Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September Secret Agent #35

TITLE: Too Hot to Handle
GENRE: Adult

My name is Colleen Montoya, and I just set my ex-boyfriend on fire. Not literally, off course; that would be bad. I know that because I'm not totally bat-s*** crazy. I set fire to his picture, or to be honest, every picture I had ever taken of him dating all the way back to high school. And no, I did not make any copies. It was just me, a shoebox full of bada**, hot-guy pictures, lighter fluid, and a fire extinguisher.

After I put out the fire I got married.

Two years ago I was more than just a little confused like I am now. I was more like the lyrics of that song, "I'm not crazy, I'm just a little insane.". In an attempt to salvage what little sanity I still had, I decided to swear off men. Sure, they look good on paper, but that's just a shell game perpetrated by mothers who long to be grandmothers. In real life, they belch in their sleep and ask if you have PMS just because you'd rather eat M and Ms and watch the Lifetime Movie Network than have sex. That Y chromosome results in behavior only a mother could excuse, like leaving wet boxer briefs on the bathroom floor because they forget to take them off before they get in the shower.

Yes, that happened.

So, I must have been suffering from a form of temporary derangement, maybe from an insect bite (we have a lot of big, aggressive, science-fiction type insects in South Florida).


  1. I always question first person novels that start with: my name is... I always wonder who they are talking to and forget to suspend belief and fall into the story.

    I generally like the voice of the MC here! But I'm wondering what's new about her situation. In terms of a first page, I think, hey, she's swearing off men, yep, I get it. But then I'm also thinking: I've read a bunch of books with this premise, what's new?

    I loved the boxers on the floor detail. It feels unique. I want more of this.

  2. First things first: If your character's last name is Montoya, you can't have them utter the line "My name is [first name] [last name]" unless you follow it up with "You killed my father. Prepare to die."

    Second, you're trying to establish her as a wild woman because she burns her ex's stuff? Tai does that in Clueless. Indeed, this whole excerpt is filled with stuff that's, at most, slightly unusual being presented as totally out there, which gives me the overall impression of an incredibly boring person who's trying to convince everyone else that her boring life is interesting. (The title doesn't help.)

    Third, this is the 21st century. Can we move past the "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" stuff already?

  3. While I love the snappy delivery of the first line, I do have to echo Katz' comment that the Princess Bride reference is too on the nose. Mainly because I can't tell whether the reference is intentional to Inigo Montoya.

    As far as the theme, jilted love can fuel conflict for stories just fine, I think it's more a matter of presentation. What makes your story different, the spin on the swearing off guys and ... ? Whatever your IT factor is, I think showing it here will really help. Maybe put your MC in a scene with someone to move out of the narration.

  4. As others have said, opening a narrative with My name is makes me worried right off, like I might get exposed to this whole character's biography as in I was born in... When I was three... before we get to the good stuff. Now, Kazuo Ishiguro starts Never Let Me Go with My name is... and I am thirty years old, but even though he's famous and I'm not, I still didn't like it and thought it was not the best opening. So why chance it? You may have a really great novel that gets rejected because of that opening line.

    The fact that she burns all the pictures in one night makes me worried that she may be bipolar. It's ok to burn photos of your ex, but something about the totality of it made me worry that she was just not dealing with a situation. Also, together with the title, I worried that it might telegraph too obviously that this is going to be an arsonist's story. If that's not the case, then, that's my bad.

    But mostly I think that this opening, so immediately digressing into the character's past, might be better as a second chapter. For the first chapter, putting us in scene and throwing us into the trouble as quickly as possible is what I'd want to have, unless it's a literary novel, in which case, I think I'd have to read more to judge, but I'd want to see the language really stand out, the voice stand out a lot more than it does here. Here, it's interesting enough if you're going for new adult, snappy, chicklit kind of thing, but for literary fiction it needs to be a lot more sophisticated than this, startling expressions, amazing similes and great rhythm, all coming off natural.

    In short, I'm not sure I know what the opening paragraph goes for. It may be that by the end of the chapter I'd feel differently about everything, but it seems from these contests that perhaps agents don't have the time to give us the benefit of the doubt. So work harder at making the genre clear, and the trouble, moving the digressions to her past life a little later. I hope my comments helped. Good luck to you.

  5. I don't quite get the voice in this. You've got the genre listed as adult (adult what exactly?) but this really sounds YA to me. Unless she's at an AA type meeting in this opening and giving her story to the group. Then it makes a little more sense.

    Also, I feel like there's a lack of conflict here. I'm not really curious why she burned the pictures because she's just sort of talking about the history of her life. It's a little to telling, not enough showing for me.

  6. This is all told. We haven't seen a thing. I don't know who this character is. I don't know what she looks like, how old she is, if she's crazy or normal or funny or what. It feels more like free writing, what one might do when developing a character, than the beginning of a completed manuscript. But, fear not! It's not a bad start. It just needs more work.

  7. I would be drawn into the story if you'd SHOW us what's happening when he MC pours the lighter fluid on and strikes a match. Obviously this is too dangerous to be done indoors, so where does she do it? What color is the smoke? What does it smell like? Does she nearly singe her new do?

  8. This has a lot of spark. I like your sassy attitude. Do you need the bleeped words to convey your POV?

    I'm not clear about the first sentence of the third paragraph--Two years ago...Also, you make it sound like the mothers and grandmothers belch in their sleep, etc. You need a to say "In real life, men...

    And the memory derangement is meant to explain why she got married???

    Lots of potential here.