stage floor. We passed dancers speaking in low voices about what worked and what didn't and whose fault it was, and the staccato stomp-stomp! of Frank and Carla's flamenco echoed against the cinderblock walls. The dark passage ended at a dim-lit hall lined with tiny dressing rooms where most of us lived. Secretly, of course, as this was not Rampart Street or Canal, and in 1890s New Orleans that meant one thing.


  1. Hmm. I'd keep reading to find out what that "one thing" is - something to do with ill repute, I'm guessing? But when you stated the year outright it felt a little off to me - maybe there's some way you could incorporate the mention of the time period more organically into the narrative? (Of course that's not easy to do in only 250 words. ;)

    I like the sensory descriptions; they evoke the setting very nicely. I'm curious what age the narrator is, since this is YA - if she is young, maybe that explains the illicit/secret nature of what they're doing? Good stuff. :)

  2. I thought you did an excellent job of evoking the theater scene here. Lots of details that appeal to all the senses. I like the little mentions of the hand--'not so small anymore'--without stopping to explain whose hand it was.

    I didn't get a huge sense of the main character from these two paragraphs, except that she's experienced and an observer, but I'm sure you get into her head and the conflict quite soon. It's hard with only 250 words!

    And, for me, the mention of the year worked the way you used it.

    Thanks for posting!

  3. Great setting and details, though I think for the first two paragraphs a little bit overwhelming. I would have liked to see the narrator move around a bit more in her world before getting tons more detail. The phrase about her eyelids turning from pink to black was a little off-putting. I had to read a few times to figure out what that was about. The info about the hand not being so small anymore - the narrator "sounded" older than that.

    I would read on. Good job.

  4. Loved the setting. You bring it so alive. "Insides of eyelids..." "crackling of the rosin." Unique, evocative phrases.

    I'd watch sentence construction like "Everything was... We were... throat was..." If you start with a strong noun followed by a descriptive verb, your prose has more power.

  5. Love the scene and I'd read on to see what was going to happen.

    I'm not sure you need to give the date at this point, but then again, I think it only stood out to me because I was reading this critically. I doubt I'd have complained about it in a novel.

    Fun setting for a historical YA.

  6. I liked the scene and descriptive imagery, but wasn't really hooked. Nothing really kept the plot going. Then again, this is only the first 250 words. Still, I would have liked a little more action.

    Thanks for sharing!

  7. KG is right, there's not much action so far, but I think you can get away with it because you're writing historical, and you need to spend more time painting the scene than in a modern piece. Your details are very good. If there is a way you could work in more of a hook in the first 250 words, that would make this piece even stronger.

  8. I agree with many of the comments above. A little more action, fewer details here, a bit more voice, fewer instances of was/were would serve you well. But I like the setting and I really want to know what the one thing is!

  9. I wished you had a little more story and a little less setting. You do a gorgeous job of imagery and sensation, however, and your setting is wonderful.

  10. You did a nice job bringing in the atmosphere of the theater and what the narrator was seeing and hearing.

    I was, however, not hooked. I know that a performance just ended and someone grew, but it wasn't enough for me. I wanted more of a hint that something was about to happen, or some conflict involving the narrator.

  11. You have a lot of nice details here, but you could put them to better use. For instance, instead of saying 'Everything was drenched in the odor of grease paint and cigar smoke.' show her waving a hand through a cloud of so-and-so's cigar smoke. Have her cough instead of saying her throat was dry. In other words, show these details instead of explaining them.

    You might want to get the year in earlier, too. I had pictured a modern theater until we got to the cigar smoke, which clued me in to some time earlier than now, but that made me think 1920's and vaudeville.

    And right now, your hook is 'guess where we are.' and you need something bigger. Whatever your underlying issue/problem is, try to get it, or at least hint at it, on the first page.

    I'd give it a few more pages because I like historical and 1890's New Orleans was such an interesting time and place.

  12. Yep, hooked. I'd read more of this. Though I'm curious as to how this is YA. We just don't know enough yet, I think, but I wouldn't have guessed it was YA if it hadn't been labeled. This looks really interesting.

  13. BIG thanks to everyone for your helpful insights and encouragement! More soon~ :o) <3