Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October Secret Agent #32

TITLE: Untitled

Mom was as passionate about the upkeep of her daughters' hair as she was about her backyard. Whenever she ran out of weeds to whack, out came the shears. She would cut our hair pixie-style like Twiggy's. Never mind that it was 1975, and Twiggy had gone the way of the psychedelic '60s. Long, straight hair, parted in the middle like Susan Dey's in The Partridge Family, was now the popular look in the Philippines.

"You better sit still if you don't want the tips of your ears clipped off," Mom warned. She had just finished trimming my bangs and was about to continue with the rest of my hair, which by now had sneaked two inches below my ears.

"Mom, please don't cut anymore," I pleaded. "All my friends have long hair. I'm the only one who still looks like a boy."

How can I attract a boy when I look like one? I wanted to add.

"Just this morning, the rice cake vendor mistook me for a boy again."

We were out on the terrace, where I wriggled on a bar stool with a towel draped across my shoulders. From our usual spot facing the backyard, I could see the coconut trees, interspersed with other fruit and flowering trees surrounding the freshly-whacked lawn. The coconut trees taunted me with their long, swaying fronds. As if in unity, the maya birds chirped, "Clip! Clip! Clip!" as they flitted about the champaca trees.

Mom wielded her shears just above my ear.


  1. Not hooked. When a book starts with a low-key scene like this, the voice really has to hook me to draw me in. The voice here is perfectly adequate, but it doesn't really stand out. It's not snarky, funny, or clever, and because I can't easily identify it, I have a hard time relating to it.

    Alas, that's not a very helpful critique. It could definitely just be a matter of opinion. I do like the international feel (especially that it's placed in the Philippines, since my grandfather was Filipino), and the historical element is intriguing. I wish we knew more about that. (But then, we would if this were part of an actual query, so I don't think you need to change anything.)

    Best of luck. Here's hoping that the Secret Agent disagrees with me.

  2. I'm not sure I'm hooked yet. I have no feel whatsoever for what this book is about or what the central conflict might be about. I think it's a good scene, but I don't think it should be the first scene. I would start with something more exciting or climatic that really pulls the reader into the story.

  3. I like the setting, but I just didn't love the rest of it. There was a lot of repetition in the last paragraph (you said "trees" four times in as many sentences) and there was something about the MC's dialogue that just didn't work for me.

    I am curious about why her Mom is so "passionate" about her yard or her daughters' hair, and like I said, the setting is unique and interesting. And I can't remember the last time I read something set in the 70s!

  4. You need to move the first paragraph to after the action/dialogue. You can't tell us why Mom is cutting her hair before you tell us that Mom is cutting her hair.

    Also, I think the part where she says she wanted to tell her Mom that she doesn't want to look like a boy needs to be merged with the lines before and after. It feels like she says she doesn't want to look like a boy three times.

    Also, I don't understand the timeline here. 1975 doesn't really qualify as historial YA (I hope!) but it's too old to be contemporary.

  5. I really like this. I like her voice - it's a quiet opening, but it does draw me in. I like that it's not overly chatty or angsty and I feel the girls pain of having short hair when all your friends have long hair. It's the kind of thing that's really, really troubling as a kid. And it's a really interesting setting.

  6. Loved this! Phillipines in the 70s is an interesting setting. I don't get a strong sense of the narrator's character yet, but Mom is intriguing, between her yard and haircuts. The narrator's voice is believable, though. We probably all remember an embarrassing, mom-inflicted haircut...

    My only nit is when she's commenting on looking like a boy. She says it three times, in different ways. Pick one!

    Nice job!

  7. I think this is an interesting start. I would consider putting your first line of dialog as your opening. It is more interesting than the explaination you begin with. Also, I might rework you middle dialog as it doesn't flow well for me.

    Good beginning!

  8. My wife's filipina, so plus one for you.

    The last paragraph could be shortened to reeling off the names of the trees and finishing with the birds. This would avoid the 'tree' repetition and it would feel like she was taking it all in visually at once. i.e. I saw coconut, other fruit and nut trees surrounding the freshly whacked lawn. The maya birds chose the champaca for flitting about.
    "Clip. Clip. Clip."

    BTW, no exclamation marks ever! (see 'Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne/King page 200, and other books). Wh? In a nut shell the words should have the power to make the point and your words do.

  9. actually drop the I saw (or I could see in the last paragraph. Since its all in her POV we know she's seeing. Start with 'Coconut... and see if that doesn't look better.

  10. I loved the opening and am definitely hooked. I can't wait to find out what happens next.

    The writing is excellent. Reading a story about a young girl in the Philippines in 1975 is such a refreshing change from all the usual YA themes of the past several years.

    Good luck. Keep it going.

  11. Loved this! I love they way you let us know when and where we are. Great voice.

  12. I agree the beginning would be stronger to swap the first and second paragraphs so it starts with the Mom's dialogue. I also agree that I'm seeing more of the Mom's character and little of the MC's voice.

    If you were to delete the second sentence in that last large, descriptive paragraph, it wouldn't take anything away from the scene at all. I liked the imagery of the coconut trees taunting in the next sentence, though, because it applies to your MCs distress over the haircut.

    So far, this is definitely a story my teens and tweens would keep reading.

  13. I love the setting here- it's very rich. I would like to see more depth to the characters- this is pretty low key for an opening. I have a feeling you might delve deeper in the next few pages, but you might want to move that to the front a little more.

  14. I feel like there are too many trees.

  15. I like the unusual setting.

    I think the second para would make a better opening. You can sprinkle the year and the pixie hairstyle easily since mom is cutting her hair. Also, you need not repeat she looks like a boy. Just say it once.

    Aren't maya birds sparrows? If so, use what is familiar to us so we can see them. I don't know what a champaca tree is, but I can picture the coconut trees and see mountains and the sea in the distance. Yeah, I've been to the Philippines, and I love it there.

    I agree with the other critters that mom is more interesting. Perhaps give a hint of what the MC wants aside from long hair.

    This needs a bit of tightening, but I would read a little more.

  16. I thought this was well written and if I had to guess what it was about, I would say about a girl trying to fit in. If there's more to it than that, you might want to hint at it in this opening.

    I would also start with the second parg. The first starts with Mom and automatically makes her more important than your MC. You could strengthen your MC by giving her some intrnal thoughts. When she comments about not getting a boyfriend because she looks like a boy, is she thinking of one special boy? Do Mom's haircuts make her angry, sad, ticked off? Give us more of who your MC is and what she thinks and feels.

  17. This was one of my favorite entries. I appreciate getting the chance to feel the world and meet the character without being rushed. I related to the mc and am also intrigued by the setting.

  18. I love this one.

    It says the genre is YA but it almost has a part memoir-y feel to it like growing up with a kooky mom when all you want to do is fit in. Of course, I don't know why that has a memoir feel--it could easily be fiction, which in this case it appears to be!

    But the point is, this has such a real feel to it and i think that fitting in theme is something kids can relate to.

    As for being set in the 70's and the Philippines, I have to say I would LOVE to take on something YA that's not paranormal. But it's a very hard call as to what kids are going to relate to and I just had this exact discussion with someone about something from the 70's and would kids today relate. I think the answer, as always, is that it just depends on the writing.

    This definitely hooked me.

  19. Thank you so much to the Authoress for giving me the opportunity to have the first 250 words of my coming-of-age YA novel critiqued.

    I would also like to give special thanks to the Secret Agent and everyone else who offered their valuable feedback and suggestions for improvement.

    Best of luck to all of us!