Wednesday, February 10, 2010

39 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Center of Gravity
GENRE: young adult

Tuesday, and the smell of beef nuggets was perverse and pervasive. As usual, I headed to a socially inconsequential table at the perimeter of the cafeteria, where I unloaded the free weights known as Understanding Physics and Latin Grammar for the College-Bound. A familiar paint-streaked toolbox was already there, saving a place for its owner, one Mercedes Moreno. Mercedes always got the hot lunch, less for its nourishing properties than for its artistic potential.

If I'd known that this particular Tuesday afternoon would eventually find me watching Mom be hauled off to the slammer, I might have done lunch period differently. I might not have spent three crucial minutes with Mercedes’s toolbox and two no less crucial minutes with Mercedes and her beef nuggets. I might have sneaked my phone out of my backpack during Latin and seen Mom's missed call earlier than I did. As it was, though, I ate half of my cheese sandwich before ducking below the cloud of cafeteria noise to call Mom’s cell phone.

Mom was at Macy's. In the back.

“I’m not sure what’s going to happen to me, Mitchell,” Mom said. “There's a police officer here, talking to the store manager. They only let me make one call, and I thought of you first, of course. But maybe I should have called Dr. Adler’s office? I don’t know. How much longer are you at school?”

“I have a School Beautification Committee meeting at three-thirty,” I said. “But I can skip it.”


  1. When I read the first sentence, it seemed too adult for a teen, but then I read the second sentence, and it fit perfectly. From there, it moved easily, and ended too soon. Of course, now I’m wondering if Mitchell’s mother is seeing a shrink or an MD, and did she get caught shoplifting? I would absolutely read on.

  2. I liked this. You've given us an awkward character to root for, and a problem for him to solve. Simple and to the point. I would definitely keep reading.

  3. The phone conversation with the mother made me immediately realize that we are dealing with a kook here, and that is where I started rooting for Mitchell. I'm struck by how much I know about Mitchell just from these few paragraphs. He's obviously quite intelligent, you can tell by his textbooks and his use of "perverse and pervasive" and already I get the sense that he seems to be his mother's caretaker. Only 250 words in and this has the makings to be a very interesting story. I'd definitely read on. Hooked, for sure.

  4. Really nice. I can't tell yet whether Mitchell is a boy or girl, and the voice doesn't really tell me, which is fine... I'm just curious at this point.

    You've told us a lot (except gender) about the character in a short space, and I like him/her. I want to know why the mother would call Mitchell first. I want to know who the doctor is. I want to know if this is typical mother-child behavior for them. Seems as though it is.

    All of this is to say I'm hooked. I'd absolutely read on.

  5. I'm hooked. Good stuff. My only comment would be to cut either perverse or pervasive. The combo of those two almost pulled me out.

  6. As others have said the first line is really jarring. Everything else, I really liked and it pulled me in, but if I was scanning, I would struggle with the first line.

    I like Mitchell and you tell a lot about his relationship with his Mom. Hooked and want to read on.

  7. I had the same thought as others about the first line, although for some reason, it did scream "boy" to me. I was pretty sure from the beginning that the MC was male. After reading the rest of the first paragraph I liked the first sentence much more and found Mitchell endearing.

    I really liked this. I would definitely read on. It looks like a fun read.

  8. Hooked. Mitchell's great, Mercedes the perfect antithesis to him/her (hmm, lots of M names). I do wonder at the crazy mother (there seem to be a lot of those in YA fiction these days), but I want to see where this is headed. I'd read on.

  9. I love the first sentence of the second paragraph. Not liked, LOVED. I think it should be your opening line. Quick, witty, and to the point.

    Not that the rest of it is bad. I think it's good. But it could be great if you made that switch.

  10. I loved the unique voice here. It's a lot of fun. I would keep reading for sure.

  11. I like your voice. I did find the vocab a little "intense", but you covered the reason for that quickly... although "slammer" stood out as being opposite in voice for this character. Maybe. I did enjoy it and would read on.

  12. Think you should start with paragraph 2 and lose the first one.
    Too many adjectives and adverbs.

    consider replacing weak -ing verbs with stronger ones, e.g., ducked for ducking

    not sure noise is a cloud

    School Beautification Committee meeting? Maybe tryouts for the soccer team or swimming meet or maybe you want the kid to sound dorky? Also, sounds like the the kid is the parent and the parent is the child, correct?

  13. Loved the similar-sounding "perverse and pervasive" in the first line. Gorgeous rhythm! You tell a ton about both Mitchell and Mom in 250 words. The voice seems to really fit what you've set up of the character so far. Really intriguing! I'd definitely read on!

  14. Awesome beginning.

    One nit to consider: Not sure how long Macy's will be in business. You might consider a different store that has a stronger looking future.

    I'm assuming Mitchell is a girl because of lunching with Mercedes.

    I'd read on.

  15. Okay, I am hooked too. You've given us a lot of info about the situation without TELLING us. I know the mother is unstable, probably in psychiatric treatment, has no partner or an unsupportive partner, and has a pretty dysfunctional / codependent relationship with her son. I know that Mitchell is a caretaker type, smart, wanting to leave home after high school (probably). It's interesting that he's on the SB committee. Makes me wonder why - is he an artist? Painting murals? Using it for his college resume? I'd read on to find out those things, and of course especially to find out what happens to the mom. There are phrasings I really like - "cloud of cafteria noise," for example. And "Mom was at Macy's. In the back."

    I can't decide if the first paragraph feels overwritten or not. Maybe the thing that's bothering me is "its owner, one Mercedes Moreno." I might prefer if he just said, "saving a place for Mercedes." I think the rest of the graf reads well.

  16. This is good and I like the voice but I think you should start with the first sentence in paragraph 2 and then follow with the first paragraph. Cut out most of the second paragraph. Hooked though.

  17. I agree with other that this is strong and I would enjoy reading more.

    I also agree with most of the other suggestions. I do like the first line, though, since it already had me wondering what kind of character would talk like that. But I agree that "one Mercedes Moreno" sounds a little too precious, and "hauled off to the slammer" is a slightly jarring shift of tone.

    One other quibble: If you take out a couple of intermediate sentences, you get, "If I'd known that this particular Tuesday afternoon would eventually find me watching Mom be hauled off to the slammer, I might have done lunch period differently. . . . I might have sneaked my phone out of my backpack during Latin and seen Mom's missed call earlier than I did." That sounded like weird circular reasoning to me: "If I'd have known X, then I would have checked for the call that would have told me X."

  18. I meant to say I agree with "others," not "other." :)

  19. I thought your MC had a great voice, and I saw him as male, although I can't say why, except he sounded male to me. It seems his Mom may be a kleptomaniac? That she was caught stealing? That's what 'in the back' said to me.

    I liked the premise, but did think you could start with his phone call to Mom, because all the set up kind of spoils the surprise a bit, and we never do meet Mercedes, so why not tell us about her when we actually meet her? Starting with the phone call would get the story moving much quicker.

    Oh, and can the smell of beef nuggets really be perverse?

  20. I loved the line about the free weights and the hefty books.

    I really liked how you have shown us the relationship between Mitchell (I'm guessing boy here) and his mother so clearly - and so quickly.

    Well done. I'd keep reading

  21. There are some clever turns of phrase here (I really like that Mercedes admires the hot lunch for its artistic potential), but it's an awkward transition from the cafeteria to his mom getting arrested. And to get there it uses a cliche that agents see very very often (If only I'd know X then I would have done Y differently).