Wednesday, March 30, 2016

March Secret Agent #28

TITLE: I Know I'm Alive
GENRE: YA - Contemporary, Realistic

Philadelphia is approximately six hundred miles behind me. It still feels too close.

As we drive past rest stops and gas stations and too many fast food restaurants, I note the mile markers and look at the sky for dark clouds, even though I know there’s not much of a chance for rain. I’m pulling out my phone and checking my weather app every few minutes. It’s become a habit of mine. If Dad notices this, he doesn’t say anything. But he’s driving and his focus is on the road. The U-Haul truck he rented has gotten us this far without any problems despite my constant worry we will break down.

Dad’s listening to a podcast of This American Life and I’m pretending to listen. I pretend a lot of things these days. This particular episode is all about extraordinary coincidences. Dad says “Wow” every few minutes and I nod like I’m sharing in the “Wow”. If I don’t nod or look like I’m listening, Dad will glance over at me with concern. I can’t handle that look of concern. Take that look elsewhere, man. Just keep it away from me.  
So I nod. Sometimes I even smile or chuckle. I stop just short of actual commentary.

The highway traffic picks up the closer we get to the city. The Chicago skyline is now in view. Most of the cars are leaving the city, but we still encounter plenty of drivers eager to get to wherever.


  1. The opening line is great. It gives the sense that something happened in Philadelphia. But, then it is followed by mundane description. The focus on weather makes me think they are running from bad weather which, I'm guessing, is not what you want your reader pondering. I think you can actually go right to paragraph three. That flows with the concept that they are leaving something awful behind, that something has happened that warrants concern. The final paragraph is back to more description that I am not sure you need, but it is difficult to tell because it is a partial. You have a teen leaving something behind, possibly running from something terrible, keep the focus on that and the tension high in the first page or two.

  2. I agree with Rose. Something obviously happened to force this trip in the U-Haul, but most of the paragraphs deal with describing the weather, the activity (or non-activity) in the car. I'm not quite sure where things are going. I think you need to introduce more tension, so the reader wants to read on and find out what really happened. And what could happen next.

  3. You are a really strong writer, and I would keep reading because I can tell there is more good writing to come. However, I agree with the above posters...your great descriptions are about the wrong things. Focus more on her inner feelings and the tension of her leaving instead of the mundane details. Nice job.

  4. I love the first line. I'd like to have some idea of why they're on the road, though. Are they moving house, or is she going to university? Is this a journey she wants, or is she forced into it? Just a little bit to help ground us in the character's situation as soon as possible.

    I like the paragraph describing her and her dad listening to the podcast, but watch the repetition. Sometimes you can get away with it for emphasis, but when it happens almost every line, it feels less polished.

  5. Good sense of setting and the relationship between the narrator and the father. I would like more of a sense of what they're moving away from. The sense of worry is palpable, but what is its focus? Worried about Dad? About their own physical or mental health? Other? This could be subtle, just a hint. But something. On a sentence level, I think you could smooth the writing out just a teeny bit, in particular by limiting the "-ing" construction (e.g., instead of "I'm pulling out my phone...", "I pull out my phone"). Overall, I'm interested to see where this goes!

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  7. The voice shines through from the first line. I really like details, too--especially This American Life and the traffic picking up on the interstate as they get closer to the city. The only thing I'm missing is more emotion. I'd like a little more about what she's thinking and feeling as that will help me relate to her emotionally. For instance, I love that bit about the look of concern. Why doesn't she want Dad's concern? More of that sort of thing, and would elevate this already great entry.

  8. As the other commenters have observed, your writing is really strong. You've got a great, clear voice, and you introduce a sense of conflict and tension with your opening line. That said, this doesn't feel new to me. There are a ton of contemporary YAs that open with the protagonist moving cities, and many of them feature that move as a way to escape their old life. That's what this sounds like.

    You may be able to begin at a different point, but if your writing a story where you're character is moving or just moved, this transitional time makes sense for an opening scene. What I'd like you to focus on is bringing out the elements that make your story unique. As the others have said: give more of a hint as to what happened to cause all this tension surrounding Philadelphia and dad's concern for your MC. That's where the story is, not with the drive and the weather.

    Because your writing is so strong, I would continue reading. But I'd need that uniqueness to shine through quickly--if the manuscript continued to follow the pattern of most "moving" YAs in my inbox, I would eventually set it aside.

    Thank you for your entry!