Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May Secret Agent #17

TITLE: Written in the Stars
GENRE: Adult Literary

The Carolina Biology Company sells thousands of biological specimens. There are idneys, brains, cow testicles, sheep eyes, blood samples, and diseased livers. But today, my ten fetal pigs have arrived. I hardly shudder anymore; it's amazing really, how you can do things you never thought you could do.

“This is your class bible for the next week,” I say as an introduction to my Anatomy class, holding up the thick packet. “Follow the directions carefully. You’ll need gloves, a pan, a scalpel, your textbook, and a pen.” I pass out the packets and heave the long rectangular cardboard box onto a table.

Some of my students are already paling; some look excited. Jeremy looks like he's going to cry. He'll be a problem, I already know.

“Remember that these piglets were never born," I say without emotion. "Their mother was made into bacon when she was pregnant. So, these babies can be used for science now, for you all to learn something.” This is the speech I say with an easy confidence I have trouble feeling, but I always say it anyway.

As I open the box, my 15 high school students inch forward and peer inside. The girls squeal as I pull out a 4lb. vacuum-packed fetal pig.

“I am NOT touching that thing, Mrs. Penning," Jeremy says, shaking his head.

“It’s not so bad once you get past the smell," I say. "The first cut is the worst.”


  1. The first line doesn't hook me, but after that, you capture my attention. You've done a great job bringing the main character to life in so few words. I can empathize already with her predicament. The voice is perfect for the genre, and the writing style is smooth and flowing. Excellent job

  2. Aaagh! So awful I couldn't stop reading it! Loved the teacher's forced distance about the day's dissection and her quiet thoughts about the kids. Would love to read what happens next!
    (I meant awful in a good kind of vacuum-packed way...)

  3. I agree with the other commenters that the writing is clean and you do a great job of creating empathy with the main character.

    This being literary fiction, you don't need to have an action hook on page one, but I would like to get a bit more of a hint as to what the story is about, some kind of internal conflict or challenge for the MC.

    Also, the first sentence led me to believe the story had something to do with the Carolina Biology Company, but from the rest of the page, that does not appear to be the case. Unless the supply company and other animal parts are relevant to what happens next, you might consider just starting with the teacher opening the box.

  4. I enjoyed this and would continue reading. Perhaps you should start with the 10 fetal pigs arriving; the specimen company doesn't seem to be important, at least not yet.

  5. I think it'd be better to start with, Today, my ten fetal pigs arrived. The first two sentences seem to be added as a gross factor/info dump and I don't think they add anything, but rather detract from the pigs.

    Also, as someone who's dissected her share of fetal pigs, something seems off about this. I found college freshman more squeamish than high school juniors and seniors. Also, it seems a waste to only spend a week with a fetal pig than a month.

    Mostly, the scene doesn't describe my experience. Which doesn't make it a bad scene, just not one for me. Plus, wouldn't the students know in advance they were going to be dissecting pigs? I knew I would have to when I signed up for each class and knew at least a day in advance before the actual pigs showed up.

    I guess I'm curious to see what kind of dissection details are included, but at the same time I couldn't image an entire book based around biology class. That makes me want to read more (to see what the story's about and where it goes), yet hesitant at the same time. So, interested, yes. Hooked, no.

  6. Fond memories of dissections.

    I think you've done a nice job setting the scene and introducing us to two characters (I imagine Jeremy will end up playing a big role in this story). I would keep reading.

  7. I like the beginning. It is very well written. You have now ruined bacon for me. I won't be able to eat bacon again without thinking it was a pregnant pig.

  8. All we had were frogs in HS Biology, and that was a LONG time ago. I can’t even fathom an actual anatomy class in high school. Because of the adult genre, and the Carolina Biology Company I thought this was going to be pre-med, med school, or a research lab. That said, you do a great job of balancing dialogue and narration. I might delete “an introduction to my Anatomy class” and insert “Anatomy” here: “Some of my Anatomy students are already paling.”

    I enjoyed this. I can tell Jeremy will be a problem, too!

  9. So far, the tone and style of this story feel more commercial than literary to me. But this is splitting hairs at the moment.

    The writing here is clean and succinct for the most part, but try to show more than tell how your narrator feels about her specimens. An example of this would be "This is the speech I say with an easy confidence I have trouble feeling, but I always say it anyway." You're telling us that she doesn't really believe what she's saying, but is there some manner in how she says this which might get that point across instead?

    Nitpick note: the line "it's amazing really, how you can do things you never thought you could do" in the first paragraph is redundant, a la "it's amazing how eating fills you up." The line before, "I hardly shudder anymore" is nice--a simple follow-up like "I've gotten used to this by now" will illustrate your sentiment nicely.