Wednesday, February 10, 2010

20 Secret Agent

GENRE: Young Adult

The slime on Ruth’s face itched. It trapped the nervous sweat in her pores, wouldn’t let it run down her cheeks.

“All you, Ruthie, it’s all you. Stay focused,” her brother said from outside the ring. The string that cordoned him from her was a brick wall, that’s how good he was to her now. No help. She was alone.

They didn’t get girls in here much. Probably not at all if Cain had been right. He yelled at her again. “Watch the right, Ruthie.” She flicked her eyes to him, but he waved her gaze back to the man opposite her. The right. She’d watch the right. Her opponent was scant bigger than her, but the whispers from the watchers and money changing hands said he had won fights. Good money was on him. Her lungs filled with the damp air that permeated the small underground room. Not much longer.

The official raised his arm. It sliced through the air. “Fight!”

She clamped her teeth onto her mouth guard, willed the vomit at the entrance of her throat to go back down until this was over. It would be quick. She was a natural, Cain had said so.

The boy came at her. His face, shiny with Vaseline like hers, but full of self-confidence, filled up her world before she ducked the premonitory right. The punch flew over her head. His body curved open to her. She took her chance, put all of her weight into the fist she planted into the exposed flesh of his ribs and felt them crack with the force.


  1. I had trouble placing the setting. With names like Cain and Ruth, I thought it was a biblical story. But then they use vaseline. I don't know why they are fighting.

    Overall, too many questions were raised for me to feel drawn into the character's story.

    But if all that could be cleared up, and I understood Ruth's predicament, it could be interesting.

  2. I have to agree. After reading the whole thing, and rereading, I get that you mentioned "outside the ring" at the beginning after her brother speaks, but for some reason, when I first started reading, I still didn't have a solid picture of where she was at. And this: "The string that cordoned him from her was a brick wall, that’s how good he was to her now." Was really confusing.

    I think with a little more setup, it could take away the confusion and give us a clear idea of what is going on.

  3. I thought this had great intrigue, pacing, and characterization - but like everyone else, I needed/wanted a bit more set up. I also didn't get a sense of the age yet and wouldn't have known it was YA unless I read the Genre.

  4. I got that she was in a boxing ring and the metaphor of the string being a brick wall. I didn't know they were underground; for some reason I thought they were in the back yard, so maybe mention that sooner since setting is a big part of your opening.

    I also like the names Cain and Ruth. Maybe their mother is extremely religious. I don't think all YA has to star characters named 'Bricker' and 'Ashley'. ;-)

    I think this is an interesting opening. I would keep reading to see what's going on. She seems young, though, the way she looks up to Cain and takes his words like scripture. Is there a large delta in their ages?

    The only thing I found distracting was the word 'slime'. To me, that's a very middle grade word. Grease might work better. Also, I stopped at 'good money' because I've always heard it said 'smart money'. Just got hung up for a second.

    All in all, though, I would've read on.

  5. I love the idea of a girl in a boxing ring against a guy, with her brother "Cain" cheering her on. I'd keep reading.

    A couple things that I think you might want to take a second look at:
    1. The slime on her face: I kept wondering what that was until I reached the end and realized it's Vaseline. It was a little distracting between points A and B.
    2. I know "brick wall" was a metaphor, but it still took me a second to get past.
    3. I wasn't sure about the setting either. I also suggest you let us know earlier that this takes place underground.

    Otherwise, I'm really intrigued. I want to keep reading to understand the biblical names. The title of the book is a scriptural reference, so I'm sure more will be on the way. To have a story with that sort of title start out a teenage, underground boxing match is obviously ironic. Yep... I'd read more.

  6. I had the same struggles that the others had, although I did realize this was a boxing ring.

    But I have a problem with the repetitious phrases. They made the prose seem jerky to me.

    "It trapped the nervous sweat in her pores and wouldn't let it run down her cheeks." That's proper grammar. I know you can do things in novels that you can't do in non-fiction, but I think this still goes over the line of what editors like to see.

    "No help. She was alone."
    Not only is that another fragment, but it's also repetitious. I'd delete both, since they're both re-stating what you portrayed in the sentence before. (If the brick wall was figurative.)

    "Probably not at all..."
    That's another fragment, but I think this one is fine, for that IS how we think. That's a natural thought-fragment. I do think the next sentence should start a new paragraph, though, since you're moving from her thoughts to his actions. Another should start with "She flicked" because you switched back to her thoughts and actions.

    I was also pulled up sort at the "Her lungs filled" sentence. It doesn't have anything to do with the "Good money" sentence, even though it follows it in the same paragraph. Maybe that needs to start another new paragraph.

    It was things like this that, I think, kept me from really getting into the story.

    I hope this helps! If not, toss it out. :-)

  7. I agree with what's already been stated. The three main things that made this a no were: I wondered what the slime was and would think of Vaseline more as grease.

    The contruction of pores and wouldn't let - also turned me off.

    The line about the string brick wall. I was quite confused with that one.

    By the way, the phrase "good money" sounds right to me and the names didn't bother me at all. :)

  8. I liked this. The names threw me off at first, and I didn't catch that Cain was her brother until I read through the comments here and then re-read the entry. Knowing he's her brother made it seem less like it had to do with the bible and more like it had to do with a religious parent - and made me wonder, why he was named Cain, of all the biblical names. I guess I would say that using these names, particularly Cain, sets up a certain level of expectation that I hope you'll deliver.

    That said, I got that it was a boxing ring, and I liked the brick wall analogy, I just think it needs to be worked so that the meaning is a bit clearer.

    I would read on. I like that she's a girl strong enough to break ribs in a boxing ring and want to know why.

  9. Not really sure what this is about. The title, combined with the character names, leads me to believe this is going to be a Biblical analogy of some sort. That' not a bad thing, but other than starting with a "Fight Club for Kids", I don't really know what it's all about. There has to be inherent conflict beyond a brother using his sister to get some quick cash by getting her to join his Tuesday afternoon basement brawling club.

    I might keep reading, but I'd need to know why Ruthie agreed to the fight,and what it is she really wants.

  10. I thought this was well-written and intriguing for an opening. The tension is there right at the onset. I did get a sense that she was younger, as she described her opponent as a "boy" and herself as a "girl".

    Like the others, though, I was thrown by the "slime". I was trying to envision a situation where she might have slime on her face (drippy cave, kitchen, moldy old house, etc.), so wasn't set up correctly at the beginning.

    Still, it was a minor thing. I'd read on!

  11. In the first sentence you should use Vaseline instead of slime. I first thought that you meant some jelly like substance (maybe a slime fungus or special sort of mud).

    Maybe it's my fault but I never realized that Cain was the name of her brother. I thought he was a 3rd person involved. I did get the underground thing and the fighting though.

    I'd give this a few more pages.

  12. I love boxing, so I'd read on based on that alone. I mean, I've gotta know who wins the fight!

    That said, as someone who's tried, in fits and spurts, to craft fiction about boxing, it's a damn hard sport to write about. Forgive me one horrendous pun, but I think this scene should be a bit more... punchy. Possibly in the literal sense, but more in the way the sentences are constructed. You had some words and phrases here that felt inconsistent with the voice and mood. For example, when the fight starts, and she ducked away from "the premonitory right." That seems like too much SAT vocab for a moment like this. Same with "Her opponent was scant bigger than her." Seems too formal for the situation.

    Also, fights are quick, but the way you describe the first few moves have me imagining it in slow motion. Perhaps that's intended, but if it's not, I'd try to find a way, stylistically, to convey the pace of the fight. On her blog a couple weeks (months?) back, editor Cheryl Klein mentioned a stylistic technique about The Hunger Games: Suzanne Collins structured most of her sentences so that the important info came at the end. This pushes the reader the keep moving forward, and ups the pace of the story. I wonder if something like that might work for your fight scene.

    Also, if you haven't read Markus Zusak's novel Fighting Ruben Wolfe, it's definitely worth a look. It's got a distinct style that works really well for a boxing book.

    Best of luck with your work! Hope I can read the whole thing someday. :)

  13. I liked this for a lot of reasons. The title can be read as Bible scrpture, but it can also be read as time - one minute, 16 seconds, which plays into boxing. then they have the religious names, and simply being named Cain makes me think the brother will prove untrustworthy.

    I also liked the premise of a girl boxing a man (boy) which is nice to see for a change.

    I got that it was a boxing ring, but the slime made me think they were fighting in mud until I got to the word Vaeseline, so maybe just say that up front.

    And at his first intro, her opponent is a man, and later he's a boy.

    Harper also made a good point, I thought. Boxing is a quick, rough sport. Perhaps when choosing words, choose those that reflect that. It's hard to imagine someone in the field using the word premonitory, although if Ruthie turns out to be well educated, it may be an appropriate word.

  14. I like that this opens with a girl fighting a boy, but the first sentence is a bit imprecise, which didn't create the right impression. Slime doesn't itch, it makes a face itch, and I don't know that slime is actually the image you intend. I was picturing green gross slime, when in fact it's later revealed that it's Vaseline.

    I think there's some good action here, but careful with overwriting ("waved her gaze back") and imprecision: I don't think damp air "permeates" a small room as much as it sits there.