Wednesday, July 14, 2010

July Secret Agent #34

TITLE: The Right Mother
GENRE: Contemporary Women's Fiction

Only three days on the run and already our clothes reek like overripe goat cheese. I slide a cigarette between my lips and grab my lighter, then glance at Jimmy and Sharon sleeping on the other bed. I may be an inept mother sitting on the edge of a saggy bed in the cheapest motel in Dayton, Ohio, but I love my kids.

So I close the lighter.

When my first marriage failed before it started--my fiance broke it off because, he said, I was too perky--Mother consoled me by saying my cheerful disposition was a blessing. An inheritance from both my lines.

"Your lucky lines," she said.

So, so lucky.

I step outside and wave a path through gnats swarming the light above the door. I sit on the hood and rest my feet on the Ford's bumper. I raise the cigarette but hear a deep buzz--a hellacious beetle dive-bombing me. I duck but it flies into my hair. Stifling a scream, I drop the cigarette and reach for the bug. It escapes my fingers, crawling around in there until I trap it. I pinch its body and pull it out.

Then I crush it flat and wipe the guts on my pants.

Back inside. Back on the bed. Thinking. Spinning the tiny corrugated wheel. Lighting up. Inhaling deeply.

I blow the smoke toward the door, away from the kids, but the tobacco cloud curves toward them.

If we survive the night, maybe I'll call Mother.


  1. Nice voice in this one--there's backstory, but the voice doesn't let it get out of control. I like the bit about the "lucky lines."

  2. There's some nice imagery here. My only quibble is with the paragraph that starts "I step outside..." Five sentences start with "I", so it seems repetitive. If you can reword it, I think it would work better and ewww on hellacious, dive-bombing beetles!!!

  3. I like the voice and the imagery. You get her back story and her current predicament all with in 250 words. I would read on.

  4. I like the voice. And agree there are too many "I"s.

    I don't like the backstory, though. For one, it has nothing to do with the scene, and if you want to show she is perky, maybe have her interact with someone in the parking lot when she goes out to smoke.

    Second, if you use backstory, it's probably best you don't do it on the first page, or the second for that matter.

    The wiping of the beatle guts rubbed me wrong.

    The best part was the first paragraph because it shows us she is on the run from something, which would cause me to read on to find out what.

  5. This opening caught my attention with a great voice and strong imagery. I'm curious about the predicament she's in and would read on, however the backstory slowed me and didn't further this scene. It might work better later.

    The overripe goat cheese line and the MC crushing the beetle in her hair made me cringe, but they were strong descriptions.

    I would keep reading.

  6. I liked it and I don't generally read women's fiction. You've created an interesting character in an interesting situation. I want to know who/what she's running from, and why she is constantly saying she loves her kids (I'm thinking perhaps she has to convince herself of this for some reason.)

    You might cut 'only' and 'already' from the first sentence. It's a great opening line, but those two words imply that three days in the same clothes is quite fine, and no, they shouldn't be stinking - but we all know that isn't true.

    You might also cut pargs 3-5 (the backstory) because it doesn't relate to their current situation. And she really didn't have a first marriage if she never married the guy.

    I'm not sure if the beetle episode works. It lands in her hair and she jumps and almost screams as if afraid, but then very methodically captures it and squashes it between her fingers. Seems if she could do that, she wouldn't have been afraid of it in the first place.

    I liked the cigarette bit. She constantly says she loves her kids, doesn't want them to breathe in the smoke, but she smokes anyway, possibly shortening her life and leaving her kids alone. Very true to life.

  7. Yeah, I like this too- a real sense of a woman in trouble, but not cliche, which would be really easy to do with her.
    I agree with Tricia about the roach though. She seems freaked and then cooly competent. So if she's the deal-with-anything woman you could play up her calmness, or if she's the freaked out one, you could have her tear it out with shaking fingers... or something. Anyway, I really like the circle of this first vignette - not smoking, and then smoking - this almost has a short story feel to it. Very cool.

  8. I really like the feel of this. You're hinting at stuff and whetting my appetite. Good job.

    I do agree with other comments already made, though - tighten the first sentence by removing "only" and "already"; consider losing paras 3-5; I's in para 6 really got to me.

    A suggestion re the lucky lines - if you remove paras 3-5, you could add this hint to the final sentence...

    But I really like what you're doing here.

  9. I'm not hooked.

    The beetle threw me off. The MC wants to scream when it approaches but is tough enough to crush it and then smear the guts on her pants? It seems like those actions are inconsistent.

    Also, I don't see how the appearance of a single beetle would convince the mother to go back inside to smoke around her kids. If she doesn't want to smoke around them, how would one beetle (now squashed) drive her back inside?

    The last line intrigues me and I wonder what sort of trouble is following the MC.

  10. I like this set up. I'm kinda rooting for her, but she smoked in the room with her kids...because of a beetle.

    Side note: you might want to dwell a little more on her emotions and where she's just been, why they are on the run, smelling like goat cheese. I don't see how this event here ties to a relationship one marriage ago.

    I like your style. I'd read on, but you can make this opening a little tighter, pulling.

  11. I read a lot of women's fiction and I like this because it's different. She's in Dayton, Ohio in a cheap motel room, smoking on a bed while her kids sleep. I'd keep reading to find out what's in store.

  12. The voice is quite strong here. The backstory is too much of a digression here--I suggest you cut the part about the ex husband--not really relevant here. I think the scene would flow more easily without it.

    I also agree with others that the part about the beetle part threw me. One moment, she's afraid, and the next moment, she's crushing the bug. A person who is afraid of bugs would be more likely to swat the bug from their hair and try to step on it.

    Still the character is interesting. She's obviously flawed, she's obviously a caring person (for her kids anyway). I'd read on!

  13. (the author)

    Thanks for all the comments. I took out the backstory and the scream and voila, the opening moves much better, with clearer characterization. Authoress has done such a phenomenal job with this blog! Plus, her book Agent: Demystified is also great.