Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May Secret Agent #43

GENRE: YA Contemporary Mystery

The liquid is the gilded ochre of donkey piss.

Doesn't taste much better either.

I vibrate the red plastic cup between my thumb and middle finger, watching the foul substance swirl in conflicting little waves.

Cherry bounces up and down on the bumper of her decade-old red Honda, shaking the car. She lifts her cup at me. "To the last day of freedom."

I bump mine against hers overdramatically, arm looping in a wide arc. A little bit of the beverage sloshes over the lip of the cup and cascades to the pavement with a splat. "Cheers," I mock-seriously respond with reverence.

In unison we tip our cups back. The foul drink carries the heavy stench of alcohol, sliding abrasively down my throat. The aftertaste will be worse, so I force myself to keep gulping it down as if it were simply grape soda. I finish first and crumple the frail plastic between my fingers.

Cherry's throat gleams unnaturally pale in the harsh yellow glow of the streetlamp we're parked under. The smooth column of her jugular undulates as her subtle Adam's apple bobs with each swallow.

I watch the movements, utterly enchanted and transfixed in a bizarre way. She finishes her drink and turns to look at me. Her eyes are way intense, fixating on me like they're probes, penetrating my mind. "What?"

I turn my head to look forward again. "Nothing."


  1. I adore the first line: "The liquid is the gilded ochre of donkey piss." A great voice right from the start.

    This line however: "I mock-seriously respond with reverence." I have no idea what that means. How about, "I say mockingly." It's clearer. Be careful not to overwrite.

    And as far as I know, women don't have Adam's Apples, and when I read that line, I started wondering if Cherry was a cross-dresser or transexual. Probably not good unless she is.

    Other than some minor word clean-up, I think this is great and would definitely keep reading.

  2. I think you've done a nice job of creating an interesting, credible character (I'd read on to find out what he's drinking and what the occasion is!) but it does feel a bit "wordy." I think you could sharpen the scene considerably by cutting it down by about thirty percent.

  3. I laughed at the first two lines and was thinking I'd enjoy this... but then I'm afraid I found it really overwritten. 'I mock-seriously respond with reverence' is the worst of several overly-wordy phrases. If you just dialled down the purple prose a bit I think this would be interesting.

  4. The first line absolutely caught my attention.

    I'd agree that for YA, this might read a little heavy handed. I've no doubt the target audience could understand it but I'm not sure they'll like the character. Plus, I felt there was a change in voice when the MC observes the intensity of her eyes.

    Also, a minor point but there's an interesting choice in verbs when the MC vibrates the cup between thumb and middle finger. It made me think of a shot glass on a bar, but I couldn't visualize a 16 or 20 oz plastic cup held in the air moving like that. I'd suggest a different verb than vibrate.

  5. First line was shocker enough for me to read on to figure out just what they were drinking. I would have liked to know by this time (250 words) what that “last day of freedom” is. Did Cherry’s expression show the same distaste for the drink as his? Then again, I’m just assuming it’s a him; nothing so far lets me know that. Hmmm...

  6. I have to agree that this is over-written. However, that's easily fixed and I'm sufficiently intrigued that I'd read on.

  7. Overwritten - an entire page to say that they drank this stuff. I doubt I would read on.

  8. I guess this goes to show just how subjective this is, but I didn't like the first line. It's one of those lines that I think a reader will either love or hate. The writing feels quite cynical, like the MC is really bitter, and I struggled to connect because of that--which, as I said, is purely subjective and goes to taste. I think perhaps you could build more on why it's their last day of freedom so we get a sense a bit sooner of where the story is going. Good luck!

  9. Look, I liked the mood. I got the sense something big, life changing was happening to them, but it just needs tightening up.
    I did find it moody which I always love, so snip, snip, check a few things that were mentioned above and I'd say you've got a nice start.

  10. I didn't like the first line very much, and it set a crass tone that wasn't in the rest of the opening. It felt like you used it for shock value to try to pull in readers. I also didn't like the fact that I don't know if the mc is a boy or a girl. (Although if I read the query or blurb, I'd know, so that isn't such a big deal.) Also, a teenage drinking scene seems a bit tired to start out with.

  11. I'm confused by the first line. Ocher color is a yellow-brown, pukey color and gilded doesn't give me a visual of what color it is--golden? Then why not say that? Or gilded could mean improved, which makes me think it's a kind of drug. After that build up of what the liquid is, how does the CC feel that he(?) spilled some? Is it precious or ubiquitous? And when you describe Cherry's throat it seems the CC is "coming on" to the drug experience--especially the line "her eyes were way intense...penetrating my mind." I don't know if that's your intention, but it does feel like a beginning of a drug trip.

  12. I liked the first two lines, but my first thought was -- how do you know? Have you ever tasted donkey piss? Maybe put a 'probably' in there.

    I also wondered if they were drinking alcohol or something else. You call it a beverage, yet they already seem to be a bit drunk. If it's alcohol, maybe name it - beer, wine, gin whatever. If it's something else, tell us what it is.

    Cherry's adam's apple had me wondering if she was a transexual, and I thought that might be interesting if your MC was female and had a crush on her when she used to be male.

    And the last line was a letdown. When the MC said "nothing" I was so disappointed because I wasn't getting any kind of explanation as to what was going on.

    Why is it their last day of freedom? Why are they getting drunk? What is really going on between them? None of these questions are answered or brought to the forefront, and in the end, it's just two kids drinking.

    The potential is there, I think. But as is, I wouldn't read more.

  13. I agree this is overwritten. You take a page to tell us that two teenagers had a drink. There's some great lines here but you don't need minute explanations of every detail.

    I was interested in why it was the last day of freedom, and very curious about Cherry's adam's apple, so I probably would read on a bit, but I'd prefer if you tightened this up.

  14. The first line definitely drew me in, and there's a great voice here. I liked a lot of the imagery, but the writing style for the imagery seemed to conflict with the voice.

    This voice seems unsentimental, blunt and cynical. Yet the descriptions (e.g., "foul substance swirl in conflicting waves") seem almost lyrical. I'd expect the descriptions to be in a similar tone to the voice of the narrator's thoughts: blunt, unsentimental. I guess this is a fancy way of saying it seems overwritten.

    I also think if you limit your descriptions, more could happen (story-wise), which would give you more opportunities to entice the reader.

  15. What I liked: These characters feel like they’re worth getting to know.

    What needed work: More restraint with the writing. The voice is okay in parts, but some sentences and phrases, like “I mock-seriously respond with reverence,” are extremely overwritten, and keep this first person from sounding authentic. I don’t know the age of the narrator, but he/she does not sound young based on this sample, and that’s a problem.

    Would I keep reading based on this sample? Probably, to see where it's going.