Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#36 January Secret Agent

GENRE: YA urban fantasy

A thirteen year old kid shouldn't be taking this many bus trips alone I told myself. I snorted. Who was I kidding? "Alone" was the story of my life.

Then, I went very still, very cold, very fast.

The bus seat next to me had been empty this whole trip. Now, there was an old woman sitting in it way too close for comfort. I hadn't shut my eyes or anything. One second the seat had been empty.

The next, the old woman, smelling of lavender and death, sat in it.

How did I know what death smelled like? Live on the streets alone and hungry for years like me, and you become an expert on a lot of things kids with homes know nothing about.

The smell of death got stronger. I looked up. Green cat-eyes studied me out of a face that seemed to have found a sale on wrinkles. She must have found her musty Victorian dress in the attic of the Bates Motel. She frowned at me as if she could read my thoughts. I hoped she didn't mind light reading.

She thrust a note at me. I sat there. She shook it.

I didn't want an old lady smacking me. A guy couldn't hit an old woman. I took it with all the thrill of eating road-kill.

I looked down. It was smoking. I looked back up to the old woman. She was gone. My shivers got goose bumps.

"Cue the spooky music," I whispered.


  1. Nice one!

    A bit bumpy, here and there. eg the word "found" twice in one paragraph.

    Too many I's in paragraph 1 for my taste (I'd take out "I snorted.")

    It's stylish, edgy - very edgy. I'm on the edge of my seat, here. It reads like young Dean Koontz.

    But... It would be difficult to keep that tone up for a whole book, and maybe not so comfortable to read. I dunno.

    I certainly want to read more.

  2. Love the style/voice. Very edgy. And I think you could maintain it easily.

    "My shivers got goose bumps." I love it.

    I agree with parsley: there is a lot of "I" in the first para.

    I am interested and would read more.


  3. I agree about the overuse of "I" in the beginning.

    Love the tone. This flows smoothly.

    I also spotted the double use of "found".

    Overall, it's a great piece. The mood is set well.

  4. Love this line:

    "How did I know what death smelled like? Live on the streets alone and hungry for years like me, and you become an expert on a lot of things kids with homes know nothing about."

    It might be a "tell," but I think it works really well.

    Also, I like the line about light reading, but his thought don't seem to light to me.

    I have such a clear image of the woman shaking the note at him. Nice!

    I'd definitely keep reading.

  5. I loved this! Good writing, and clever.

    I did find myself asking how a thirteen year old homeless kid knew about Victorian clothes and the Bates Motel, and I didn't get the 2nd parg. at all, but I let it go. The rest was too good.

    The fourth parg. "The next . . .' should be part of the third. Those two lines go together.

    Solidly hooked!

  6. haha I like how he handled it with humor. I think this is a great start, but I'd like to know what death smells like. I'd like to have something to visualize or feel other than just 'it smelled like death.'

  7. Is this really YA if he's only 13? Seems more like MG territory to me.

    I think I'd take out 'kid' in the first line, I'm not sure if he'd call himself a kid, especially if he's tough and living on the streets.

    I'm not sure if I like the last line, would he really be so flip? Wouldn't he be freaked out? Might be better to end with 'I opened the note' or something.

    Very intriguing though.

  8. I like it! I think you could tighten up a bit here and there though. I wonder if you might consider eliminating the first 2 paragraphs and starting with 'The bus seat...' I don't think you need the lead in. Hope that helps - good luck with it :)

  9. The voice on this was difficult for me. It sounded a lot like someone talking to himself and less like someone writing a record or confiding in a friend, which is what most people generally expect from first person perspective. Maybe because it seemed overly descriptive? Instead of, "I was here when this happened," it seems more, "I was thinking to myself about when this happened," which sort of loses the sense of immediacy.

  10. I really liked this until the end. Then your sentences were all stilted and didn't seem to flow. I would definitely keep reading, though. It has the flavor of Percy Jackson in it.

  11. I really like the voice. Some of your sentences are brilliant, such as:

    "sale on wrinkles"
    "I hoped she didn't mind light reading."

    I missed the reference to the Bates Motel - maybe it's common knowledge that I've missed out on, but I wonder if most kids know what it is?

    I didn't love the very beginning. "I snorted" strikes me as a cliche action and "Then, I went very still, very cold, very fast" didn't work for me. The first paragraph doesn't set up what's going on since we're so completely in his head, which makes the second paragraph seem a bit melodramatic.

  12. I love urban fantasies, so of course I'm intrigued! I'm also a huge graphic novel fan, and this has that punch that drives the story forward.

    What to work on:

    cliches: Example- too close for comfort is a bit cliche (I used that in my MS, too...and my cp pointed it out...hehe)
    consistant voice: Okay, voice is tough..and I struggle with it all the time. I guess if he's lived on the street his whole life, he wouldn't have watched a movie like "Psycho?" Just something to think about.
    Age: If he's 13, that's more MG than YA. I'd think about making it MG or bumping up his age.

    I really hope this helps! : )

  13. The age doesn't matter so much as to whether we're talking MG or YA. Take Rick Yancey and The Monstrumologist. The main character there is twelve, but I certainly don't imagine a lot of MG readers taking that off the shelf.

    The premise is interesting -- dealing with a homeless MC -- and the MC well-developed, but I didn't connect here. Partly, it has to do with the voice ("Cue the spooky music" takes me out of the story) and partly with the awkwardness of some of the lines.

    For example, the second paragraph. The way it's phrased, the MC went "very fast", which doesn't make any sense. To be clear, it would have to be "Then I went very still and very cold, very fast."

    Maybe lavender could be the smell of death?

    I wouldn't read on.

  14. I was turned off from the start, for two reasons: one, a thirteen-year-old MC is not usual for YA. Even fourteen-year-olds tend to fit better in MG than YA. Two, you need a comma between "alone" and "I told myself" -- in fact, you don't even need "I told myself" at all, since you're in first person PoV. Those kinds of explanations are distancing, and you don't want that.

    I want to know why he's getting still and cold, but it takes us a few sentences to get to that point. It feels like you're trying to ramp up the tension, but it's kind of artificial, if that makes sense?

    In the sixth paragraph, some of the writing didn't quite work for me -- two descriptive bits "seemed to have found a sale on wrinkles" and "must have found her musty Victorian dress in the attic of the Bates motel" that would work separately, but kind of detract from each other when placed so close together. The "found" repetition is also iffy.

    What does he mean "light reading"?

    Instead of "I took it with all the thrill of eating road kill" -- which is a nice line! -- you probably want to specify the "it" as the note. I know this seems like nitpicking, but especially this early in the book, you want your reader to stay with you at all times. Don't allow them to get confused.

    The shorter sentences near the end also don't work for me. Those are usually more common in action sequences, which this isn't. It just makes everything sound choppy.

    I want to like this, because you have some nice lines and the situation is interesting, but the writing would've stopped me from doing so. I'd go through this again, clean it up, focus on clarity and flow. Good luck, I think you could have something very neat here :)

  15. -- addition, on re-reading, I got the "light reading" bit. It's funny. I was just being slow. My bad!

  16. I think you have some wonderful description. The sense of humor of the MC, although dark, is engaging.

    You set up a very chilling scene. The bus ride in the middle of the night, with a mysterious stranger appearing than disappearing.

    I definitely would want to read more.

  17. Hey, Secret Agent here! There’s definite voice here and lots of tension…this character’s story is intriguing. While I love all the unique descriptions, watch out…it really is possible to be too clever for your own good. Pick the best zingers and don’t spend all your material on one page.

  18. I like the voice a lot in this excerpt, but even the snarkiest of characters tone it down when they're scared. Pull back a little, and I think you've got it.