Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Improvisando
GENRE: MG Fantasy

You have to attack that first note. The B. It tells your audience everything about what’s to come. Quasi improvisando, the music says. You need to put your life into it. You need to show that you can be wild, fanciful, dramatic, free.

Basically, everything I’m not.

Mr. Loyola would announce the results any moment: First place in Gleam’s Champion Cellist Competition goes to Briar Palustra! I adjusted my tortoiseshell glasses so I didn’t have to look at the other finalists standing next to me backstage. Especially Damian Silver, the only one unimpressed by my icy perfection. I could feel his dark glare from a meter away.

He knows you’re a fake. Heat spread across my cheeks to my ears. My hair usually covered them, but Mother insisted on pinning it up in some sort of lumpy braided thing. I adjusted the silvery feather earrings that my brother Brook made for me to wear for finals.

“I’m supposed to win,” Damian hissed. “You haven’t even had your Career Commitment Recital yet. You’re not a real musician.”

He was right. Today, I was a fake in more than my playing. “They changed the rules, remember?” Entirely for me—not a teenager for two more days—because Mr. Loyola thought I deserved it. If I won this contest, I’d become an official Champion as soon as I performed the customary thirteenth-birthday Commitment Recital.

“Come on, Briar.” He gouged the floor with the pointy tip of his cello’s endpin. “You could’ve waited.”


  1. I love the voice in the opening paragraph and the tension that creates in the next line. Is this advice that someone has given to Briar? Why does she feel that she's a fake? Could you give us a little more of her internal thoughts so that we understand this, as well as a little more about why winning this competition is so important to her? I'm intrigued by the fact that we're about the learn the winner right away and what that means for Brian and her journey (either she doesn't win and what's next, or she does win and perhaps that isn't exactly what she thought it would be?).

    1. Not the original author, but as someone involved in music competitions back when I was 13, I'd like to chime in regarding "why winning this competition is so important to her".

      TBH if you asked teenage me to explain why music contests are so important to me in 250 words, I doubt I'd do a very good job. They kinda...just are important. You know it's important, people around you think it's important, and you become really invested - but you never really stop and ask yourself, why it all matters so much. Even now, many years later, it still takes a lot of introspection for me to answer that question. In the end, those competitions mattered to me, because I decided that I'd let them be important to me.

      This is my experience, and although it certainly isn't universal, I wouldn't be surprised if Briar here has something in common with me.

  2. As a former child musician, I think this is a very strong opening. The prose is poetic and it hits me with impact. Characters, setting, and context are immediately and clearly introduced. And already, we have characters with conflict, driven by all-too-relatable desires and emotions.

    Overall, this stands out as one of my favorite submissions this time around :)

  3. I think you need to clarify this part, "First place in Gleam’s Champion Cellist Competition goes to Briar Palustra!" I assumed that was him announcing the winner not her imagining it and then got confused when she was still waiting. Something like, "I could hear the announcement coming..." or another way of telling us this is only in her thoughts.

    Also, you shouldn't say "my brother" in front of Brook. That's telling. Let you reader figure out who he is from the clues you give or the places we see him later.

    Otherwise, I really like this!

    Good luck!

  4. This is a FANTASTIC opening! My only stumble was in understanding if the announcement had been made that she had won first place, or if she was just imagining she had won. I REALLY love the voice here and I’m completely pulled in! I would absolutely read on!