Wednesday, March 7, 2012

March Secret Agent #44

TITLE: Voice
GENRE: YA Magical Realism

If you could speak to your stepsister, what would you say?

I reread the reply to my post on the Selective Mutism support message board for a third time. Across from me, Jessica flipped a page in her Cosmo magazine. My fingers hovered over the keyboard, waiting for my brain to come up with a response to Ursula89’s question.

My original post had been buried under eleven months worth of parents bragging about their children’s single word responses to teachers’ questions. Ursula89 must have had a lot of time on her tentacles to scroll through them all and comment on my plea for help. If she could do that, I could come up with an answer.

The train conductor came up the aisle before I figured one out. He stopped at the table Jessica and I had taken over on the way out of Hartford. “Getting close to Penn Station, girls. Better start packing up.” Jessica nodded without glancing up, so I got his intrigued smile. That wouldn’t have mattered, if he hadn’t followed it up with words. Always words. “You know, you two’ve sure got a lot of luggage for a day’s shopping. Whatcha heading into the city for?”

We’re spending the summer, I thought. Of course, the words didn’t come. I tried to part my lips. Blowing air through them would be step one, the way my therapist had tried to teach me a hundred times. My mouth stayed shut, like I’d applied a layer of Gorilla Glue instead of lipgloss.


  1. This sounds fascinating. I've always wondered how mutism works - love to read more.

  2. Love the concept here, but I wouldn't have normally kept reading because of the first line. It might just be me, but I have a peeve against novels starting with a question. It could be effective to start with more of a statement, like, "I can help you speak to your stepsister." Obviously that might not be true because I don't know the full context of the story, but something like that might not put people off. Or you could start with your protagonist scrolling through her e-mail and finding Ursula89's message.

  3. I'm going to come right out an admit my ignorance...I have no idea what selective mutism is, which makes the rest of the piece confusing. Considering I'm an adult and this is intended for children, I would keep that in mind. I also have to agree with AllieS above, I'm not a fan of starting with a question. The voice is good, I think you have something here but consider your audience. Good luck!

  4. I think the question works because it's directed at the character, not the reader - though of course the reader also immediately starts to think of their own answer. I actually think it's a bit clever. It might seem less like the hated rhetorical question if you enclose it in quotes.

  5. i'm not really a fantasy reader but this is fun, Don't mind the question

  6. I think you should put the question in quotations or maybe preface the question with the character studying the computer.

    I didn't think this was an example of the first line is a question faux pas.

    The writing is smooth and the plot I trig using. I understand select mutism and understand the scenario.

    The dialogue and description of the mc trying to respond is spot on.

    I'd read on! Good luck and thanks for sharing.

  7. I would read on but I'm not sure why. The second paragraph confused me. After reading it several times, I still don't understand.

    I read "I reread the reply to my post" and searched for this sentence. Maybe 'the reply' comes later?

    The third paragraph doesn't make it easier. Again, I am intrigued if only to discover what is happening.

  8. I quite like this idea, I've never read a story about selective mutism but I can imagine it would be fun to write a story in which the main character never speaks aloud. However, I wonder where the magical realism is going to come in. I don't see it from this snippet. But maybe I don't need to see it yet, in which case: well done! I want to read more!

  9. Given the magical realism I wondered if "time on her tentacles" was figurative or literal. It's one of those things that later, I probably wouldn't notice, but as I'm trying to figure out the world I latch onto. If it is literal, then that's a lovely little clue.

  10. I'd recommend labeling the first line to make it more obvious that it is a reply on a message board, perhaps a time stamp.

    Some warn not to use name brands because it dates the story. It's a consideration, but if you do keep the name brands, my question is how old Jessica is and in a YA, should she be reading a magazine that is intended for an adult demographic?

    Ursula (the sea witch) and tentacles made me giggle. :)

    The last paragraph is intriguing. Not sure if formatting was lost but perhaps italicize her thought and make it a separate paragraph from the following sentences.

    Because of the last paragraph, I'd read on another page or two to see if I'd be hooked.

  11. Form rejection. I think there's a lack of focus here. You begin with this moment of gravitas, but then it gets lost as you move from the MC looking at her computer, to Jessica, to being on the train. Though I don't say this often, I think you could afford to slow things down a little here, maybe get to the train and traveling after fleshing out the meaning of what the MC is posting on the board.

  12. I really want this to work but I feel like I'm missing something here. Maybe this isn't where your story starts. I know sometimes too much internal reflection early on is frowned upon for a book opening, but considering this character has some issue the prevents her from talking, a little more of an internal monologue about why she can't talk would set up this scene better. I've never heard of Selective Mutism so I'm just guessing it's a condition that prevents someone from speaking.