Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August Secret Agent #34

TITLE: Keepers of the Flame
GENRE: YA Political Thriller

Freedom. Sweet, sweet freedom, was only one public speech and a walk across stage away.

Essie shut her eyes to reality, picturing the moment. It couldn’t come fast enough. If it were possible, she’d gladly give the entire family fortune for a one way ticket in a time machine.


Her eyes flew open.

Across the aisle, her brother clutched his gut with silent laughter.

“Real mature, Ethan,” she hissed, peeling the soggy wad of paper from her cheek. She straightened her graduation stole, and reread her note cards, trying to ignore the thousands of eyes ogling her.

Especially the token blot of orange. Bouncing up and down in the ocean of rich and powerful, identical in black suits, skirts and sunglasses. She felt her cheeks redden. Her mom didn’t make it easy.

As if the orange blouse and wild black curls weren’t enough, her mom waved an enormous hand-painted banner.


Her dad shot her a sympathetic look and nudged her younger sister, Ella, pointing at the stage. Ella grinned, giving Essie a wiggly fingered wave. Their encouragement wasn’t helping anything.

Essie felt her stomach roll. Any minute she might puke. Or trip. Or puke then trip. Trip into the puke.

Her stomach pitched in response. She buried her head in her hands. Good grades should be awarded with a high-school-graduation-ceremony hall pass. Not a trip to the public speaking gallows.

“And with that, I’ll turn the time over to the lovely, Vanessa Hall, Kingston Academy’s Salutatorian.”


  1. I'm not sure where the narrator is physically on this page--at first it seems like she is sitting, as her brother is across the aisle, but then she's afraid she'll trip. Is she walking, or what?

    I am definitely rooting for this character, and would probably turn the page.

    Some tips:

    "Freedom, sweet, sweet" would flow better than a period, the current construction confused me.

    At first I thought the "splat" and her brother clutching his gut was because he puked, or she puked. Maybe you can reposition to make it more instantly clear that it's a spit ball. Also where did he get paper at graduation! Still, I like what this shows about their relationship.

    The "token blot of orange" also confused me, and you might need a "who were" after "powerful" because at first I thought that was still the orange bouncing up and down. It was confusing.

    Did she feel her cheeks redden or feel heat?

    What's the comma doing before "Vanessa Hall" in the dialogue? That felt weird to me.

  2. I'm not sure the blot of orange is "token". "Incongruous", maybe. :)

    I'm not in love with this beginning, maybe because contemporary YA isn't my thing. I was hoping for more of a hint as to what was going to make it Political and a Thriller. Vanessa is a good student and shy, her mother is embarrassing, and her graduation-age brother throws spit-balls. That's what I got from this, which isn't quite enough for me to fall in love...

  3. I have a difficult time figuring out where she is physically. Is she on the stage, which would explain all the eyes watching her? Or is she in the aisles of graduates, which would explain her brother's spitball attack?

    I like her yearning for freedom in the first line. I'd suggest reading out loud and playing with the structure a little, because it was awkward to read.

    The spitball and family stuff pulls me away from the tension she's feeling. Maybe save most of it for later (perhaps during her speech), and get straight to her fears of tripping and puking (loved that line)

  4. I thought you captured the desire for freedom and the embarrassment from the family. You definitely gave me someone to root for.
    I would recommend changing the word ogling.To me teenage guys might be ogling her but not the entire crowd. If she is still sitting there they aren't all looking at her yet.
    I like your MC though she seems smart but not perfect. Good stuff.

  5. I love YA contemporaries and I think the scene is a good place to start with a lot of opportunity to show character, setting, family, and future goals.

    I agree with other comments on a few punctuation changes in the first line, and the word token is probably not the right choice given the context. Moving up the sentence with her mom dressed in orange gives more context to what the cryptic orange means, so I would suggest not having them in separate paragraphs.

    The physical locations of the characters might need to be established a little better, where the MC is (sitting in the audience at graduation? behind the stage?). I was also tripped up by "graduation stole" because I picture stoles as fur stoles rich soap opera ladies wear, though it may be I'm unfamiliar with some sort of Salutatorian scarf or something. Maybe a different word would work instead.

    "Her stomach pitched in response" is a great reaction. I think you can lose the earlier instance of her stomach rolling and keep it to the stronger instance. Too much stomach action + puke might be overkill, plus it feels a little repetitive.

    Good luck with this!

  6. I think you deftly handle the relationship between the siblings and the "Real mature, Ethan" is pitch perfect for this age group. A school setting is always a challenging way to open a novel as it has been done so many times that you really have to do something unusual to keep a reader's attention. Best of luck.

  7. I thought you gave us two interesting facts, here - The fact that everyone seems to be dressed in black, and that Mom is in orange. It would mean a lot if this was SF or speculative fiction, but it's contemporary, and that threw me. What are the odds an entire graduation audience would be dressed in black?

    My other thought is that nothing happens here that's hints at a problem, or political thriller. Is this the place to start, or can you include something here that makes this scene kind of off, like something's wrong?

  8. Sorry to be so late to comment.

    I feel like I wanted more from this. I have this expectation from thrillers that I jump into the story more quickly than with other genres. That is probably unfair, but I just expect to be more engaged in the story immediately. So I guess my advice would be to give us a better entry into your thriller. Good luck!