Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February Secret Agent #20

TITLE: Positively Anonymous
GENRE: NA Contemporary

My name is Tanya Rivers and I’m HIV positive. That’s how it will all begin. Say you’re HIV positive, and most people here need a moment to figure out what you mean. Use the word AIDS and there’s instant understanding, not to mention fear.

Then again, HIV has different connotations. Maybe you’re on medication, handling your disease to the best of your ability. No longer a total risk to society. Having AIDS—especially in 1993 in small town Boniface, IL—means you’re dying. Horribly, in most cases, a drain on the health care system and a burden to everyone around you. Nobody wants to think about that.

For the past week, I’ve been doing my best not to. Strange how that length of time spans both an eternity and the blink of an eye. If it weren’t for my nosy best friend Delia, I could go on pretending. Instead, I’m forced into a different charade, where I have to act like I’m done with the first stage of the grieving process.

I’m late for a meeting, stuck in the kind of traffic Boniface only has when I need to be somewhere. Behind the wheel of my old Chevy, I can’t do much more than adjust the volume on our one good radio station and curse the drivers inching through the light on the edge of downtown.

Downtown always reminds me of skyscrapers and crowds and stores, things I’ve only seen in Chicago or St. Louis a handful of times.


  1. Your basic premise seems promising. I'm wondering, however, if you need to begin with so much exposition; the first three paragraphs read almost like a lecture. Have you considered starting with paragraph 4? The HIV stuff would seem less lecture-y if it came after we got to know the protagonist a little. You might sort of dribble the information into the text so that it didn't come all at once. If you were wanting to keep the lecture vibe, you could reframe the material later on as the protagonist gearing herself up for something (as I expect she may be doing). Coming this soon, before the reader has a chance to develop any emotional investment in the story, it seems out of place. I do think that you're heading somewhere interesting.

  2. Please include her thoughts and feelings about being HIV positive. She's got to be scared, maybe mad, guilty, and more. Let me feel her breathing and writing.

  3. There's so much that I love about this entry. I'm definitely intrigued enough to want to know more. I love her voice. But I would tend to agree that it needs some rearranging and perhaps a little more showing of her emotions.

    What if you started with the first paragraph as is (except I'm not sure you need: That's how it will all begin). Then move to the 3rd paragraph and change the first sentence to something that acknowledges her fear:

    For the past week, I've been doing my best not to be consumed by my own fear... (something better than that but you get the idea--maybe add in a physical reaction).

    I'm not sure what to do about getting across the fact that it's still the early years when people don't have much knowledge about HIV pos and AIDs. Maybe instead of using a year, you need to think about what her emotions would be about being HIV positive... I'm not sure what her story is but for example, let's say that she's straight and she's been in a relatively monogamous relationship. Maybe then she'd be thinking... Jeez, how the hell did this happen to her? That might clue us in to it being in the past a bit. You've already given us a clue with the first paragraph.
    Great start!

  4. I am definitely intrigued and think you have a good start, but I'm a bit hung up on it being "contemporary" and yet set in 1993. Reading the first paragraph, for example, as a current-day story threw me off, because HIV positive seems like a well-known term now and we don't yet know that the story takes place 20 years prior. I also agree with Kristi's comment on "That's how it will all begin" - that threw me off a bit.

  5. The writing is clean and the voice is good, but I probably wouldn't read on.

    I'm going to say the same thing I say about alll "big issues": HIV, abuse, cancer, infidelity... these are terrible, terrible things; unfortunately, they're also very common things that we've become numb to. Lots of people suffer these things, so these things aren't the hook. To make your story stand out, it can't be "about HIV." HIV is not the hook, especially not today.

    The hook has to be something else about the character--a struggle that happens to take place within the landscape of HIV.

    The exposition about HIV isn't working for me because it's not connected to a character and it comes off as emotionless lecture. Start with the character and an immediate problem.

  6. Hrm. I don't know if I agree with previous comments. I don't think it comes off as you trying to use HIV as a hook - I actually really like this opening. I think it's an effective introduction to the main conflict your character's dealing with, nothing more, nothing less.

    As for the sort of expository feeling of the first three paragraphs? It gives the character a frank and unsentimental voice, in my mind, not voicelessness. The only part that comes off stiff to me is "I'm forced into a different charade," just because it's so passive.

    I might tweak the very beginning a little, though. I'd suggest this:

    "My name is Tanya Rivers and I'm HIV positive." That's how it begins. Say you're HIV positive ...

    I'd also change your last sentence because it's grammatically ambiguous as-is:

    Downtown always reminds me of skyscrapers and crowds and stores, things I've only seen a handful of times, in Chicago or St. Louis.

    (you will definitely see skyscrapers more than a handful of times if you're in chicago. :P)

    Of course, as much as I do like this opening, I will say that you probably could find something more character-connected and less disease-centered that could be even more effective for a wider range of people. Even just judging from the comments, I can see you'll probably get a bunch o' questions regarding this approach.

  7. While I do think your writing has potential, I would have to agree with a number of other comments/suggestions.

    I think Heather puts it nicely when she says:

    The hook has to be something else about the character--a struggle that happens to take place within the landscape of HIV.