Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September Secret Agent #6

TITLE: Parallel Lives
GENRE: Literary

I learned three things in prison I carried with me to the Outside. I did my best to forget the rest.

First and foremost, I learned to mind my own business. Asking that cliché question, "Hey, buddy, what are you in for?" could earn you a beatdown. "Do your own time, not someone else's," is what the wiser cons said, and it made sense: when you're watched all day, every day, and anyone could see you read or write a letter, shower or sleep, jerk-off or take a s***, and the only truly unsupervised time is when your lawyer visits, privacy is everything.

Second, I learned to be neat. I had to be, I lived in an 8 by 10 box that was bedroom, bathroom, living room, and kitchen rolled into one, and I shared the space with another human being. The last thing either of us needed was to get our stuff mixed up; there was enough pressure in being locked up together for half the day without fighting over toothpaste or socks or a mess. And while the unwritten rule was you didn't even look into another cell, let alone enter uninvited, it did happen, and things did get stolen. It was best to keep things put away and out of sight, rather than risk them sprouting legs and running off.

Finally, there was exercise. Exercise kept me fit and healthy. It made me strong and enabled me to hold my own in a fight, which I did on many occasions.


  1. Being neat is not something you see very often as a necessity for surviving jail, but I like that you included it. I'd be interested to see how these three rules translate to life Outside. I think you could go even deeper into the MCs voice here as well-- your writing is strong and specific, but a more immersive voice would take it to the next level. Hard to do, I know, but this is a good start.

  2. Very interesting beginning that offers insight into a world that for most of us is probably very foreign. It also sets up a natural desire to want to know more about the circumstances that led to the incarceration. I like that you refrained from inserting any backstory here as it keeps the curiosity alive. Yes, I would def want to go on reading.

  3. Yeah, of course when you read this about the privacy being so important, you're dying to know what he did to get into jail in the first place--nice.
    Keeping in mind he's outside now...I wonder where this is going...

  4. I want to know if the MC is a guy or a girl. I read it twice and I don't know. Generally I think this is perfectly decent writing, especially the section about privacy.

    However, I think these three things that the MC learned are rather obvious things. Did he/she go to prison thinking he/she will become best buddies with someone? Did he think exercise was not important before he got to prison?

    I believe you need a more unique outlook here to stand out in the literary field, which generally seems to hang on strong, original descriptions and POVs.

    I would suggest taking a look at the first three paragraphs of American Gods by Neil Gaiman, which cover very much the same territory as you, but adds more specificity.

    Good luck with it!

  5. I like the voice here. I really hate not seeing queries!! I wish I knew where this was going. Great start and I'd read on. Good luck!

  6. I liked this. Good voice, and the word choice and phrasing make me think this guy is smart and perhaps not a 'street thug', which makes me wonder how he ended up in prison.

  7. Note to Emma: You read it twice and were unable to determine if the MC is a guy or girl despite the fact pther prisoners are referred to as "buddy" and worrying that there is no privacy even when "jer&&*g off"? Oy vey! Poor Author.

  8. This is an interesting way to start (with a list). The writing is solid.

    Will all of these "learnings" come into play on the Outside? That is, will they be integral to plot/themes in the rest of the novel? If so, then you may be on the right track by starting here.

    When reading the second learning, I felt like the "things get stolen" line was tacked on at the end. Were you trying to bring attention to that?

    I don't know much about prison, so this gave me some insight and things to think about. My main concerns are:

    1. I'm not sure where the story is going (which really isn't that big of an issue for me...I am fine with easing into things).

    2. There isn't a 'wow' description or line of dialogue that really brings the prison to life or causes me to relate to the narrator. The potential is there, it just hasn't been served up yet (in my opinion) as strongly as it could be. For example, instead of providing these points in summary, could you provide specific scenes with action and dialogue that illustrate the learnings while allowing us to see the narrator in action?

    I would like to see at least one of the above 'concerns' addressed in the first page (especially #2 in the literary genre).

    Nice work!

  9. I'm also intrigued and want to know what the MC did to get put in prison. I also wonder if he was released or escaped. I'd read on.

    A couple of things I'm curious about: would the jail cells actually serve as a kitchen? I know nothing about jails, so I guess the inmates could be permitted some sort of food prep area, but it struck me as unlikely.

    I also wondered about entering other cells, whether invited or not. It sounds like the inmates can break out of their own cells and into others'. That, or there's "visiting time"?

    But again, I'd read on to see where this is going.

  10. Note to Jasmine: Maybe, but girls 'j***rk off too and they do call each other buddy (plus it was presented as a cliche question and not a real question). But ok, I'll accept it. Apologies to Author.

  11. For your opening line, I think it would read stronger to pick either I learned or I carried. Saying both lessens the impact of what is a strong concept.

    I don't think you need "First and foremost." Anything that doesn't add to your story right away can be trimmed. I wouldn't mind reading that phrase later in the work perhaps, but here in the opening all it does is add words that don't add to the story. You're talking about prison and we want to hear about exciting or dangerous prison stuff.

    I agree with the others that the section on privacy in prison shows a lot of voice and this is what's most interesting. Nice work.

  12. I liked this and I'd read on. The opening paired with the title make me intrigued. I think I'm more intrigued about his life on the outside rather than what he did to get into prison. The only line that kind of tripped me up was the line about fighting over toothpaste or socks or a mess. Well done.

  13. Prison reality is all over tv right now so this is a timely topic.

    I was really interested in the MC but kept looking for more "intense" examples of prison life.

    That said, I would read on because I'm a junkie for prison stuff. If you ever need inspiration and are in the San Fransico area, go on the Alcatraz tour - so awesome!

  14. This is a decent opener, and decent writing--I might read more. But so far the character has revealed nothing personal other than a methodology. It would be nice to get some personal insight, something to make me care or be interested in the guy.