Wednesday, November 4, 2009

50 Secret Agent

GENRE: Young Adult

Mom always warned against pulling stray threads. After all, my mother was a practical woman. One pulled thread could unravel a whole garment. And since we could afford only to patch a hole it was infinitely better to avoid getting one in the first place. Still, I can't help but stare at this shimmering yarn poking from the sleeve of my well-worn sweater.

I want to yank it loose.

I twirl it instead and do my best to focus on the moon-faced lawyer seated before me. I wish he’d get to the point. I wish he’d stop prattling on about the weather and explain why he summoned me here to the port city of Boston – to this grand, but cold, marble-floored room overlooking the bustling harbor and tall ships gliding silently past. Stuffed in my pocket, his cryptic letter crinkles with each impatient shift of my legs. I feel the envelope wax crack. Wax, of all things. Who sends wax-sealed letters anymore? As if it’s the nineteenth century and not the twenty-first. As if e-mail and telephones don’t exist in this parallel universe of antique wood furniture, leather chairs and silver fountain pens.

“So, Miss Jordan.” The lawyer clears his throat. He sweats, even though this office is freezing, and sports a haphazard comb-over that would likely unravel with one pull, too. “Miss Jordan, I assume you’d like to know why I asked you here today.”

I drop the thread and nod, even though the knot in my stomach tells me I might not want to hear the answer.


  1. I am hooked. I like the link between pulling a thread and things unraveling. That being said, since this is YA, I'm a little confused about the protagonist. If she's a teen, why is she being summoned to court alone? Also, she says she's waiting for an explanation from the lawyer, but she nods when he asks if she knows why she's here. I'd keep reading despite those things, though

  2. You mention "the port city of Boston" and also tall ships, etc... These types of descriptions had me believing this was a historical piece. Therefore, I became confused when the MC mentions that it's the 21st century. I wonder if this was done on purpose, etc. I would keep reading, though, as the previous commenter would, to learn why she has been summoned to a lawyer's office alone.

  3. You've gotten me curious, but what comes after this passage will determine whether or not I'm hooked. The intro is subtle. We get brief look into the character's life, and then the wax seal on the envelope gets me asking questions. The bit about the port city of Boston and the ships gliding by seems a little heavy-handed. If the ships don't have anything to do with what comes next, I'd probably pull them, but that's me.

    The last line, with the dropping of the thread and a knot in her stomach, makes me want to see her yank on that knot as well. Overall, I'm still reading, which is what you're after. Nice job.

  4. I'd read more. I like the voice of your MC. Good job!

  5. I'm hooked. I like what I've seen of the character, and the writing really flows, and I'm very curious about why he asked her here today.

    I might like it even better without some of the adjectives in the middle paragraph.

  6. I'd say start with "So, Miss Jordan." The bit about twirling and marble-floor made me want to say: get to the story.

    Also, a minor wouldn't go to a lawyer's office alone. At least I don't think so, but you might want to research that. Also, when called by a lawyer, she would be given at least a general reason. The I assume you'd like to know why...sentence has been used quite a bit, so I'd suggest looking for another.

  7. I'm hooked.

    I don't think you need "well-worn" or "port city."

    I really like the idea of his comb-over unraveling, too.

    Very good opening.

  8. I liked this a lot. I liked the imagery of the thread-pulling, unravelling, the promise of a good yarn.

    Good job.

    The only thing is the voice suddenly shifted kind of old to me with the phrase "exist in this parallel universe".

    I think minors visiting with lawyers has been done before in a John Grisham novel, so it's logistically possible.

  9. I'm hooked. The writing is tight and I like the toying of the thread along with her mother's admonishing her not to pull it. You say a lot about her background in just those comments: Her mother's words, they can't afford to buy new clothes. And I really like her observations about the att'y--sweating even though it's cold and tying the thread back to his combover. Nicely done.

  10. I like the reference to yarn and unraveling.

    The third paragraph is descriptive but maybe a little heavy on the adjectives.

    I'm curious about the envelope and, from a white space perspective, might suggest breaking out those sentences to their own paragraph.

    Overall though, the beginning is a little slow for me and I'm not that curious about the envelope.

    I'm sorry, but I'm not hooked.

  11. I like her rumination about the wax sealed letter- and lets face it adults do seem to drone on sometimes, but I'm not sure I'm hooked yet. I feel like I know a lot about this character already, and that's hard to do in the first 250 words, so good job.

  12. I like the hook--the letter, the lawyer, Boston--but I think you spent too much time on the sweater thing, which is to prove nervousness (I didn't get that it was supposed to convey that her family is poor).

    I like the crackling and the wax. I don't think you need "port city" and I am wondering why the lawyer is sweating, apart from just being a descriptor.

  13. I thought it was historical (port city, tall ships etc.) until your MC started talking about the 21st century. Was that deliberate?

    By the end of the piece I'm wondering why she would make the effort of going to another city (she's obviously not from Boston) when she doesn't even know what the lawyer wants. Maybe that's one of the things that made me think it was historical. If she was so impatient to know why he had summoned her, why didn't she just call him, given she does live in the 21st century?

    There might be a good reason for why she doesn't that's explained in the next paragraph, but that's the question I'm left wondering after reading the 250 words.

  14. Maybe a tiny bit slow, but I like the voice. I would definitely keep reading.

  15. I'm not quite hooked yet. I did like the thread metaphor, but ditto that the language kept flipping between a historical and contemporary feel to me.

    Also, I've never been able to believe the plotline of lawyers calling people to their offices and MCs just going blindly without knowing why. Our family lawyer will always give us a hint about what he wants to talk to us about if he requests us to visit his office--he'll mention it's time to update the living wills or sign new trust agreements or even if there's an inheritance claim we need to know about. So to me, it's not really believable that a lawyer would behave in this manner. Likewise, to me, it demeans the MC's intelligence by having her agree to go someplace without any clear motivations, risking her safety and who knows what else just to do a stranger's bidding.

  16. Love it - hooked - love the writing, the tension, the whole thing. :)

  17. Not hooked. I actually didn't make it past the first paragraph.

  18. You have a nice writing style. Easy to read and vivid.

    Some nitpicks--her world is parallel to what? It's hard to tell if there is a parallel unless you exist in both. If that is the case, I missed it somehow.

    Some of your words don't sound YA--prattling, bustling, cryptic, moon-faced. I get the impression the MC is much older.

    I do want to read on and find out why she has been summoned.

    Good luck

  19. By the end I was hooked. Liked the voice and the thread and the comb-over.

    At the beginning this line threw me:
    And since we could afford only to patch a hole it was infinitely better to avoid getting one in the first place.

    I kept thinking it should say, "Since we COULDN'T afford to patch a hole it was better to avoid getting one."

    Or maybe, "Since we could only afford to patch a hole, it was better to stop with the loose thread and small hole, rather than unravel the whole sweater."

    Do you understand what I'm getting at? If she pulls the thread she won't have a hole, she'll unravel the whole sweater so that one line seems to make no sense to me and it really bugged me so I almost quit reading and missed your great voice.

  20. I like this opening. You just know a bomb is about to drop. Can't wait to find out what drama is about to land on the protagonist.

  21. I was thinking today that my comment might have been a bit harsh. I should have included that I was interested in what the lawyer was going to say, so I guess I'm hooked.

  22. I'd read more. I realted to the MC and wanted to know what would happen to her next. The wax seal is what really piqued my interest.

  23. Liked the unraveling thing, but I think the wax-sealed, etc., historical-port/tall ships feel vs. it's the 21st century needs to be cleared up so we can focus on the lawyer's reveal. I mean, =that's= the inciting incident, right?

    Good work, though--I'd read on.

  24. I'm as hooked as I can be in 250 words. Frankly, I think it's a little absurd that everyone expects to be yanked in by the throat in a few paragraphs. Every book can't begin like a James Bond movie. Anyway, I like the elements you're juggling here--what seems to be a historical letter in a historical town, yet her voice and attitude are strictly contemporary. Is it a letter "from the past?" The title is "Flashback," after all (although I might consider changing that, since agents hate flashbacks). I'd buy that she'd visit a lawyer without knowing why, but might mention that he refused to tell her over the phone, or something that makes it seem confidential/mysterious. Also like a better indication of her age, as I do wonder why a minor would go to an appointment of this gravity alone in a strange city. Orphan, perhaps? "My mother WAS a practical woman."

  25. I would keep reading at this point though the MC's voice makes me think college age and bookish rather than teenaged.
    Nice start.

  26. I like the voice and the detail with the thread. I'd read on.

  27. I really liked the beginning. The thread analogy worked well for me.

    There was a nice sense of detail in part about the lawyers office, but like others, I wondered if we were in a period piece, especially with the reference to the tall ships.

    But I would definitely read on.