Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Secret Agent #9

Title: THE WAY IT IS, 1959
Genre: MG Historical

“Patsy, stop that infernal daydreaming!” The words whooshed out of Mother like air from a punctured bicycle tire. Then after a sharp inhale, “Don’t you drop that sheet in the dirt!”

“Yes, ma’am.” I grabbed the wet sheet corner and sniffed the unmistakable scent of Clorox. Mother would have a hissy-fit for sure if I let go of that sheet. Dang it, Mother always interrupted my daydreams.

I swiped away a sweat mustache with the back of my free hand, then licked the salt from my lips. Boy Howdy, Mother thinks August and chores go together like bread and mayonnaise.

Perspiration dripped onto the lenses of my glasses. Do they make glasses with windshield wipers? I pushed the mother-of-pearl frames up for the umpteenth time. I wish I’d pulled my hair into a ponytail this morning. It hung thick around my neck and shoulders like the Cowardly Lion’s mane in The Wizard of Oz.

The sweet scent of honeysuckle drifted towards me from branches draped over the fence behind the clothesline. Daddy’ll be home in a few hours, I thought, and pressed my lips together. That uneasy-butterfly-feeling began in the pit of my stomach as it did every day around 5:30.

Everything changed when Daddy came home in the evenings. Then I felt as if I was waiting in the chair at the dentist office where the sound of drilling cavities always gave me the heebie jeebies.

12 comments:

  1. A little slow getting started. I'd like to know why or what changes when Daddy gets home more than the flowers in the yard. Also I think there are too many similes in this selection. Almost every sentence has a simile. I also wonder about some phrases. Are hissy fit and boy Howdy appropriate for 1959? hissy fit seems too modern and I don't think I've ever heard "boy Howdy" used as a phrase, and I was alive and kicking in 1959.

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    1. Hey Eileen: thanks so much for reading and commenting. I will work on eliminating some of the similes. You are right. You did send me back to research on the Southernisms, b/c I grew up hearing them. Hissy fit comes originally from "hissy" in the 1900s. Google books can show examples of the phrase in literature starting in 1943. "Boy Howdy" is originally English, then used in Texas and throughout the south after WWI. So, I think I can keep both of them. Growing up in the South, the speech patterns are often filled with idioms and expressions not heard in other parts of the country. Both of my parents were from rural backgrounds, so they had a lot of funny expressions!
      I appreciate your eye to details:)

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  2. I like the scene setting, and without the 1959 in the title, it's absolutely necessary. I thought with the Clorox, maybe to get rid of the "echo" of sniffed and smell (not technically the same word, but they kinda imply the same thing) you could use a word for how pure bleach feels when it hits your nostrils? It's an acid, so it stings a bit, no? (I've done too much laundry, ha!). I also wanted a hint -- a bit -- more setting. I get she's outside, there's a dirt yard, there's honeysuckle (that's a vine, right?) on a fence and she's hanging sheets. Just a hint of where she's at-- a specific type tree or wheat fields or something iconic of the area she's in -- would help ground my understanding of the setting and thus time period for this story ('59 Kansas is very different reality than '59 Texas or '59 Califas). And then, I'd like a hint of what she's daydreaming of -- I suspicion it's escaping where ever she is. But it might be more fantastic than that? Getting a hint of her daydream would help me get a better picture of Patsy, too.

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    1. AMB: thank you for your time to read and comment. You are so right about the Clorox smell! And more details about the setting so that reader can envision it. Thank you for putting me this revision track.

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  3. I really like the tension introduced by the last two paragraphs. However, I think a lot of the preceding text could be tightened up, particularly the sentences about sweat/perspiration/salt. Like AMB, i’d also like to get a hint of what she was daydreaming about before her mother interrupted. Also, the year is given in the title, but perhaps you can introduce some object or reference in this opening scene That places it in that time period.

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    1. S.Q.Eries: thank you for your time to read and comment. I'm working on revisions based upon your comments and those from others. Appreciate it.

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  4. I liked the setting, but found the appeal to the senses a bit overdone (Clorox, perspiration, honeysuckle [bread and mayonnaise, indirectly - incidentally I didn't understand that, but maybe that's just me]).

    I'd also expect her to refer to Father rather than Daddy given that she's using the term Mother. Particularly since there's something a bit ominous about him coming home. But maybe that's the point, if her Father asks her to refer to him as Daddy for some ominous reason...

    The tension provided in the last two paragraphs makes me want to find out more!

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    1. Fiona: thanks for reading and commenting. I'm working to pare down the similes. It's so hard to get everything you need in 250 words, as you know! The novel is set in the South. Southern girls in my day called their fathers, "Daddy". So, for me, he was always my "daddy". People today will still ask (in the South), "who's your daddy?" when they meet you. Go figure. "Mother" is also intentional b/c the character is very firm but not very loving; very critical and gives little praise. So, her title is to fit her role in the novel. Otherwise, she might be Momma or Mom. With more pages, you would pick up on that as reader, as well as why Patsy is nervous when Daddy gets home, so I thought I could explain. I'm working to get more into that first 250 words! Appreciate your help.

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  5. Go carefully with similes. And I'd take out the line, "Then I felt as if I was waiting in the chair at the dentist office where the sound of drilling cavities always gave me the heebie jeebies." The one before is compelling on its own, full of foreboding. The rest just distracts us.

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  6. Judy, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Based on other's comments as well, I'm already working to revise and trim out some of the similes. It has been a great help to have everyone's fresh eyes on page one. I appreciate your comments.

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  7. Poor Patsy! She definitely did not win the parent lottery. I noticed we don’t really see too much of Patsy’s character outside of her relationships with her parents, though - and I’d be curious to see more of this. What was she daydreaming about?

    I think it could amplify the tension if there's something external that reminds her of her father's imminent return (rather than her thinking about it spontaneously).

    I’d also look for ways to infuse her voice with more middle-grade authenticity, not just period authenticity (the 50s-era figures of speech felt a tiny bit folksy for a tween!).

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  8. Dear Secret Agent: thank you for taking time to read and comment. As always, I appreciate the feedback. I will work to incorporate your suggestions. Thank you for lending your expertise to the participants.

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