Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January Secret Agent #38

TITLE: Scapegoat
GENRE: Young Adult

The phone’s already rung six times. I know because I’m counting the rings—anything to keep me focused on something other than what I’m doing.

Seven. I take a deep breath, then attempt to blow it out long and slow, but it escapes in spurts and gasps.

Eight. At New Life Rehab Center we’re allowed one phone call a week, if we’ve earned enough points. I’d had enough points every week, but I hadn’t called home yet. Doug says I’m using a coping mechanism: avoidance. He thinks I’m avoiding the pain I’d feel by facing my family’s disappointment, their anger and judgments and resentment.

Doug is right, but he’s also wrong. I’m avoiding something, but not what he thinks. I haven’t called home yet because I couldn’t stand to hear their offering of support, their forgiveness, their faith in my ability to stay clean. Because I don’t deserve any of that.

But calling home is part of my recovery here, Doug says, and so he sits in his office listening while I call. My leg won’t quit bouncing up and down.

Nine. Ten. This is so typical of home it almost makes me laugh. With six other kids there, everyone waits for someone else to answer, until at last they all realize at the same moment that no one else is going to answer the phone, and everyone tries to answer it at once.

“Hello?” a breathless voice I don’t recognize answers.

“Uh, I must have the wrong number,” I say.



  1. Ooo, I like this. I like the counting. I like invoking Doug. I like it. I would keep reading.

    Remember that YA is not a genre. What is this? Contemporary, mystery, paranormal, etc.

  2. I really like this too. The counting is a great touch. The voice is very strong and YA. The only thing, and this is minor, was I wondered if the character who seems to be hiding a lot would admit that he's not wanting their forgiveness, etc. From what you've already set up about him, I thought he might not be totally frank with the reader (or himself) about what he's avoiding. I'd definitely read on. Is this YA contemporary?

  3. Ah sorry for being a dork! I know we're not supposed to respond to comments, but I need to clarify.

    This is YA Suspense.

  4. I was a little confused at first because I thought the phone was ringing for him to answer, not the other way round, but I liked the voice and the set up.

  5. I love the voice! You evoke a lot of questions already. It's definitely a book I'd keep reading.

    I wonder, though, if you give us too much information before the phone call? The narrator seems very honest with himself, which seems for funny for his circumstances.

    I love the counting and present tense style.

  6. A really great opening with one exception. The fourth to last paragraph makes it sound like all the kids in the room rush to answer a ringing phone at once---- yet, we know he is in fact waiting for someone to answer HIS call. So, clean that up. I loved it however. I especially liked the insight in the difference between what the counselor thinks he is afraid of and what he is in fact dreading. I thought that was pitch-perfect. Great job.

  7. The first couple of sentences took me in the wrong direction - I thought the phone was ringing for him to answer, and he was doing something else and counting the rings. That's easily fixed though; maybe "anything to keep my mind off the conversation I'm about to have", maybe?

  8. Nicely crafted! The counting (Seven, Eight, Nine) really ramps up the tension!

    The voice sounds a litte mature. I want him to say, "I don't think so, Doug" or be a little snarkier.

    "I’m avoiding something, but not what he thinks. I haven’t called home yet because I couldn’t stand to hear their offering of support, their forgiveness, their faith in my ability to stay clean." This seems too insightful for a teen...or too insightful this early on in the manuscript. A teenager wouldn't say,"Support, forgiveness, faith..." I think it would be more realistic for him to say, "If I heard Mom say, "Gideon, honey, you can DO it," I'd rip the phone off the wall."

    Love the telling details of his leg bouncing!

    Nice job. I'd read more!

  9. I love the use of the counting. The details in the first few paragraphs also gave me insights to what your character was feeling. I liked how you showed all this rather than simply telling us. The leg bouncing was perfect. However the last paragraph was little confusing. I think it was this line that put me of "...everyone tries to answer once" It took my a while to realize she wasn't talking about the Rehab Centre but her home-- the place she's calling.

  10. Like the others, I enjoyed the counting. I think it builds suspense nicely. I also was at first confused as to whether he was waiting for someone to answer his call or waiting to pick up a call that was coming in from him. But I am curious what would happen and I'd keep reading.

  11. Hooked. Love this and would read on for sure. Well done!

  12. You’ve fallen into the trap many people fall into when writing first person. You’re chatting with the reader, but the reader doesn’t exist in your character’s world. Instead of explaining things to the reader, try instead to show the same things through action and dialogue. Maybe the MC and Doug could have a conversation? Let them act and react. If your MC is just chatting away, then nothing is happening. For instance, what happened in these 250 words? The MC listened to the phone ring. Not compelling. If he listened to the phone ring while having a conversation with Doug, we’d see how these two interacted with each other, we’d get a better sense of who they were, and we’d wonder why his family won’t pick up the phone.

    Also, your tenses shift back and forth. Perhaps take another look at them.

  13. Just Another YA AuthorJanuary 18, 2013 at 3:28 PM

    Even with all the things others mentioned to clean up, I really enjoyed this. It sucked me right in. I'd definitely keep reading. I have a weak spot for rehab stories.

  14. As the reader, I didn't have a problem with the MC chatting to me. I think it works (worked well when Salinger did it for Holden Caulfield). I like it when the MC invites me into their world, and prefer this to a converstaion between Doug and your MC.

    I agree with what previous commenters have said about the phone - who was ringing whom - this needs clarification. But I loved the description about everybody ignoring then pouncing on the phone simultaneously.

    I'd read on.

  15. I have to agree with the other comments regarding caller/callee was a bit confusing, but easily fixable. I like the structure of the of the ringing, but it went on for too long. Also, in this day of everybody having their own cell phone, does this happen so much anymore? Maybe. The voice is too self-aware, and tells us too much up front. I might have stopped after “I’m avoiding something. But not what he thinks.” As a reader, I’d want to keep reading to find out what that is. “He thinks I’m avoiding the pain . . .” is an awkward sentence construction. Nice voice, although I thought it was a girl, and I was surprised to find out that it’s a boy. I like the ending, which leaves me with a question.

  16. I'm not really adding anything new, but I know it's easier to edit when you have everyone saying the same thing, so I figured I'd just write to say I agree. :) I like this voice and enjoyed the writing style, just needs some tightening.