Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#49 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Nothing Left To Lose
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I toss my phone on the coffee table and sigh. Dad cancelled his weekend with me again. I hug my knees to my chest and lean back against the couch.

"The @#!*% bailed again, didn't he?" Mom pauses to light her cigarette. "I swear I never should have hooked up with him."

"Which means I would've never been born and messed up my parents' lives. But I know Mom doesn't mean it that way. "Just stop, okay? He said I could come over on Sunday instead."

"God forbid he missed out on partying with his friends." She leans down and kisses the top of my head. Her boobs almost explode out of her shirt, so I squirm out of their reach. "You gonna be okay here alone, Boo? you can always come to work with me and hang out."

"Nah, I'll stay here." Since I got my own boobs a few years ago when I turned twelve, I don't like handing out at the Lucky Lady, where Mom bartends. It's creepy the way the old guys check me out.

Some guy I've never seen before walks out of Mom's bedroom. "Tina, you ready?"

"Yeah. Oh, Amber this is Steve."

Steve and I nod at each other, and his gaze lingers a the front of my t-shirt.

"Hey," I motion with my hands. "I'm up here."

Mom laughs.

Steve looks from my face to my mom's. "Wow, you two look alike. Are you sisters?"

"She's my kid."


  1. While I get a sense of the situation - a girl in the middle of her not-so-great-parents' problems - there's nothing to draw me on. I have no sense as to what the problem is, or what she wants, or what her goals are. I don't know how she feels about Dad not keeping their date. Is she angry or feeling rejected? Is it no big deal? Give us a bit more of your MC.

    On the other hand, you did a great job with Mom, showing her character and who she is without any description at all. Nicely done.

  2. I agree with what Barbara said too, with not knowing how the MC feels and having no sense of what the problem is.
    But, I like how you made the mother sound like she was the teen and the teen sound as if she was the mother. The role reversal of the two is interesting and I would like to see more of what made the MC like that. On the other hand, the scene itself wasn't very exciting. It feels as if I've read it before somewhere, not that I have, but it just feels like its been done. I think that if you made it feel a little more unique then you would have something here.

  3. I would start here:

    Some guy I've never seen before walks out of Mom's bedroom. "Tina, you ready?"

    The other stuff you can weave in later. Dad canceling visitation happens so often it comes across as cliched, so don't open with it.

    (And watch typos - there are several here.)

  4. Steve totally creeps me out! Ewww, nasty. Keep your hands to yourself.

    I love the interaction between the mother and the daughter. It was harsh, but I still thought it was great. The boob stuff kind of bothered me. Maybe because they were talking about boobs, then Mom called her Boo, then back to boobs. That's a lot of boobs.

    I'd also like a description of Mom's expression when she introduces Steve. That would say even more about her character.

  5. Overall, well done. The title fits with where this story is headed. Good character development, especially with the mom. Amber doesn't stand out too much from other teen girls...I wonder if you could add some details that give us a better sense of how she's unique.

    I'm not sure the @#!*% works. I'd use a real word. Also, I'd trim "since I got my own boobs a few years ago when I turned twelve" to "since I got my own boobs a few years ago." We can put it together :)

    I'd keep reading to see what happens to Amber, since she's got "nothing left to lose."

  6. You've done a great job in character development. You "show" vs "tell" us that her mom is a bit lowlife.

    You have a quotation mark where it shouldn't be: "Which means ...

    You need a capital after Boo.

    I agree with other commenters: you don't need to mention when you were twelve. Plus I don't think you need to mention Steve is a guy you'd never seen before because we get that when you're introduced.

    Otherwise, I would read on. I don't need a lot happening right off and what you have so far has me hooked.

  7. I definitely get a feel for the family dynamics. Of all the characters, the mom is the most vivid: exploding boobs, strange man from the bedroom, cussing an ex.

    I know two things about the MC : she is disappointed with her and she hates being ogled. Beyond that, I'm not sure what she wants to do about her home situation. I don't know her reaction to a strange man in her mom's bedroom, I don't know if she is okay with her life situation, I don't know how she feels about her mom's chosen life. And y'know, "what the character wants."

  8. I'm in love with this, and I normally only want to read fantasy, sci fi, or dystopian. I'm itching to turn the page. Maybe it's just rubbernecking, but I think the awfulness of the situation and the vividness with which you describe it makes me want to find out more.

  9. I was just reading the other comments and I just want to say Sarah Henry pointed out a terrific place to start. That sentence is a great opening sentence.

  10. I like the suggestion of starting when Steve comes out of the bedroom. And I had to read the line about boobs twice. I thought it might be a typo, since 12 seems really young for that, but that could just be me.

  11. I agree that you should use a real word in place of "@#!%".

    The first thing I noticed about this excerpt was the typos. You've got an extra quotation mark in the third paragraph, "handing" should be "hanging," "Amber" should have a comma after it, and "lingers a" should be "lingers at." I know this sounds really nitpicky, but the absolute last thing you want is for the reader to think you're a sloppy writer.

    In terms of more substantive critique, my main thought is that so far, the only conflict involves the MC fending off the creepy guys in her mom's life. (The problem with her dad is less immediate.) To me, that's not something I want to read more about... though it might be more compelling to another reader. If this is *not* your central conflict, you may want to start at the point when the real central conflict comes into play.

    Best of luck!

  12. I agree that you've got a stronger hook with the mom than with the dad so maybe you should start with that. I'd also expect to see a stronger reaction from the MC when the creep looks at her. If that comes soon after this excerpt, you're fine, but we need to see how she feels here. Is she disgusted? If not, why not? Is this just a regular day in her house?

  13. You got a lot of really good feedback here. I didn't notice the typos but I agreed with having to go back and read the boobs comment twice. Probably just sentence structure. It's very realistic to be that 12 year old with giant boobs and awkward. Don't worry about that realism.

    It is a train wreck so if I picked up this book I would definitely keep reading.

  14. I think you've made this scene come alive, and it seems like a compelling place to start a story. I didn't feel too connected to Amber. Like others have said, it would be great to be a little more inside her head and get clearer reaction from her as things happen. For example, she sighs after hanging up with dad, but what kind of sigh is it? Is it a resigned sigh? A truly depressed sigh? A trying-to-suppress-a-major-breakdown sigh?

    Also, I couldn't figure out the mom. First she seemed affectionate by calling Amber 'boo' and then she's parading strange men around without a second thought about her daughter. We might need a little more commentary from Amber to better understand why the mom is acting like this.

    Also, small point, but was Amber really hanging out at a bar when she was a kid? Is this legal?

  15. What a life she's being forced to lead!

    I love the way the mom really came to life with just a few key descriptions. I especially like the juxtaposition of her affectionately calling the MC Boo in the midst of everything else. I think that's very real.

    I would also like to jump on the start with Steve walking out of the bedroom because that will demonstrate her parents are divorced in a more exciting way than the phone call from the dad. (I think we can infer that if she's living with her mom and it's this bad, her dad must be worse.)

  16. Ditto about opening with "Some guy I've never seen before...." That's where the story starts, for me. I like the voice a lot, would keep reading.

  17. I fifth (or sixth) the suggestion for opening with "Some guy I've never seen before..."

    @jessicamb: If a parent is there, an underage person can be in a bar.

    In my opinion, Amber's response to Steve's ogling -- not to mention his presence in the house -- is that this sort of thing happens all the time. She's a little jaded, a little tired.

    There were a lot of spelling and grammatical errors. I noticed them, but I was carried forward by the voice and the plot. Yes, I agree that, as it stands, the situation isn't atypical, but I'd hope that, soon, we'd get to see how Amber is atypical.

    I suggest breaking the "Steven and I nod..." sentence into two and thereby giving his gaze more weight.

    I'd read on.

  18. Legality of kids in bars varies by state.

    I like the kid, I like the way you've set up that she's going to be alone and unhappy. I'm really not liking the sense I'm getting that the premise is her fending off creepy guys. Seen enough of that (it's a perfectly valid storyline, and girls need those skills, it's just not my cuppa).

    I *love* that she's strong enough, as young as she is, to tell him she's "up here," away from her breasts, and that makes me want to read more about her.


  19. As a reader I learn so much from "I swear I never should have hooked up with him." I love that line.

    I love the voice and the dynamics you've got here. The mother needs such a slapping!

    The dad's canceling works for me because it's not about him - it goes straight to the mother and Amber's reaction and shows the dynamics going on in the family, which are really interesting.

    Great read!

  20. I agree with all the others about starting from "Some guy..." that would have drawn me right in, instead I started by thinking, "Oh no, another YA girl with daddy issues."

    That said, I think you've created a compelling character. I'd definitely read on because like you the feisty character you have character. She has an appealing spunk--like others have mentioned she seems mature and aware of her affect on men. I love the firecracker personality and I'm intrigued by her relationship with her mother.

    I do agree though that all the "boob" comments made me a bit uncomfortable, especially given her age. Maybe come up with another description of the mother first? Maybe they both have the same type of hair, etc? And then more subtly mention her breasts. Just a thought of course!

    Good luck!

  21. I agree with everyone else, but this really didn't hook me. I feel like I've read things like it before, and the dialogue feels oddly forced and stilted to me. But I would read another page, just to get a better feel for it.

  22. I adore the voice you have here--and that it's honest. Did the &^*% get put in cuz it's on a blog? That tripped me up a little, but other than that, excellent work. :)

  23. Hey, Secret Agent here! Well, I know I have my nomination for Mother of the Year after reading this! Overall, very clean, funny, wrenching writing going on here. (I think someone’s probably pointed out the extra quotes in paragraph 3.) I love the dialogue. Very cinematic. Although, I have to wonder: It seems pretty bad now…how much worse can it get? Guess we'll see! :)

  24. I liked this, but it needs editing. I counted four or five typos, and that's just in the first 250 words.