Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Secret Agent #19

TITLE: If the Stars Should Appear
GENRE: Adult Rom-Com

Once, I was canvassing for a political candidate and a woman at the door asked me, “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for money?”

I replied, “I went to college.”

I’m thinking about that conversation now, as I stand in a long line of future graduates, all of us draped in unflattering black gowns. We’re rowed two-by-two beneath the stadium, ready to take our seats on the football field and start the rest of our lives.

Today’s a day of celebration, which explains why several students in front of me have decorated their mortarboards, bejeweling the hell out of the top with shiny beads, foam letters and glitter glue. JOB WANTED. CALL ME 555-7619 one says. SALLIE MAE OWNS MY LIFE says another. The girl in front of me has a picture of her walking up steps, a ball and chain named “crippling debt” locked to her ankle, the caption below reading: $120,000 DOLLARS LATER LMAO.

I cringe. It’s not funny lady. You’ll owe that money after today.

My friends have accepted student debt as the price you pay for doing business, like sales tax or rating your Uber driver five stars because he knows where you live. Technically, they’re right. And it’s not like I have any room to judge. Tomorrow, I start paying off the twenty-three grand I owe. If I’m fiscal, I’ll be debt free in nine years.

I’m so screwed.


  1. I was immediately taken by the use of "in a row" as a verb (I sure hope that's not a typo for "robed"), which made me want to read further. The narrator has a clear and interesting voice.

    That said, while this scene is well drawn, where does it take us? If you removed everything from "I'm thinking about..." through "...after today," you'd lose a few quips but have a much tighter scene. There's no peril in a graduation line, other than the loss of three hours that the character will later learn could have been better spent doing almost anything else. There _is_ peril in debt, especially when the character feels foolish for having undertaken it.

    BTW, why not ramp up that peril? $23K is a relatively small debt, not hard to pay off - no way it should take nine years - if the character moves to a city with jobs (and obviously once the Covid-19 crisis has passed, but I assume you wrote this more than a month ago). So why not saddle her with four years, whatever the max is that she might have to assume because she couldn't get a need grant? Living in Ames, Iowa, say, with $120K of debt and limited local jobs could pose serious choices for her that $23K just doesn't, unless we understand more about her circumstances. Perhaps she wants to be a writer and is stuck driving for Uber so she can set her own schedule. Or she's taking care of her dying grandmother because no one else will, so she can't leave Bozeman or Ames or wherever. Either way, I think we need to see early on the real outline of her dilemma.

    But this is a voice and character that is worth listening to. Could be a fun ride.

  2. I find it odd to start in the past and then jump forward. I think it would be more settling if you started in present and put that thought after you'd grounded us. I also think we need some action here, not just thought.

    Finally, I think you need to clarify the part about the decorated hats. Are they wearing them on the backs of their heads or leaning back? I don't quite understand how she can see the tops so well otherwise (unless she's really really tall).

    Good luck!

  3. I find this description and set up going on too long. It seems most of this can be condensed so that you can start the actual here and now story even sooner.

  4. I really like this voice. I’m not sure about the opening line as I’m not sure how canvassing for a political candidate would truly lead to someone asking her this question, but it is an interesting way to start—and surprising. Bu ultimately, I worry it may seem forced. I’d love to get a greater sense of where the tension for this story may lie—especially since this is a rom-com and I’m not seeing the potential here for the romance part of that just yet. But I’m intrigued and really enjoy the humor—I would definitely read on.