Wednesday, November 4, 2009

30 Secret Agent

TITLE: Undisclosed
GENRE: Young Adult

I nod at the cop standing in the doorway. “Yeah, that’s him. Ed Bishop. My father.” I don’t know if there’s some official phrase for identifying a body. I don’t know how many words to use, so I use too many.

“Thank you, Nicholas. Do you need a minute?” The cop asks.

“I do.” I lie. I don’t.

I stare at my dad there on that emergency room gurney. He’s naked, but thankfully someone has put a heavy cotton blanket over those parts that don’t need identifying. His eyes are closed, and there is a tube hanging out of his mouth. The tube pulls his lips down into a frown that looks normal on him. The last time I remember my dad smiling was seven years ago. I was eleven then. It was the day my sister Gaby was born.

I stare down at him and fight the urge to spit. I dreamed about this since I was a little kid. I thought about it, obsessed over it, ran through possible scenarios day after day.

I wondered if I would cry. I don’t.

I thought there would be a lot of blood. There isn’t.

I wondered if I would be the one holding a weapon. I’m not.

I never thought I would feel relieved. I do.

Seeing him there, so obviously dead and inanimate is kind of creepy. The cop leaves me alone in the room with him and I sit down by his head.


  1. I have a hard time reading fiction in the present tense. Having said that, I liked this. The lack of emotion threw me for a second, until I got to the part where he wonders how he should feel. At first I thought it might be shock, or some kind of delayed response, but the self-examination settled it, and quite nicely. You've also set up a complicated family dynamic that makes me want to learn more. I would definitely continue reading. Well done.

  2. Hooked, although the present tense threw me a little, too. It almost always feels like a gimmick and usually presents some challenging tense shifts (like the one in the fifth paragraph). On the whole, though, the writing is pretty clean and the scene interesting. I would keep reading.

  3. Nothing to say on this one other than that I'd definitely keep reading.

  4. I would definitely keep reading, too.

  5. I'd keep reading. Strong voice, intriguing first page.

  6. I'd keep reading. I like this scene as an opener.

    But I think first lines could be stronger with more action and less telling. I'd like to see you ground the reader in the setting with the first sentence, so we know it's a morgue.

    Instead of I nod at the cop standing in the doorway.

    What about something like: I nod at the cop as he pulls down the sheet.

    Changing that first line frees you from telling the reader that he's identifying the body. It kind of smooths out the conversation.

    “Yeah, that’s him. Ed Bishop. My father.”

    “Thank you, Nicholas. Do you need a minute?” The cop asks.

    “I do.” I lie.

    I stare at my dad there on that emergency room gurney.

  7. I like the first line the way it is. And I like the first/present pov. To be honest, I never even notice when I'm reading something in present tense. It wasn't until I got to these comments that I even realized that's what I was looking at.

    But it is a polarizing issue and one you might need to take into consideration.

  8. I'm currently in school for criminology, and I have to say the writing is good and all, but I'm a little confused. If he's on an emergency room gurney and not with a forensic examiner then he'd be in the hospital and a doctor would more than likely be in the room. And, if he were with a forensic examiner (I don't know the cause of death, so if it was suspicious then he should be with an examiner) he would be on the metal slabs they prop the bodies on.

    Maybe it gets explained later, but I don't know if it does. But I WANT to know if it does, which means I would definitely keep reading this.

    Good job!

  9. I guess I don't know enough about YA, but this seems alwfully grim and gritty for a work aimed at teenagers or younger. The writing's pretty good -- very spare. In the 2nd para it should be "the cop asks" (small "t" that is). I don't mind the present tense narration. Seems to me you pull it off. So other than my concerns expressed above, which may well reflect my ignorance, I have to say I thought this was pretty well done.

  10. I liked this and would definitely keep reading: I want to know why he's for so long wanted and expected his father to die violently, and what their history together is, and what actually did happen to the father, and more about the narrator.

    The present tense didn't bother me at all (IOW, I didn't notice it: I object to present-tense narration only when it's obtrusive for some reason).

    I am however confused about the scenario. Would the next-of-kin normally be asked by the police to identify someone who's just died in Emerg? My impression (and admittedly this is based entirely on reading police procedurals...) is that if you've got the next of kin at the hospital you already know who the victim is, and if someone needs identifying it's done in the morgue, the body has been tidied up to minimize shock to the rellies, and the next-of-kin (or whoever) generally looks at it through a window of some sort. But as I said, I've got no direct experience here -- perhaps page 2 explains this apparent discrepancy entirely satisfactorily :)

  11. I'm a huge fan of Jodi Picoult and this reminds me of her hook-you-in writing style and the present tense writing that makes you a part of the moment. I love feeling like I'm there in room, in that person's mind, in that moment. I'm wanting to know more about why he's been looking forward to his father's death... I would definitely keep reading on! Well done.

  12. Yes. More.

    I agree with many of the comments about little fixes. I'd add one of my own. Near the end, I'd remove the last "I do." The last thought stands alone fine, and adding "I do." makes it almost TOO repetitive, if that makes sense. It takes away from the device. The cadence is nicer without it.

    Present tense doesn't bother me at all.

  13. Interesting. I think you do a great job of portraying the kid's shock. I'd read on.

  14. I like the hook in this piece a lot. There's a lot said in just 250 words. You get a lot of information about Nicholas and his relationship with his father. He's daydreamed about his death, even contemplated being "the one holding the weapon" a time or two. The terse sentences really define the tone of his character and the tone of this piece.

    There's a lot of comments about present tense, but I didn't have a problem with it. I used to write screenplays, so I often write in present tense myself. It puts you in the moment, and I believe it is currently a popular trend, which makes this a marketable, edgey piece.

    Great job! I'd definitely turn the page!

  15. I'm totally hooked.

    If I were an agent, I'd be crossing my fingers and hoping the rest of the manuscipts was as good as this.

  16. Doesn't really have a YA feel to it for me.
    The genre choice also brings up questions, like why is a kid identifying his father's body, and why would the officer leave a minor alone with a corpse?

  17. I'm taken in by the lack of predictable emotion this boy feels as he looks down at his father's dead body. I want to know why - so I'd definitely turn the page! I also like the present tense and the brief sentences. They suit the tone of the piece.

    Great hook - well done!

  18. The "sitting down by his head" at the end presents such a chilling image. I really like the stark prose and how it matches the situation. I'd read on!

    (Also, re: present tense. I've read between 50 and 60 YA novels this year, and at least half of them were written in present tense. It's certainly less of an "experimental" tense in YA than it is in other genres.)

  19. If he dreamed and obsessed over the idea of his father's death, why didn't he ever think he'd be relieved. He wanted to kill his dad, right? Why is he surprised to feel relieved?

    I would also make the small changes

    “I do.” I lie. I don’t

    “I do,” I lie.

    Change "I'm not" to "I wasn't" because the man was not killed right there in the emergency room--whoever held the weapon did so earlier. (Or am I wrong about that?)

    Other than the little things, this is compelling.

  20. Love it. YA can be really gritty, these days and I think you did a great job hooking the reader. I have a good sense of who this protagonist is and I want to know more about him.

  21. I'll just add my voice to those who liked this!

  22. Nice work! Love it. I'm not a fan of present tense, but hey, that wouldn't stop me from reading on.

  23. Good stuff. Got me hooked.
    I have no problem with present tense, and have read several books in this tense. I am intrigued as to the MC's feelings about his dead dad, not normally what most kids would think- brings in some mystery that I want answered. So, I would read on.

    Kudos, SA liked it too!

  24. This is a haunting passage. The spare language really conveys the MC's feelings toward his father. I want to know what this story is about. You could almost go forward or back from here ... and I'm interested in knowing what happens next. Nice work!

  25. I read more YA than anything else. It's not too gritty. The present tense kept kicking me out of the story though. Maybe I would get used to it 1dk. Present tense feel so awkward to me.

  26. Definitely hooked.
    There are kids in my Lib I would give this to, and I would keep reading myself. I want to know more!
    Nice work.

  27. Agree with all the other positive critters, and I second what Julie Two said above about the the "I do."

    Good job. Hooked.

  28. I'm intrigued by the character and the situation. I like the voice and the style. I'd keep reading.

    This line threw me off: I never thought I would feel relieved. I do. -- It seems to me if he has obsessed about his father's death for years, he would be relieved when it finally happened.

  29. I was immediately captured by the setting. I found myself wanting to know more about Nicholas and what could be behind his "Spock like" approach to the death of his father. It is wonderfully done and deliciously gritty! Don't change the title as I will be looking for it on the shelves!

  30. I absolutely want to read more. Excellent opening scene, and the spare language and sentence structure evokes quite the mood and reaction.

  31. Compelling! I really like it. Defineitely hooked.

  32. Love the last line. I'd buy it.

    Lots of great YA is written in present tense.

  33. I find the present tense brings you right into the room with Nicholas. Love it. So wish this were more than 250 words -- I need to know more! Hooked for sure.

  34. I could have sworn I'd posted on this one, because I really liked it.

    I especially liked his abstraction about his own reactions - about the unreality of it all

    I thought this was really evocative and I was totally in the moment with your MC