Wednesday, May 19, 2010

May Secret Agent #19

GENRE: Post-apocalyptic YA

3 years, 1 month, 1 week and 6 days since I'd seen daylight.

Almost one-fifth of my life.

"We're running out of food," Dad said as he rummaged through our pantry. His forehead was creased in worry and there was this expression on his face that didn't bode well. I'd seen it countless times lately.

Please not another fight.

Mom looked up from the floor in our improvised kitchen and stopped mopping. Her unwashed, blond hair hung limply down her shoulders and back. "What are you talking about? We should have food for at least eight months left." She wiped her hands on her flowery apron - exactly eighty-nine flowers, I'd counted them several times. And they were hideous flowers, let me tell you.

She stepped into the pantry.

Here it comes.

I stifled a sigh and tried to ignore them. As if that was possible! They didn't even try to be silent most of the times.

1139 days since I'd heard the chatter of my friends, since I'd seen the sky.

Her hands on her hips, Mom glared at Dad, her brows creating a solid line in her rising anger. "We've stocked food for four years. You said so yourself."

Dad sighed as he slumped against one of the shelves in the pantry, running a hand through his short, red hair. "We must have calculated the rations wrongly. Maybe we ate more than we should have."

It always began like that: accusations and denial followed by screaming, then crying.


  1. A lot of math in those first two sentences. There are later clues ("exactly eighty-nine flowers" and "1139 days") that the protagonist is into counting things, in which case the math is acceptable, but I think it still slows things down for an opening.

    If the protagonist is math-oriented, maybe start with "1139 days" and toss another math-related description earlier in the opening to reinforce it.

    If the protagonist is not math-oriented, I'd change the opening to read "Over 3 years since I'd seen daylight. One-fifth of my life."

    "Here it comes." is present tense, where the rest is past. (Though maybe it was supposed to be italicized as internal thought?).

    Overall, I'd read on, but there are hints of unpolished writing here and there that make me worry a little.

  2. Hooked!
    Great voice and an intriguing situation. Good job!

  3. I'm not a huge fan of post-apocalyptic stories but I'm intrigued by how the MC is worried about his/her parents. That's a conflict most kids could relate to even if the setting is unusual. I'd read another page or two to see where it was going.

    Two quick things: I couldn't figure out how old the MC is (didn't want to do the math) and I tripped over the "wrongly" near the end.

  4. Well I'm HOOKED!

    Good luck with SA!

  5. I'm definitely intrigued. I like the premise a lot!

    I think this would work better with language that is more sparse. For instance, instead of "And they were hideous flowers, let me tell you." say, "Hideous flowers."

    That sort of thing.

    I do want to read more, though!

  6. Having seen the query for this story in another contest, I knew where this was going and have to say I like the fact the MC seems to be counting things. It shows the isolation of the characters and the fact that there's nothing else to do (and that she's perhaps waiting for things to change).

  7. I really liked this as is. The line, "And they were hideous flowers, let me tell you." makes me feel more like she's confiding in her friend. I'd keep it. Good luck!

  8. Hooked! I would tightened the writing in the third paragraph to: His forehead creased in worry and this expression didn't bode well.

  9. I like the MC's voice but I'm curious about all the number references. I assume there's a reason for it, but we can't see it in only 250 words.

  10. I also like the voice and the counting, but did have to stop and do the math at the beginning and that slowed me down. I'd use the word "wrong" instead of "wrongly" in the father's dialogue. I tripped on the hideous flowers line because I didn't like the "let me tell you," and it also seemed that hideous or not, if you haven't seen flowers in over three years you'd take what you could get and like it. I'm definitely interested to read more. Nice job!

  11. I wasn't hooked. The math didn't bother me. It was easy enough to multiply. And I liked the lines with the numbers. They were the only things that set me in a post apocolyptic world.

    What didn't work for me was the very ordinary situation you started with. Fighting parents. That could happen anytime, anywhere. And while I know they're fighting because the food is running low and they've been trapped with each other for three years because of whatever has happened, it doesn't have a postapocolyptic feel to it. It feels very every day.

    Perhaps if you put more emphasis on the lack of food than the fighting? Or on how sick of each other they are? I don't know. I guess I wanted more of a feel for the world they're now living in, and fighting parents just didn't do it for me.

  12. I like the voice and the counting here, but with just these 250 words to go off of, it made me wonder how this story is going to differ from Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It.

  13. Semi-hooked. I would've stopped after the first 2 sentences b/c of all the numbers. It throws me out of the story. I kept reading, though, and I really did like the rest. I'd start with dad rummaging through the pantry and talking about them running out of food. That line creates a lot of tension and really makes me want to push forward.

  14. There were a few phrasing choices that caused me to stumble:

    "We should have food for at least eight months left." It reads easier to me if it were "We should have food left for at least eight months."

    "Her brows reating a solid line in her rising anger." Just can't visualize.

    "We must have calculated the rations wrongly." Awkward.

    I love post-apocalyptic stories, but I wouldn't be able to get past the phrasing choices to really get into the story.

  15. I liked this - it grabbed me. I always appreciate the combination of an imaginary world (no daylight) with normal experiences (people fighting). I like the writing, it kept me reading and made me want to find out what's happening in this strange world of no daylight or contact with other humans.

  16. I'm interested. Not sure I'm totally hooked, but I'd definitely read on to see what the hook is. I want to know why they've been out of the sun so long.

    I didn't mind the math at the beginning although it gets a bit wordy towards the end of the sentence. Rather than one week and six days, I'd just say thirteen days to help it flow a little better.

    Towards the end, you have a couple of awkward sentences, all of them in dialogue. The first, "We should have food for at least eight months left." Maybe try something like "We should have at least eight months worth of food left."

    "We've stocked food for four years." I think it should just be WE stocked food, since it happened 3 years ago, and isn't happening right now.

    Then "We must have calculated the rations wrongly." Should be "We must have miscalculated the rations."

    Other than that it's a good start.

  17. I'd love to know what happens next myself! This reminds me both of LIFE AS WE KNOW IT and THE COMPOUND, so I'd like to know what makes it different. I thought the counting aspect added a unique angle.

  18. The fact that this is post-apocalyptic had my interest, but the writing isn't holding it. The dialogue sounds a little stilted to me. But mainly I'm wondering why the MC isn't more concerned that her family is about to run out of food. Isn't that more important than her parents' fighting? She doesn't even seem to care.

  19. I like post-apoc, and I'm definitely interested and would read on a bit (though I'm not entirely "hooked" -- I think the voice is good, but it didn't really grab me as strongly as I would have liked. Chalk it up to personal taste).

  20. I like the tension between the family members and how it's clear they're in a situation where they'll have to find a way to seek more food. A few adverbs can be chopped, but otherwise I'd keep reading.