Wednesday, September 21, 2011

September Secret Agent #46

TITLE: In Limbo
GENRE: Historical YA

I’m pretty sure this is what hell feels like.

Sweat trickles off the back of my neck as I pretend to pay attention to my best friend, Sketch, while he bumps his gums about some new art contest he wants to enter. It’s fall but inside John Marshall High School, every season feels like summer. Especially in the cafeteria.

I catch the tail end of Sketch’s sentence. “…it might be neat. I hear summers in California are nothing like Virginia’s—all sweltering and whatnot.”

I nod and wipe the sweat from the back of my neck. I wish me and Sketch were talking about normal things, that would make me less agitated. We could be talking about how it’s bunk that the baseball season’s been cut short thanks to “The Great War”. Dad would say that’s what boys our age talk about—not charcoal pens and canvases.

“You listening?” Sketch asks, not taking his beady eyes from this strange bear he’s drawing.

“Sure.” I scan the cafeteria. Jim Stervitz is supposed to bring me two bucks today for the Panasonic two-way socket I lifted from the pawn shop.

“I mean, this is it, Syl. We’re gonna graduate in two years, ya know? This is what we oughtta to be thinking about. Did you hear what’s at stake? If I win this, I’d get a full scholarship to one of those art schools in California. Could you imagine? Us in California?”


  1. The opening line grabbed me right away and forced me to read on. Although I'm interested - the heat of the school aside - why he feels like he's in hell. And I'm sure it'll come up after this sample (because that's how it always works:)). I like how his friend's name is Sketch. And the heat from the school brought me back, because my high school was the same exact way. Great writing!

  2. Great opening line (and paragraphs).

    Some of the punctuation is a little distracting, but overall nicely done -- I'd keep reading.

  3. I like this, but only because MC lifted the socket from the pawn shop. Otherwise I'm as bored with the conversation as MC seems to be.

    MC feels like hell for more reasons than the room temperature. I'd like to see the bit about Stervitz and the theft right up front, maybe as the third paragraph. Then I'm with MC scanning the cafeteria while his friend talks about the contest. The real suspense is whether he's going to get the two bucks, and maybe whether he's going to get caught for stealing. The art show conversation itself isn't interesting, but it's fun to imagine MC enduring it while he's preoccupied with weightier matters.

    Nice work.

  4. If this is historical, I need some indication of the time frame.

    Hell is a drawing class? I'm lost...

  5. I find the opening sentence to be a bit cliche. Then overall, while this is nicely written, it just didn't grab my attention. And I felt the overly colloquial dialogue was a distraction.

    I did like the detail about the strange bear--thought that was a nice, specific, intriguing detail.

  6. There are definitely parts I liked...setting up the characters, the setting detail, etc. However, I don't really have a sense of where it is heading. And, honestly, this scene seems to be more about Sketch than the MC.

  7. I agree with what Laura said about this feeling more about Sketch than the MC.

    Also, on a tiny, nit-picky note, there's no such thing as an actual "charcoal pen" unless you're using "charcoal" as an adjective for black. There are charcoal/pastel pencils though. It just wasn't clear if you were talking about the tool there or the color of the pen. As an artist, tiny details like that bug me sometimes.

  8. I think you could start somewhere slightly more interesting. As someone else suggested, perhaps with the theft or a scene with Jim. Sketch talking about art isn't that engaging, and I think a large part of the reason is because your MC isn't that interested in what Sketch is saying.

    I did like the way you worked in the mention of the Great War, giving us a rough time period for when this was set.