Wednesday, April 5, 2017

April Secret Agent #22

TITLE: Tightrope
GENRE: YA Contemporary Thriller

The living room curtains block the early morning sunshine, shrouding the threadbare sofa in shadow. It’s been more than a year since my mother slept in her own bed; months since the cancer allowed her more than the briefest moment of comfort. She has retreated inside herself, a ghost of the woman who raised me with love.

“You’ll be okay, Mama?” I hesitate in the doorway with her steaming cup of tea, holding still until I see her stir. My greatest fear is finding her in this hell-hole of a room on the day I wake up and she doesn’t.

Her breath fills her lungs on a loud inhale, rough at the end. The room smells like old food and cigarettes, blended with the ripe odor of a withered body and blankets that need washing.

“Is it morning, Toni?” she asks thickly beneath the pain and the ever-increasing dose of meds that do nothing to mask it. I frown as she reaches for a pack of cigarettes on the coffee table. “Heading to school?”

I set the tea on the table within her reach, covering the rings from past cups with the pristine white mug. “Yes.”

She adjusts her hips on the concaved sofa cushion, hissing through her teeth. “Be careful, mi chica.”
I smile sadly at her pet name for me. Mama used to live in Mexico, as a nanny and teacher for a wealthy family. It was where she met my father, but we don’t talk about him.


  1. I like this. The opening line is very nice. I do have a few suggestions though: First, I would move that first line of dialogue to right after the opening line. Then pick up with the rest of that first paragraph. Also, I would take out the dialogue tag after "Is it morning, Toni?" and just say, "Her voice is thick beneath the pain. . ." Too many dialogue tags make things a bit clunky and this is one you could easily omit. But otherwise, nice job setting up the scene.

  2. The writing is well done but I do have some suggestions:
    If it's a thriller, give the reader a hint of what is to come. If it has something to do with the dad then set that up a little bit more right at the beginning. What does Mama being sick have to do with the MCs own stakes?

    I am intrigued though and would keep reading.
    Nice job!

  3. I like your second sentence more as a first sentence. Cancer is a much more dramatic way of beginning your story than the sofa.

    "A ghost of the woman" is a minor cliche--it's not bad, but it could be stronger.

    The dialogue is good and flows well, setting up the characters efficiently.

  4. The writing is very strong! Your descriptions are sensory and emotive. Here is my suggestion: I don't know if this should be the beginning. We hear much more about the mother here than we do about Toni; it's not a bad thing, but it maybe shouldn't be the first thing. Not knowing more about where the story is going (the "Be careful" is intriguing), I would suggest looking at what comes after this and what presumably comes before it and thinking about whether you have a more active, tense place to start your story. Just a thought!

  5. I get a definite sense of the room, the mother's deteriorating condition (and her disregard, i.e. the cigarettes), and the MC's concern. This is well-written, but I would like a little deeper sense of how all of these things touch the MC. For example, the smell of the room, how do these odors hit her nostrils and what emotional or physical reaction do they set off?

    Along the line of setting this up as a thriller and focused on the MC right away, what if the first line was "Be careful, mi chica." Then maybe the MC might comment that her mother was always more concerned about the MC than herself, and that the MC's foremost fear was finding her mother murdered by cancer. This might give a sense that the mother knows something (about the father?) her child doesn't and won't share, or share fully, before she dies.

    Another suggestion to shine the light on the MC, give specific examples of ways the mother 'raised me with love' that give a glimpse into their history and current status. The MC's concern and bringing of tea show her dedication to her mom, but something in their past compels her to be this way.

    Just some things to consider.

  6. This was great. It made me wonder if the reason the mom’s at home and not at a hospital getting treatment was because she already had it, they can’t afford it (this is because of the term “threadbare sofa” that I made the assumption), or because there’s no more methods to save her.

    Did anyone else frown when Toni frowned when her mom reached for the cigarettes? I was like “really you should be trying to make yourself better, not worse.” I wondered what kind of cancer the mom had and then guessed at lung cancer based on her breathing. However, I thought it would be good to reveal the type of cancer just so the readers won’t make the wrong assumption.

    I liked the last paragraph and the part about where her mom met her dad but they don’t talk about him. But I’m hoping they will talk about him! It was a nice stopping point and made me curious to learn more about Toni and the struggles she’s going through.

    Thanks for entering!