Wednesday, February 20, 2013

February Secret Agent #45

TITLE: Courtland
GENRE: YA (SFF/Contemporary)

You don't know me. If you knew me, you wouldn't like me, and maybe I'd hate you. Maybe as much as I hate myself.

"Helen," My mother yells, "you're going to be late for school."

I move around my room, tidying the curtains and smoothing the bedspread. I arrange three decorative pillows into side-by-side diamonds. I survey the bed, smooth it one more time. On my desk, a metallic blue pen sits next to my laptop. I return it to the first small slot of the pen holder. I adjust the pad of paper that I use for my lists so that it's no longer crooked. I shut my laptop.

"Helen! We have to leave now."

After double checking that my EpiPen is in the front compartment of my backpack, I grab my lint remover and do a quick roll of the bag, my pants and my jacket. I turn off the lights and click the door shut behind me.

I take a deep breath and run through a mental checklist to make sure I didn't forget anything. When my mom yells again, I force myself to head downstairs.

Mom and I don't speak for most of the drive to school. Invisible waves of fury flow from her, crashing against me as if I'm a lone rock on the edge of the Pacific.

"I'd appreciate it if just once you would answer me when I speak to you," she says.

I close my eyes and hold fast as a fresh wave breaks over me. God.


  1. Wow, okay. This is well-written and has a good pace. It has a strong sense of character. I'm intrigued by her obsessiveness, and that she literally won't speak to her mother.

    It read smoothly enough that nothing really jarred, so I have no nitpicks.

    My only complaint is that your character seems heavy on the angst. It's an important part of YA, but it seems quite heavy here. At this point, I don't much like her.

  2. I enjoy the opening, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ending. The middle wasn't my favorite, but that might have been the point. Obviously the character has a series of mundane OCD/necessary check-list to go through, which would add to the personality I am sure if I read on.

    I love how it's written though, and the description of the "invisible waves of fury" silently crashing into the character. Thought that was brilliant, because it gave me a clear picture of how they feel. We've all been there with parents.

  3. I love your ending here. "Invisible waves of fury..." Awesome. The only note I have is the first line, as it seems to stand apart from the story and does not paint a favorable picture of your MC, unless that is what you are going for. I think her actions following are much stronger.

  4. Spaced Out Gal makes a good point with the opening line; I felt myself distancing myself, so I didn't really become engaged in the story after the first few lines. I do think it's well-written, I'd just like to get a better sense of the character.

  5. I meant to say "distancing myself from the character."

  6. The first line feels like you are speaking directly to me, and then you shift into first person. The change feels jarring. I don't feel any desire to like the narrator, and so the story hasn't hooked me yet.

  7. I wish the beginning was in first person through out. I wasn't engaged until the last sentence. Like the last sentence.

  8. The first line was fine, but the rest of it was very clear about the OCD. My dad was that way, and he made us late for EVERYTHING!!!! I really got this scene.

  9. I loved the voice here, especially the final three sentences. It reminds me of being a teenager--and what's ahead with my own kids (oh, no!).

    I found the first paragraph off-putting. Maybe consider starting with something else, or shortening it to "If you knew me, you wouldn't like me"?

    I feel like you offer such great details in a short piece that I truly know the character -- love that lint remover!

  10. The writing here is certainly fine, but we see so many openings for YA with a teen getting ready for school and running late. I admit, I started a novel this way and had no idea it was a cliche or overdone until people on this blog pointed it out. Not to say you can't start the story here, but why not push for a more compelling setting? Just a thought, and go with your gut. If this opening scene works for you, by all means keep it. I do agree with the others that the opening line is jarring; if that is the tone you want to set, go for it. As long as you can make a rough character endearing in some way, give the reader something to root for.

  11. I thought it was well written with a lot of voice and paints a character with a lot of idiosyncrasies. I would ditch the first line. I didn't think it did anything good for the narrative.