Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March Secret Agent #21

TITLE: Tyger, Burning
GENRE: Adult Urban Fantasy

Pretend you can hear. The scratch of pen on paper. Like mouse claws at a wooden door. Or perhaps like yellow toothpicks, splintering. But you are not a girl anymore, and this game does nothing for you now. You used to spend hours in your room pretending you could hear. The fatty bounce of flies. The cold fur of television static. Or you’d wait until the house was empty and run into the treeless expanse of your backyard. Run until your breath hitched – an undone stitch in your side – tumbled down onto bony knees, breathless, onto pale dirt, and then you’d force yourself to scream and laugh and scream. You knit new words out there, from ropes of spit and gnashing teeth. When your mouth could give no more, you turned onto your back and tried to translate touch to sound. Tried to feel pain as language. You looked up into the sky. Clouds smeared like bird crap.

Across from you now, Dr. Zoe LeBlanc puts down her clipboard. Tucks a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. Blonde. Late-summer sun.

That’s all? she signs.

Uncross your arms and lean against the table. You nod.

She takes you by the hand, tests the range of each joint. She focuses on your fingers next, first to fourth, then squeezes. The back of your hand pops open.

I don’t know, she signs, if we can improve the… She pauses, blinking. Her eyes are gray. She fingerspells, N-E-R-V-E C-O-N-N-E-C-T-I-O-N.

Withdraw your hand.


  1. Loved the 'fatty bounce of flies' and the 'cold fur' of static. That seems like how someone w/o hearing might describe sound. But I did wonder how they could equate the scratch of pen-on-paper with toothpicks splintering -- that comparison seems to require some experience with sounds.

    The biggest issue for me is the second person voice -- that's a deal breaker for me and I wouldn't read on. For example: "the back of your hand pops open" is jarring and disrupts my 'reading mood,' because I know the back of my hand won't pop open. I'm curious what happens, but not enough to put up w/ second person.

  2. You've got a lot of great visuals set up here, in such a short amount of space - "the fatty bounce of flies", "cold fur of television static", and "clouds smeared like bird crap" - all of which build up to the line, "That's all? she signs" - which immediately lets the reader know the narrator actually can't hear. Right there, is where you've grabbed me.

    And then getting further down, and reading the line around the back of the hand popping open, immediately triggers a thought, that this character isn't human.

    All together, I think you did a great job here and I'd definitely read on to see what happens.

    Best of luck!

  3. I like the concept here. I've been playing around myself with ideas for a story with a deaf protagonist and really appreciated the way you showed the young girl's frustration at not being able to hear.

    I didn't see, though, how the first paragraph connects to what follows. Is the MC having her hand examined because she is losing finger function, and therefore losing her ability to communicate? That would be a compelling story, but we don't get enough of it here because of the long opening paragraph. And what does it mean that the back of her hand pops open?

    Pretty as the opening paragraph is, I think you might be better off starting in the present and using it later, as a flashback.

    Also, like IMHO, I think the 2nd-person voice might get old pretty quickly.

  4. I can't imagine the difficulty of writing a complete novel in 2nd person! Wow. Your imagery is both different and intriguing, with lines like "The fatty bounce of flies. The cold fur of television static..."

    But then there's that difficult 2nd person thing! The first sentence and one a bit further on in the paragraph read rhetorical: "Pretend you can hear...But you are not a girl anymore..." How will a reader handle that? Will his or her mind go straight to not needing to pretend that? What if your potential reader is male and obviously hasn't been a girl, not just anymore, but ever? Will it be an automatic turnoff?

    The idea of being in the skin of a deaf person is very intriguing. I suppose a second person pov, if done right, would add a dimension to set it off from other novels with the same subject, but I'm not sure those first paragraph elements serve what you're going for.

  5. I was intrigued. Very good visual descriptions "fatty bounce of flies" and agree with above about second person POV. What about first person instead? Why does her hand pop open? Is she an experiment that doesn't quite work? I love this premise!

  6. I love the idea of a deaf protagonist, but I don't think I could get past the 2nd person POV. I just can't imagine reading a whole book written that way.

    Good luck!

  7. A lot of the above comments take issue with the use of second person perspective. I'm curious about whether the entire novel is second person, or if you're just trying to get us to identify with the narrator, and will later switch over to first person. I wasn't bothered by the POV, and I immediately felt the frustration of the narrator. I would definitely like to see where it goes from here.
    The one thing that threw me was "Clouds smeared like bird crap." So much of the imagery in the first paragraph is auditory, that to suddenly have a purely visual metaphor took me out of it. You talk about trying to translate touch to sound, and then go with a visual metaphor. I would have preferred the sky eliminated, maybe replaced with a metaphor about the feel of the dirty ground beneath the narrator's back, pine needles, rocks, dead leaves, etc.
    Honestly, I loved this, and I would definitely be intrigued to read more. You obviously have a unique voice, and I love your writing. I've never read a second person novel, although I've read about how fraught with peril they can be. If yours is truly a wholly second person novel, maybe I'll get lucky and yours will be the first I read.

  8. I would like to comment on the 2nd person reactions. I have seen this before in other comments and I have to say I don't share the view that it is off-putting. I think there is a big difference betwneen a novel written in legitimate 2nd person and one where the MC is "chatting" with the reader or the unseen recorder of her/his thoughts. Don't we do this in everyday speech? Yes, when talking to a friend etc we know that the formal, correct way is to say "one" - as in "Well, when one goes to the grocery store, one likes to find bargains." But, that sounds stilted and "wrong" even if it is correct. We are far more likely to say you - as in "well, you know what it's like when you're in a hurry and the phone rings." We don't really mean 'you' , we mean one or anyone. To me, that limited use of 2nd person allows me to movecloser to the narrator and enjoy the imaginary conversation. After all, the narrator in a book is always talking to 'someone' and it might as well be me. I don't understand the resistance. But that's just my feeling.

  9. Definitely agree, Happy Dolphin. You put it so much better than I did.

  10. There's a lot of beautiful writing here. You have a very unusual voice and a deaf narrator is inherently interesting, I think.

    I think the description in the first paragraph may be a little too long, but that's not a big deal. I'd read a few more pages to see if the voice kept working and if a compelling premise came out of this as well.