Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Secret Agent #41

GENRE: YA Contemporary

There are reasons why 15-year-old boys find great pleasure in long, steamy showers. I sat in boxer shorts on a sandpaper-rough towel spread flat over the ivory-colored tiles of the motel bathroom floor. With the door locked and the shower spraying a vacant tub, I treasured my handful of minutes without anyone lurking behind my shoulder.

On this particular Saturday morning, I had at least three good reasons for hiding out in the bathroom. Two of them involved my father and younger brother, Cole, who were lounging on the queen beds and monopolizing the room with a blaring movie about a mission to intercept an asteroid before it destroyed the Earth. Manufactured melodrama failed to interest me. If I wanted a pitiful story of suffering and tension, then I could flip through the past five months of pages in my sketchbook, which brings up the third reason. My sketchbook.

A cloud of steam obscured the upper half of the bathroom, and under it I struggled with another sketch. After four weeks of growth, my sideburns were finally thick enough to show up in the full-length mirror on the bathroom wall. My self-portrait was graphite, which was fortunate because I could draw the sideburns as wild and dark instead of blonde when the rest of my hair was brown. My artistic limitations portrayed me as a caricature of a frontman for an alternative British rock band, all cheekbones and crooked teeth and, of course, dashing, prominent sideburns.


  1. Great first line that made my head go in dozens of different directions!

    There are a few places, particularly in the first paragraph, where you could streamline a bit.

    I'm also not sure I got the voice of a 15 year old boy from this -- it reads a bit older.

    I'm curious about the novel, though, and I'd read on.

  2. I like this opening and love that he is sketching in the bathroom to hide out from his family. Overall, I found this a little wordy and heavy. It would be great to go through and cut one image you don't need from each paragraph. Wonderful start. Good luck! :)

  3. I liked the first line but I thought it also needed a follow-up. As in to challenge the reader with something like "and the reason you're thinking is not why I'm in here." Because the three reasons he gives are not what naturally leapt to my mind. That being said, the one reference I thought was jarring was "manufactured melodrama." That did not sound like a 15 year old. I think some streamling (as was said in another comment) would be a good start so that it is instantly clear what his problem is. i.e. There are three reasons I am in here One,- Two, - , Three - - sort of staccato like that. He can expound on them after establishing them rather than mixing it all together in one go. That would remove some of the clunkiness. I would read on. Also, he sounds intelligent so I am wondering if the reference to "manufactured melodrama" could be saved if he then realizes that the life of fifteen year olds is in many ways nothing BUT manufactured melodrama.

  4. I very much agree with what Happy Dolphin said. The suggestion of challenging the reader would be something a 15 yr old boy would do, which is something you want, because this does seem to be reading older than YA. The length of sentence construction also makes it seem less male p.o.v., so the suggestion to shorten sentences and make them a bit more "staccato" is a great one.

    There is definite personality in this MC that I think will shine through when the voice of his age is brought out more--he can obviously be smart as a whip, but he's still 15.

    Good luck!

  5. I loved the first line. It immediately got my attention, but the writing that followed bogged me down a bit and, like some other commenters, I'm not sure what the problem is exactly. Now, that said, I suppose it could be made clearer after the first 250.

    Thanks for sharing. Oh, great title!

  6. Great first line! I also loved his self-description, in drawing himself like a 'charicature of a frontman for a British rock band.' That felt fresh. I'd keep reading because I like the voice.

  7. Cool premise so far - I like the sketchbook as an escape.

    I also thought the first line was going to mean something else, so I think you could play on that a bit.

    I also agree that the voice sounds stiff from time to time. Unfortunately, I think I would stop reading because of it. It sounds too adult.

  8. Great feedback. To the writer: I'd suggest reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan (if you haven't yet already). It's a great example of strong male POV - and you get two alternating POVs that are different but equally as engaging. I consider them the best of the best in YA.

  9. This is a very good opening. The openingline could've gone somewhere altogether different, but the three reasons led very smoothly into each other and set a really good scene while putting us in a really clear voice. I like it a lot.

  10. It definitely passed the first line test and made me keep reading. It was an interesting turn from the opening line about the shower to the real reason that the narrator is in the bathroom - to draw. I agree with Happy Dolphin's great feedback above. It almost seems in some ways like you're going down one track, then skip to something entirely different. Maybe a smoother transition could be used between these juxtapositions. Speaking as a compulsive doodler myself, be careful about having the character draw in steamy bathrooms. Graphite is the right choice (ink would definitely not work), but a steamy bathroom means your paper is damp. Damp paper is not the best drawing surface. It could tear very easily and shading would be difficult. You might at least want to comment on that difficulty (and maybe you do later on.)

  11. I was a bit turned off by the opening line, as the word "pleasure" brings up other things in the mind of a 15-year-old boy. Maybe "solace" would be more appropriate.

    It seems to me that a steamy bathroom would be the worst place in the world to work on a sketchbook. Wouldn't the steam damage the pages?

    The writing was solid, but these were the thoughts that went through my mind. This definitely draws in the reader.

  12. I've known enough fifteen year old boys that the good majority of them hurries through their showers and don't stay too long, so I'm not sure saying 15 year old like long, steamy showers is technically correct. (Or maybe I just know a lot of stinky 15 year old boys.)

    I also agree with the comments about sketching in the shower. I used to read while taking a shower at 12 years old. Did not do well for the pages.

    And hey, I LIKED Armageddon (which I assume is the movie being referred to)! :D All in all, it's an intriguing start!

  13. I agree with most folks here - killer first line.

    My mind started racing to see where this was going. I would have expected the voice to be more rebellious, or curious. There may be a reason, why this 15 year old doesn't sound like a 15 year old, so I'd keep reading.

  14. But long, steamy showers are a great pleasure for just about everyone, aren't they? Our narrator isn't really talking about 15-year-old boys as a group, he's only talking about his own, personal, very-specific-to-his-own-self reasons for liking long, steamy showers, so the opening line becomes kinda disingenuous in retrospect, a ploy to snag the reader's attention, when it could be a bit's a really good idea for an opening line, and I don't think it would need to be sacrificed entirely, but you could put pressure on the logic and language of it to make it foolproof, you know? Beyond that, though, I have to say that I had a hard time warming up to this narrator..."manufactured melodrama failed to interest me. If I wanted a pitiful story of suffering and tension, then i could flip through the past five months of pages in my sketchbook." Isn't he just... manufacturing his own melodrama? Maybe we're supposed to be catching him in his hypocrisy, but I think that if you want to hook us, you'd need to give us more like about him before you give us something to be not-so-sure-about...

  15. Secret Agent—I doubt you return to read comments, but I appreciate you offering such detailed feedback. This gives me something to work with. Thank You Thank You.