Wednesday, November 4, 2009

11 Secret Agent

GENRE: Women’s / book club fiction with potential young adult crossover

Colin's interpreter flanked him all day, an extra appendage, but between school and practice he navigated the waves of Broadview blue alone as if he'd dived into the wrong ocean. T-shirts, hoodies, drawstring backpacks -- they competed and they flowed together.

He took his time. Spaced out and had to spin his locker combination twice. He hit the last number, lifted the latch. Bingo. He twisted around for his backpack and saw her.

Raven Harding. Coach’s daughter, cheer captain and self-appointed Queen of the Cool. In pre-cal, she eyed him, sidelong sweeps, as if measuring his potential or considering his eligibility to join her fan club. It kind of made him laugh. By default, he wasn't a joiner.

She waved a pen, and he pulled his notepad from his pocket. She pressed it against the wall, but her pen wouldn’t write. He grabbed his pre-cal book, held it flat, hands beneath, like a butler bearing a tray of hors d'oeuvres. She grinned. Moved so close he caught the scent of hair conditioner.

Any good at this? She tapped his book.

He nodded.

Show me? She jutted her chin up at him.

He tilted his head, weighing her question. Nobody at school asked him for help. Not with anything. In football, he was essentially one of the team now, but in class, the other students still skirted him, still studied him as if he were an exchange student from another universe.

I'm desperate, she wrote. She leaned her head the same direction, at the same angle, and gazed into his eyes until he broke.


  1. I got a little bit lost in all the lock spinning and attempts to navigate the high school hallways, but I do like this. I'm hooked, mostly because (I'm guessing) the MC is deaf and I'm curious as to how that all plays out in the plot.

  2. Hooked.

    The “…navigated the waves of Broadview blue alone as if he'd dived into the wrong ocean. T-shirts, hoodies, drawstring backpacks…” created a mental picture for me and I was fascinated from that point.

    I enjoyed the voice and intrigued by the protagonist. It made me want to know more about him and his history.

    The fourth paragraph was too wordy, but other than that very objective opinion, I was wanting, no begging for more.

    Good Job!

  3. I was very confused by this submission, and if I'm confused I don't read on.

    Also, if this is about high school students it might be YA and not women's fiction but I know this is a very short bit of the book.

    Good luck!!

  4. The first paragraph was confusing.
    The translator gets little mention, like a machine. I didn’t like this. Translator is a person, and I want a human interaction.
    I’m also put off by your description of what this is. Pick one! (Is “book club” even a genre?)
    Almost hooked by the deaf protagonist, but not quite.

  5. I loved the idea of the interpreter as appendage (also liked the use of the word "flanked") - because that's what it must feel like, having to have an interpreter all day. I actually like that the interpreter gets little mention, because in actual sign language interpreting, they aren't supposed to put any of their own personality into it - they are supposed to serve as just a conduit for the teacher's words.

    I got a bit hung up on the "wrong ocean" - didn't really understand it. I understand why he feels his current environment is wrong for him, but how can someone dive into the wrong ocean? Seems like a poor analogy. I loved the "competed and flowed together" thing.

    I also loved the description of him holding his book like a butler. I thought that was well done.

    Not sure how I feel about the last line - seems a bit cookie-cutter.

    I would definitely read on.

  6. Is the self-appointed Queen of Cool signing her questions? Why are they in italics instead of quotations?

    I like the description of her standing close enough to smell her conditioner--although, would a boy know it was conditioner and not shampoo?

    I like this, although I'm unsure what 'book club fiction' is.

    best of luck

  7. Not hooked. I liked the references to Colin's interpreter, but I'm having a hard time grasping the rest of that first paragraph. Just read it again. Still don't get it.

    I also don't get his exchange with Raven. They're writing notes in his "pre-cal" book in the middle of the hall? (By the way, what the heck is "pre-cal"? Precalculus? Maybe pre-calc would be better, if that's the case.) Why aren't they just talking? Now that I've read THIS part again, I'm thinking he's deaf. But you definitely don't want an agent to have to read anything twice.

    Two last thoughts: The choppy, subject-less sentences became a distraction. I don't mind that technique in moderation, but there was too much of it here. And there's nothing about this that seems women's fiction-y; so far, it's young adult all the way.

  8. I did wonder about your category placement. Womens fiction for a story about a teenge deaf boy? You could waste a lot of time by sending this out to the wrong editors and agents.

    As for the story itself - I thought the characters could be stronger, but it wouldn't stop me from reading. It's still early, so I'd read on. I'd be curious to see if you were going to explore the whole deaf culture thing.

    I did have some questions. I wondered how long he had been deaf and why he hadn't yet learned to read lips or sign. (I can wait to learn the answers)

    And if he needed an interpreter, how does he play football? Does the interpreter stand in the huddle with them? Does he have to keep turning from the action to the sidelines to find out the different plays? This question played with my believability. If the explanation makes sense, I'd be fine, if it didn't, or wasn't explained, I'd put the book aside.

    But for now, I'm hooked.

  9. I like the writing and want to read more, but I don't quite understand the interpreter - is Colin deaf? Speaks a different language? Is an alien?

    But it reads like YA rather than women's fiction.

  10. If the interpreter is with him all day, why does he navigate the waves alone?

    I found this too confusing, sorry.

    Interesting idea, though. Just a bit slower at the start to ground us in what's going on would help, I think.

  11. From an interview with agent Michele Brower: "book club fiction"- fiction that has a central issue or story that sweeps you off your feet and gets you talking.

    And from Nathan Bransford's blog: ... "book club fiction," which tends to straddle the line between literary and accessible and tends to reach a wider audience than "pure" literary fiction ...

    And also:

  12. Your voice stands out nicely in this snip :)

    Happy Writing,
    A. McElfresh

  13. Hooked because I want to know what Colin wants, and if that's what he ends up getting.
    I would definitely say it reads as YA at this point. But the kind teenage girls moms might read as a crossover after their kids ate it up.

  14. I had to read it a few times to realise that it was after school but before practice and that's why his interpreter wasn't around. I'm tired so it's probably me. If others have the same issue I'd think about clarifying it though.

    I'm hooked, as it seems to be a nice twist on the teenage boy with cheerleader captain.

    It doesn't seem like women's fiction, but it's only the first 250 words.

  15. I liked this. I'd keep reading. It feels like YA, so I'm not sure why you define it as women's fiction, but I don't know what the rest of the story is about.

    It might just be me, but I didn't get it at first that he is deaf. Maybe say 'deaf interpreter' in that first sentence to eliminate any confusion.

  16. Blogger ate my comment again. Take 2: Despite what Anonymous said, I do think the book-club fiction category is a bit nebulous. I knew what you meant but another agent might push back at you about that. To me, this felt like YA. The hookiest part of the sample for me is the idea of the interpreter as appendage. Presumably this interpreter is around all the time witnessing the protagonist's every misstep and embarrassing moment. What would that be like to have someone shadowing your teen life...would that person seem like a helper or an albatross or a narc or a piece of furniture to the protagonist? I'm curious.

  17. Thanks to all for helpful comments, and especially to Authoress for hosting the contest and to Laura Bradford for acting as the Secret Agent for this round! I've identified spots for good tweaks based on the feedback.

    I totally understand the confusion on genre on my entry and had to bite my tongue a few times. :)

    It's a story in a similar vein as books by Jodi Picoult -- a moral dilemma faced by a family who has to make big decisions. The POVs alternate between the deaf teen boy and his mother, not unlike how Picoult wrote The Pact and how many of her other books have teen POVs mixed with adult ones.

    Picoult has commented that her books defy categorization and she finds them shelved in literature, romance, young adult, and mystery at any given time. I understand her quandary well these days, but I'm aso pleased it doesn't stop her or others from writing this type of story and selling well.

    I've been advised to call mine women's fiction in queries because women will likely be the target audience, with potential teen girl crossover, but I don't intend to as a general rule. Someone else advised me to just say commercial fiction or upmarket fiction and allow the agent or publisher to categorize it. I have played with the book club fiction category a bit with a decent request rate as well.

    Thanks again and best wishes to all the participants and commenters! I agree with SA on the winner -- number 30 sucked me right in, too.