Wednesday, April 15, 2009

11 Secret Agent

TITLE: Just Maybe
GENRE: YA Contemporary Fiction

There is something to be said about the way a kid’s eyes light up when
they rip through the wrapping paper of a Christmas gift and find
something they truly love. On the other hand, when there are two
little girls screaming and crying and playing a determined game of
tug-o-war with a scented My Little Pony, that’s a different story.

“Why do we do this every year?” I groaned quietly, watching two
four-year-olds fight for the strawberry-scented toy.

My cousin Melissa grinned mockingly. “Come on, Lisa. It’s fun!”

I rolled my eyes, but tried to hide my cynicism. “Yeah,” I said, “Fun.”

Christmas had long ago stopped being fun.

After all these years I still didn’t know why my grandmother couldn’t
come by herself; Yai knew how to travel alone. Besides, Dad didn’t
like missing so much work. And no one would notice whether I was here
or not. Two weeks in a crowded house with his family pretending the
holiday cheer was running through our veins was too much for me.

Who were we kidding anyway?

The spirit of the holidays died a long time ago.

Nine years ago to be exact.

As more of the family filtered into the living room, filling up the
little bit of open space around the Christmas tree, I tried to ignore
the instinctive panic of claustrophobia. My stomach tied itself in
knots as my lungs constricted, making it so hard to breathe. There was
no escape.

This was family time.


  1. Very nice opening. I am concerned about the voice of the MC. It sounds adultish in the first paragraph - perhaps it's simply the use of the word "cynicism." Maybe try a word that a bored or annoyed teen might use.

    But overall an interesting beginning!

  2. I love the opening, the my little pony bit made me laugh! I got a little tripped up by the paragraph about her grandmother, I think it needs to be a little clearer, but I would read more to see what happens. I do agree with Katie, I thought for a moment the MC was an adult watching her kids in the opening, but then it was clear this was a teen.

  3. The weight of this great -- something very emotionally-wrenching happened, and I'd read on to find out what. The part with the various family members (Yai?) was a bit confusing though -- who was coming? Who was traveling? Clarification would be nice.

  4. This is an interesting beginning, but I do agree with the confusion of the MC's age.

  5. I pretty much agree with the voice not seeming like a teen girl. Of course, she may just be mature for her age, but it might work better to show that later, not in the first para. Also, the repetitiveness of "Holiday spirits ended long ago" bugged me.

  6. I like this. There's some feeling of beating a dead horse with the lack of holiday cheer thing but I'm immediately interested in know what happened nine years ago. The four year olds make me laugh but there's a touch of parent thinking in her behavior, rather than teen thinking. Interesting, though.

  7. I really liked the first paragraph, you hooked me in with that.

    But afterwards, it kind of fell for me. For me personally, I need to see more tension and questions to keep me reading. For example, where would she rather be than with her family at Christmas. And more about the significance of losing the spirit of the holidays a long time ago.
    I know I'd read on if I had more hints that teased me along.

    Good luck.

  8. At first I thought the family tradition was to give the twins one toy and let them fight it out. But then I realized that she's talking about Christmas in general, right?

    It's hard to tell how old the MC is. Her voice sounds very mature at the beginning, almost like she's looking back on her childhood from the distance of decades, rather than a couple of years.

    I think you could use her cousin Melissa to get in some key information about the MC and her situation by comparing and contrasting the two (e.g. "She was 16, the same age as me. But that's the only thing we had in common. She was always so upbeat and giggly which I guess is easy when your family in tact." This might be more effective than introducing the grandmother and the father a few lines later. Neither one of them really advances the plot or gives us info about the MC at this point.

    I really liked the second to last paragraph and the last line. If you could move that to the beginning, you might have a more powerful opening.

  9. You know, it's weird, when I started this I thought it was a women's fiction entry and the kids were her daughter. It reminded me of a friend of mine who's father died around the holiday's, but she's an adult.

    I'm not sure young people reflect on kids the way she does in the opening sentence.

    Good writing, but it feels more like an adult piece to me.

    Good luck with your novel - AK

  10. The whole feel of this seemed older than YA to me. But I think with some subtle revisions, the voice and perspective could be made to feel more teen. I liked the last line, but wasn't sucked in.

    Having said all that. I kind of wonder if the story just isn't starting in the right place to engage me in the MC. Consider why you were starting here.

    keep working at it. :}

  11. I'm a little confused with some of the family/grandmother stuff, but i liked the opening :)

  12. I think this could be stronger with a little bit of tightening.

    You have 'scented' two sentences in a row - I'd cut one of these.

    The repeated mentions of the lack of holiday cheer start to feel repetitive. You only need to state it once.

    I wasn't really interested until this: **The spirit of the holidays died a long time ago.
    Nine years ago to be exact.** Maybe you could condense what comes before to get to this sooner?

  13. I liked the beginning . . . but something seemed a bit off. You lost me with the "After all these years . . ." paragraph. I'd cut that paragraph and maybe save that information for later. I'm more interested in why Christmas was no longer fun . . .

  14. *grins* Wish my eyes could rip through wrapping paper. Talk about enabling the multi-tasker. :P

    Uhmmmmm..... I'm almost hooked. I think part of my problem is there are a lot of names thrown around here, but I don't know anything about them yet.

    Also, I thought the protagonist was the mom of the four year olds...

  15. Definitely hooked! Love the character voice here and the hook about "nine years ago" totally has me wanting to read more!

  16. The voice did seem older than a teen. I had to go back and check the audience.

    "I groaned quietly, watching two
    four-year-olds fight for the strawberry-scented toy." Why not use this opportunity to introduce them as cousins or what not to help set the scene. Otherwise it sounds like she doesn't know them.

    It has potential, but I'm not hooked. I think because the holiday spirit is dead thing was mentioned more than once which leads me to believe it is a gimmick to make me keep reading--whether it is or not.

    Keep trucking!

  17. I'm guessing the mom is no longer part of the scene, and that's the MC's reason for not wanting to be there, but I could be wrong, and that's my biggest problem. I want to know why all the ho-hum, here we go again stuff is going on.

    Not quite hooked, but the writing is nice.

  18. Strong voice, clear personality. I thought it was well written and the MC's feelings came through really well.

    However, I'm not entirely hooked because I'm not sure this is leading anywhere interesting. I get that this kid isn't thrilled to spend Christmas with her/his family, but what else?

    The line about the spirit of Xmas dying exactly nine years ago is intriguing (loss of a loved one? death in the family?), but I'd like just a few more hints at what is to come.

    I also didn't understand the granny reference.

    Not hooked, but I'd probably give a few more paras to be sure.

  19. Eh. I hate to be so blase about it, but there's nothing here that compells me to read more. Nice writing is great, but why do I care about this story?

    I'm sorry, but I don't.

    Also, I think we have to put rolling of the eyes as another writing cliche.

  20. First, I really like the pony tug-o-war -- that's a great little image.

    However, I'm not hooked. Here's why: The implied conflict between enjoying the holiday and not, which is set up in the first and second sentences, doesn't materialize. It's all dislike from there on out. The MC says she tries to hide her cynicism, but really doesn't seem to be trying at all. From clues in this short bit, I'm assuming her mom died, her mom made Christmas special, and maybe her mom even died around Christmastime, but I'm not really interested enough in the MC to find out her story. Finally, the line "it was family time" seems like an anticlimax after all the angst in the previous paragraph, where I assume she is having some reaction to the memory of losing her mother (again, just my assumption from what I've seen so far). Unless her mom died of an overdose of family, the last line doesn't seem to fit for me.

    The writing style is very clear, and the first two paragraphs are great. Keep going!

  21. Fighting at Christmas - bit of a cliche. And the family travel arrangements are a yawn.

  22. Although I liked the beginning (pronoun-verb disagreement notwithstanding- 'they' does not stand for he or she), the beginning didn't really lead anywhere. It only served to introduce back story about when Christmas lost its charm.

    I was more interested in the four year olds actually

    Sorry. not hooked

  23. I'm confused, and it started with thinking it was a mother talking. I figured out that she was doing the visiting, not the other way around (my first thought). I guess the four year olds are cousins, since the implication is that her mother's been dead for nine years. This almost has me hooked but something's missing. Even if she's 18 at this point, her mother would have died when she was nine. I think most kids would in fact move on, even if they're not the same. Potential, but not there yet for me.

  24. Maybe it's because it's almost summer and I couldn't be less excited about Christmas right now, but this story does nothing for me. There isn't a single aspect of this that hooked me. Sorry not interested at all.