Wednesday, April 15, 2009

40 Secret Agent

TITLE: A Horse Called Trouble
GENRE: Young Adult

Tara pressed her ragged sweatshirt to her nose. She turned, searching for the cause of the horrible stink that hovered around her. It was everywhere! Like a subway toilet that hadn’t been flushed in weeks. She held her breath and peered up at the giant white barns.

So, this is my punishment … horse therapy? To what? Clean up after them?

She rolled her eyes.

Slave labor.

Her jaw twitched, anger swelling inside.

I didn’t even steal Alissa’s purse! But just because she’s Alissa Jordan, everyone believes her!

She shouldn’t have been surprised though. It was just like Alissa.

Tara gripped her sweatshirt in a tight fist.

She should’ve tried harder; convinced Principal Jackman she hadn’t done it. Made him listen.

Her shoulders slumped.

Why bother? He doesn’t care.

She lowered her head. Mr. Jackman never believed her. He’d threatened to kick her out of Roseden Middle School before.

Tara snorted. Like Roseden Middle School is so elite; can’t have any riffraff.

She stared up at the barn.

So how is a horse supposed to change anything anyway?

A deep sigh swelled within her. Maybe alternative school was for the best. At least it wasn’t juvie hall … and she was away from Alissa.

A horse trumpeted, piercing the quiet morning. A flock of sparrows took flight from their roost nearby, noisily chattering their irritation. Tara’s pulse quickened. She stared at the barn’s open doorway; a dark, gaping mouth, waiting to expel the devil animal that shrieked inside.


  1. The writing was nice, but this did not hook me.

  2. The premise is engaging, and I liked the voice. It's the sort of story I'd like to read.

    However, I was thrown by the amount of inner-monologue that came out. It began to feel more like switching between third & first person than the occasional thought. I think if you resolved this issue, you'd have a great opening!

  3. Your premise is near and dear to my heart. I've seen equine therapy at work, especially for special needs children. So a thumbs up here.

    Your paragraph structure made me work to read through the first 250. I would concentrate on that in editing. It is all right to put interior italic thoughts into paragraphs relating to the same subject.

    Also I felt a lack of disconnect with your main character. I would have liked a short sentence that would tell me about her. Some internal thinking statement about who she is, how she walked--long strides or maybe an age reference for example.

    Nice job!

  4. If I'm right, that a troubled girl is sent to a horse farm as punishment, and hates it now, is correct, I'd read on to see what happens next. It's well worded and I get a feel for the MC's voice.

    The one liners annoy me, though. It seems too much like a picture book, not YA.

  5. Kids like their horses!

    I loved the beginning with her trying to find the stink and the subway toilet line. Barns do smell!

    I wasn't sure about your last line: 'expel the devil animal that shrieked inside'? You had me until then.

    Horses and angst are sure to sell.

  6. I'm not sure why you haven't started with the scene where Tara takes responsibility for something her friend did. This would go a long way toward setting up your character's main problem. Instead of telling us what happened off camera, we can be a part of it. I'm also not sure about all the itallics vs. regular sentences/paragraphs. Look for cliche in her body language and thoughts.

    I'm afraid I'd pass.

  7. This didn't hook me - it felt like a lot of stories I've seen before about a troubled kid's connection with an animal leading to redemption (usually for both the animal and the kid). Don't get me wrong, I love animals and I think these programs are fantastic, but for fiction, I need a twist. Something that makes it stand out (which you probably have later in the book...).

    Maybe consider starting with the last paragraph - this horse sounds intriguing and her reaction to the horse will say a lot about them both. Also, starting with the devil animal might help refocus the story so it doesn't feel quite so much like the typical "troubled teen rehab" story.

  8. I can 'hear' the voice of your protagonist (good job!), but i'm not quite hooked yet.

    Good luck!

  9. I'm with Shannon, I can "see" her out there at the barn grumbling about. The subway reference to the smell made me a bit sick in the back of my throat. Nice description. It's a nice quick start to a story.

    Two nits:

    When you wrote "Tara snorted" after so much talk of the horse, my thought went to a horse snorting which isn't real feminine, I would use some other descriptive term there.

    I got really stuck on your last sentence. I had to read it a few times to figure out it was the barn with the gaping mouth, maybe a different descriptive besides gaping mouth would have worked.

    Best of luck - AK

  10. Cute<:

    *shakes head* I love the smell of horse farms. It's one of those homey comfy smells.

    One thing though - need to emphasize that she's standing out in the barnyard. Like when she turns around looking for the 'stink' drop in a hint of what she sees.

    If this is early morning and the horses are all inside, it could be a kinda depressing view of muddy runs, bleak pastures...

  11. The switching around between her internal conversation and her physical actions made me feel really disconnected from the MC.

    Also, in your first paragraph, I really liked all the description and "showing" but you may want to clarify where she is standing. I couldn't tell until I was all the way through the description.

  12. Not hooked. I'm more into YA urban fantasy and paranormal. But I did like the first and last paragraph. The middle stuff wasn't bad, it just didn't entice me enough to want to keep reading. But I'm sure a horse loving teen would enjoy this book.

    Good luck!

  13. I liked this. The voice feels genuine and Tara's personality is definitely coming through loud and clear. Good tension, too. My only nitpick is that I think the line So how is a horse supposed to change anything anyway? feels a little too-foreshadowy and feels like an authorial intrusion, rather than something holistic in the character's voice.

    Good luck!

  14. I would probably read on for a little while.

    And I just said this to another entry up above, but the use of the internal thoughts is distracting and makes your story disjointed. You're going back and forth from third/past to first/present and it's jarring. You might consider trying to eliminate some of them, working them into the narration. FWIW.

  15. For a moment, I thought her sweatshirt stank!

    Like the sense of frustration, and no problem with the thoughts vs the narrative. I thought the last para might be a little OTT, but, who knows what's in there...

  16. I was confused by why some thoughts were in itallics and others weren't, so that made it difficult to read in some ways. And I didn't really get hooked by the voice, because it seemed that she was supposed to be an urban kid, but her language didn't sound like an urban teen (notably, riffraff, but overall it just didn't feel like a contemporary, urban teen).

    The idea of animal therapy might lead to some compelling conflict moments, but the MC would have to feel a little more real to draw me in.

  17. Not sure if I'm hooked. Didn't care too much for all the inner thought - felt like you were giving us too much backstory all at once.

    I love horse stories, but for a therapy horse, this ones doesn't seem typical. We don't usually have much shrieking going on in the barn.

  18. The inner thoughts bothered me as well and also, I agree w/ macaronipants, I think the purse stealing scenes, etc. would have given us a better sense of the character and would still be interesting and a good hook. But I love horses and I know kids to do too, so good job!

  19. I remember this from another contest and I liked it. Sorry, but this version just doesn't work for me. I think the inner dialogue/thinking is confusing, because some is in italics and some isn't. But don't give up. Your writing's good. You haven't found the right version, yet. Good luck!

  20. I thought you have a good start. It just needs a little tightening. There were too many small paragraphs. It should be easy to edit, so keep it up!

  21. I think your last paragraph showed that you're a good writer, but for me, this was just a lot of backstory delivered in a choppy way. I wasn't getting a good rhythm from the words to pull me into the story. I think the extremely short paragraphs had something to do with that. But like I said, I think you are a good writer, maybe you just need to approach this first page in a different way.

    Hope this helps! Good luck.

  22. I'm afraid I'm not hooked. As Stephanie mentioned, there's nothing here to differentiate it from all the other troubled-kid-meets-troubled-animal books. Now maybe that's coming a little later (hopefully not much later than a chapter or two), but is there any way to allude to it here?

  23. This feels too immature for me. The short paragraphs don't move the story along as much as they make it feel halted, and the interior monologues interspersed with description are likewise distracting.

    Also, again, rolling of the eyes, ellipses, and unnecessary exclamation marks. Just because your teen protag may feel like everything deserves exclamation, your readers won't want it.

  24. Your main character seems to be jumping through different emotions with every thought, and this isn't working for me. I think maybe you're trying to get too much backstory into this first page. I'd focus on conveying just one emotion right now - probably her annoyance at having to suffer through horse therapy, and save the anger and sadness about being wrongly accused until later. You can hint that she doesn't deserve this without going into all the details right away.

  25. For me, it takes too long to get to the horses. But I do like the voice. And it's not in first person! Yah!

  26. I'm not hooked, but that's down to personal preference. I'm not really into horse stories.

  27. Personally, I think if you are going to include this much internal dialogue, it may be easier for the reader if the whole story was told in first person. Too much back and forth between thoughts and description for me. Also, what happened to the voice in the last paragraph? It sounds like two completely different stories were mashed together. Not to mention, I am having a hard time reconciling the notion of a big white barn with a "dark, gaping mouth, waiting to expel the devil animal that shrieked inside." Definitely not hooked.