Wednesday, November 4, 2009

46 Secret Agent

TITLE: Our Great Room
GENRE: Women's Fiction

HONEY. She wages a war over honey. Sugar substitute in the pantry, pure cane on the shelf, yet she wages a war over honey. This was supposed to be a low-key celebration - just family and a few close friends - not a house teeming with dehydrated Negroes, all waiting for a glass of her amazing honey iced-tea. I tell her I’m not going and return to my book. My finger skitters down the page. Now wait a minute. Odysseus couldn’t have slain all of the suitors already. I thumb back to the beginning. Maybe Penelope is at the loom, unraveling her wedding veil again. I thumb forward. Perhaps the Cyclops? Hmm. Poseidon? No. The Lotus-Eaters? The Sirens? Hades? I thumb forward and I thumb backward, backward and forward. It is no use. I cannot find my place. I am lost.

I sigh and toss the book across the kitchen table. I have put too much zip in the toss, and the book, an old dog-eared paperback, takes out a plate of wings. My mother stomps her foot. “No honey,” she says, “Not one miserable drop in the house. Everyone’s thirsty,” she says, “And I need you to go find me some. I know it’s hot out,” she says, “Hottest it’s been all summer, but I was born and raised in Savannah - I know what real heat is - and Newark heat don’t got s*** on Savannah heat. Now here, take my car keys. Don’t worry about them wings; I’ll clean ‘em up later. You listenin’ to me, Alexandra?”


  1. I'm not quite sure if I'm hooked. I got to the third sentence and it threw me. The use of the word Negroes sounded off. It made me go back to check the genre because I thought maybe it was historical, but other than that one word, there's no other hint.
    I would shorten that first paragraph a bit. For those of us familiar with Odysseus, you list too many examples of his trials, for those who have never read it, you'll lose them. Some of the language reads a little rough because you don't use as many contractions as you can, so it sounds formal. I would keep reading because I'd like to find out more about Mom.

  2. There is an awful lot of backstory in the Mom's dialogue to her Alexandra. We learn that it's the hottest day of summer, she was born in Savannah, and that she now lives in Newark. The dialogue doesn't seem authentic. This is backstory that can be placed later in the story, in my opinion. I would like to learn more about Mom, too, and for that reason I'd turn the page.

  3. Love the voice. And this line: "I have put too much zip in the toss, and the book, an old dog-eared paperback, takes out a plate of wings."

    But this sentence is telling the reader what the characters already know: "but I was born and raised in Savannah - I know what real heat is..."

    I'd definitely read on.


  4. Dehydrated Negroes? Took me right out of the story.

    Too much telling going on.

  5. I have to say, the voice in this story actually sounded more YA to me. How old is the MC? The fact that she's reading the Odyssey (a typical high school assignment) and that she's annoyed about getting honey makes her sound like a teenager.

    Also, FWIW, the dehydrated Negroes line took me out of the story, too.

  6. Hooked.

    I am intrigued by the setting and the promise of a unique plot.

    The stream of consciousness opening was a little confusing, but interesting.

    The use of the n-word threw me for a loop, though. Is this modern time? If not, maybe a little clarification with a year at the outset would be helpful.

  7. I think it's hard to pull off in an entire novel in present tense -- I find it cumbersome to read. You want your first page (which is what this is, essentially) to hook the reader and the first graf is all inside the main character's head. We need to get out of her head and into the action of the story, in my opinion.

  8. You lost me with dehydrated Negroes - which seems derisive and can all too easily be read as racist. We don't know who "she" is until midway through the second paragraph - and I was bored with Odysseus.

    And no one here to like - not the mother, not Alexandra.

    Which tells me that perhaps this isn't the best place to start this novel.

  9. The prose kinda seems all over the map here, and I couldn't really figure out what was going on. The voice seems appropriate for the character, but she jumps from topic to topic so quickly that I couldn't follow along, sorry.

  10. Loved the voice. Didn't like the flipping back and forth through the book for so long.

    Loved the dehydrated Negroes line. Tells me a whole lot about the narrator and the times.

  11. This initially felt like a mid century YA to me. I'm not really sure about the time period of the story or the age of the protagonist. I need a bit more for the hook. More voice, less Homer.

  12. Your front page is valuable real estate and I think Odysseus is taking up too much room.

    I liked the honey sentences, but not the Negro sentence. Also, there's an awful lot of telling in the second paragraph. Would it be more effective to show us the house full of thirsty people and have your MC react to the heat as she goes outside?

  13. Wasn't quite hooked; the other readers above nailed the reasons why. But keep working at it. Good luck!

  14. This seems like one of those books that's heavily dependent on voice, so in that respect, you've done a good job. On the other hand, I don't feel anchored in the scene and I neither relate to nor sympathize with the MC. It's very chaotic and keeps me at arm's length with the Odyssey distraction--why talk about another book when I've just started yours? Don't have a sense of time or situation (other than Newark). Use of "negroes" and profanity is off-putting, but I'm sure it's there for a reason.

  15. the dehydrated negroes line took me out of the story too and i found it offensive. but as i read on, it became clear the narrator is black herself and using this as a term of affection/frustration towards her relatives.

    the fact that most of the commenters here didn't pick up on that should be a sign to the author that she needs to tweak the opening to make this clearer, or take that line out until we are introduced to the characters and have a better sense of who exactly is speaking (age, race, time period, etc). know your audience: are you marketing to to a mainstream publisher? then keep in mind the mainstream audience.

    at this point, that line is so shocking- and out of place, remember we haven't seen the book cover or read the jacket copy- that it detracts from the rest of the exerpt.

    i'm hooked simply because i want to see more works with a black protagonist.