Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October Secret Agent #3

GENRE: YA Historical

Taawa peaks over the eastern horizon, wedging splinters of light between Earth Mother and a cloudless Sky Father. Orange light bleeds into the cerulean dawn, casting a purple hue across the parched desert.

I steady the clay olla on my head and hurry toward the brilliant display. Will this be the day, I wonder, as my heart skips a beat.

Behind me, thunder reverberates in the distance. Sky Father, dark and angry, races to vanquish Taawa with threatening black clouds--the People caught in the crossfire.

"Hurry," I command over my shoulder to the other maidens.

A group of turkeys rests in my path. I kick a rock at them, and they squawk and scatter out of my way. The dogs see the turkeys flee and pursue them, creating a squabble in the waking morning village.

"What's your hurry? Dream your golden-eyed boy would be at the reservoir today?"

The maidens erupt into giggles, sounding much like the turkeys.

"As it happens, Little Sister, I have enough sense not to leave myself at Sky Father's mercy, should he bless us with rain."

"Yes, wouldn't want to mess up your beautiful hair!"

"That, Cousin, I would not." I turn and, walking backward, offer my cousin a smile. "For then it might look like yours."

I glide back around and quicken my pace as I round the trash middens and leave the maidens dawdling behind, whispering jokes, probably about me. But their jealous remarks don't bother me. I'm used to them.


  1. The title of this submission really caught my eye, but there were little things in the prose that kept me from being 100% hooked (and these are all nitpicks because this is quite good). For one, your opening paragraph didn't quite gel for me. In my experience, the light blue of "cerulean dawn" only occurs after the sun has fully risen; the purples and pinks come first, cutting through the black of night. Your prose implies the sun makes the blue sky purple. The bigger issue, however, was the voice. This may be historical, but the voice still has to scream young adult. And it also has to stick with the time period you've set your story in. From "Taawa" and "Sky Father," I'm guessing that this is a tribe of Native Americans, yet words like "maiden" and the formality of their speech (do they really always call each other Little Sister and Cousin instead of by name?) place this in Europe, with extremely mature young adults, if not grown women, IMO. Other little things: it's cloudless in paragraph one and storming with black clouds in paragraph three; if this is the desert, would an onset be that quick? You can see far in all directions there, after all. And the use of the word "glide" in the last sentence is odd, since gliding is a motion separate from just turning back around. Some of my comments--especially the ones on rain in the desert and the way the characters address each other--may just be due to my ignorance on this culture, but I'm willing to bet if they seemed off to me, they will seem off to at least some other readers.

  2. I wanted to be hooked by this, as I thought you did a nice job of setting the scene, but I couldn't quite get into it as much as I would've hoped. I think one of the things keeping me at arm's length was the formality of the dialogue. I understand the formality in the narrative and I think it worked there, with the references to Earth Mother and Sky Father. But in the dialogue, from the mouths of young women, in a YA novel, the level of formality jars. Also, a little nit, but I had trouble telling who said what without any dialogue tags.

  3. I'll chime in that wild turkeys are extremely shy, and it seems really wierd that they would be "resting" in the path.
    You have one of the best titles I've ever seen, but the writing just needs more polish.


  4. I liked it, but I saw many of the same things K. Cooper did. A few others - you have squawking turkeys, girls who are giggling like the turkeys (but squawking and giggling aren't the same, and do turkeys really squawk?) The MC's dialogue is stiff and formal, and Little Cousin speaks like a modern day child. All these things are little things that can easily be fixed. You might want to read some Native American legends to get the feel/flavor of how they use the English language.

    I liked the overall setup. I know where I am and who your MC is. You've shown a bit of her character in that she doesn't care what others say or think about her. And it takes place in an interesting (to me) time period within a culture I know little about. For those reasons, I'd like to read more, but I have to admit, all those little things would probably deter me. Needs a bit more polish, I think.

  5. I had the impression that she was looking at a beautiful sunrise while storm clouds were sneaking up behind her, so the descriptions make sense to me.

    I like the characterization we get from the banter between the girls. And I loved the comparison between turkeys squacking and girls giggling!

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. I very much liked this but the formal speech does jar. After reading your explanation, I understood why, but you might want to add a thought from the main character that explains it a bit (like "Do I dare to call her by her name? Better not or she'd report me to xxx") Of course, you can do it much better.

  8. Thanks everyone for the comments.

    Since the setting of my story is pretty unfamiliar to most, I just want to clarify a couple of things that everyone is getting hung up on. This is based in the Anasazi southwest, and I have researched it extensively. It was an insult to call people by their names; they used relationship titles instead. That does lead to a formal feel. Yes, storms do roll through the desert that fast, creating flash floods. The turkeys are not wild, but were domesticated and wandered the courtyard with the domesticated dogs. Also, maidens are what unmarried women are referred to in the archaelogical research. As we no longer have their language, it is the best word I have.

  9. The writer's explanations make me think this could be special, if presented in a way that allows explanation-perhaps the narrator has an outsider in tow, and must explain his world as they move along...this would allow the setting to unfold. The writer says: Since the setting of my story is pretty unfamiliar to most, I just want to clarify a couple of things that everyone is getting hung up on.

    You have to make us familiar within the story! Good luck!

  10. It is hard to show an unfamiliar culture to a reader without having too much backstory. I agree with John K though, it's best to add in these little details so the reader could understand.

    I'll admit, I was a bit lost at first and had to reread it a few times, but I understand if you explained it in bits and pieces along the way. After all, this is just the first page. Not too much happens in this excerpt, but I'd read on to see more.

  11. I like the idea of a YA novel centering around Native American life.

    I did have to reread a bit and the use of 'maiden' was distracting.

  12. I love American Indian stories and yours has potential.

    I had a problem with an earlier novel I wrote. The culture was so alien I employed a device up front of an anthropologist uncovering "stuff.' It didn't take more than a page. Sometimes you need a prologue, but maybe not, maybe people will get used to your language (formal or not).

    Cerulean struck me as too sophisticated a word for the culture...and wouldn't it be best to talk in colors we all recognize. I'm a bit of a dolt, I first thought we were on a different planet, and then I remembered the word.

    I think you should Tag "what's your hurry . . .

    I was troubled by kicking rocks at turkeys because the Indian tribes I am familiar with have a reverence for nature. However YA will be YA. Perhaps an atonement on your mc's part or a reflection could cross her mind. (all in under 250 words)...

    As you develop this story you might create confusion with whom is talking to whom, because in a tribe, there are many cousins, sisters etc. Best—and I'm sure you've done this—tag with physical attributes or idiosyncrasies of the people as a secondary identifier.

    I was thrown forward in time by reservoir—it seems too modern.

    "That, Cousin, I would not (allow)." Insert allow.

    I'd read on, dreaming of a long lost world.

  13. It's exciting to see a YA novel set in ancient Native American times- such an opportunity for readers to learn about a culture in a non-textbook way. This story has a whole different vibe from the contemporary YA novels and that is refreshing. Has a definite feminine appeal so far.

  14. I agree with Anon above. The setting is fascinating. Goodness knows we need more stories (YA and otherwise) about native American Indians. I think there should be a comma after Dream:
    "... Dream, your golden-eyed boy ..."

    I'm no turkey expert, but you could probably substitute gobbling for squawking. That way it'd be closer to giggling.

    Good luck!

  15. So I like the original setting. However the 1st sentence sort of bothered me since it sounded to me like Taawa is wedging the splinters of light in there.

    and now that I'm rereading it, is Taawa the main character?? Or the village? It felt a little stilted with Sky father vanquishing Taawa etc.

    I have to say I was a little disturbed by the way the MC kicked a stone at the turkeys. I don't really care if they squawk or gobble or quack to be honest, but the fact that she kicked a stone at them really struck me as weird. First of all, if this is native American, like a comenter above mentioned, I would think there's a kind of reverence for all creatures and this seems very anti that.

    Second of all, what the hell??? Who does that? I find that to be a really unlikeable trait in a character and I see as we go on that she seems like some little queen bee of the maidens, but still, I think she comes across as pretty unlikeable.

    I think you have to remember that the mc has to be relatable. Maybe she does kick turkeys and bully children. I don't know. But make sure you're doing these things for a reason.

    This felt a little all over the place to me and needs some tightening up I think. The story sounds like it's got potential as it's got an unusual, appealing setting and some potentially interesting characters. Just make sure we can like them and root for them no matter what they're facing.