Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February Secret Agent #22

TITLE: In Limbo
GENRE: Historical YA

This has to be what hell feels like.

Okay, so that might be a slight exaggeration.

Unless, of course, hell is a small one-story schoolhouse that's about five blocks from my apartment. And, man does it feel like I spend all of my time in this little schoolhouse. With its red paint peeling off the walls outside and the tacky sign that reads “Abraham Lincoln High School-- in big block white letters over the double doors. The classroom is cramped, like it was a bedroom at one point, the wooden desk chair hurts my butt and the rough, cherry wood desk scrapes my knees.

"Sylvester Houston. Eyes up front!" Mr. Killjoy slaps his ruler on the chalkboard. It points at an equation. I blink.

I pretend to count something on my fingers as I feel my ears grow hot. This is bad. But I would rather be here avoiding the eyes and sneers of my classmates than listening to Aunt Pam cough, sneeze, and blow snot into her flowery handkerchief at home. I barely got any sleep last night because I had to hear
her hacking. It wouldn't be that bad if she would just move out. But Mom says she can't afford it and Dad does whatever she says in order to avoid a fight, so--that's that. And this is this. Math. My eyes cross at the sight of the numbers on the chalkboard. I think my parents expect me to be an accountant.


  1. According to agent comments I've seen, an authentic voice is all important in YA. While I feel convinced that your narrator is a teenager, I'm less convinced on the historical aspect of the story. Granted, I'm given very little to go on as to your time period, other than it's post-Civil War. If this story is meant to take place in a specific era, I'd like to see more of an indication of that up front. One of the ways you can establish this is through your narrator's internal voice. Some of the terminology, though, strikes me as modern ("man" and "butt" for example).

  2. Good opening line, catches you right at the get go. From there though, I don’t know where it’s going. You’ve got a kid in a classroom mulling over family problems and dealing with the embarrassment of having to figure out a math problem when he wasn’t paying attention. I would stick with the class room as much as possible, give a little bit of info about the sick aunt but not go into the narrator wanting her to move out or what his parents think about the situation. You can have that later, just move it down a couple of pages or work it into dialogue.

  3. I'm confused by the contradiction between the contemporary voice (good teen voice, though) and the little school house. I like the sensory details given about the classroom. If you could place the reader more securely in the time period by using those same skills with setting you show here, I would be less confused.

  4. This is historical YA, so I want to know as quickly as possible where we are in history, so that needs to be woven in ASAP. The MC is in Abraham Lincoln high, so we know it's post Civil War America, but that's a big landscape...

  5. I liked I until I realized it was historical. I thought the MC had a good voice and there was a bit of humor here, but I couldn't reconcile a one room schoolhouse in the same setting as an apartment, so I checked the genre and saw it was historical YA. I would have guessed MG contemporary because of his language.

    As Penelope said, if this is historical, we need to know where we are right away, at least give us a century. His language and Aunty living with them in an apartment make me think maybe the 1940's or '50's in a city, but the one room school house makes me think late 1800's in the country.

    The thing is, I shouldn't have to guess and wonder. You should make it evident. And if you're going to do historical, make sure you've researched the time period you're writing in.

    Having said all that, you can make it work. It just needs a bit more effort.

  6. The modern voice, although good, through me. I couldn't place the time frame and I believe that is needed immediately in a historical novel.

    I found the mc amusing and I do want to read on, but it needs to be clearer

  7. Paragraph two really catches my attention. He's (Sylvester is a he?) got a contemporary voice but is in an old, one-room school house, and that's interesting to me.

    Something needs to happen in this math class soon, and I'd like to see him at home w/Aunt Pam hearing her hack and feeling whatever feelings he has about that vs. having it come in as backstory.

    He says likening this classroom to hell is an exaggeration, and I believe him because it seems like a normal math class, so I want something to happen soon.

    I do think it has a good teen voice and some very well-done descriptions. Best wishes to you!

  8. I'm very confused (and unfortunately not yet intrigued). Is this time travel? He lives in an apartment but goes to a one-room schoolhouse? Why do we care? All we see here is a kid bored in math class. Who has a sick aunt living with him, who annoys him. You just don't have enough here to grab my interest. (I'm suspecting it's there, but not on this page, and I think starting a book with a boring math class isn't perhaps the best beginning.)

  9. I understand and enjoy slice-of-life, but if you want a commercial piece, that an agent won't reject, you'll have to start with a disaster (or change) Some inciting incident that changes our MC forever, and starts the MC on a journey, with sidekicks, etc.

    Best of Luck,
    BTW: Check out Hooked (a book on writing) by Edgerton, so you don't just take my word on the subject. It's a great read.

  10. I don't find this to be historical in feel. The voice, although YA, is very modern. I'm displaced and don't feel compelled to read on.

    Just on voice alone this would be a pass for me, sorry. Have you tried contemporary YA? That seems where you voice may be better suited.

  11. Like the others, this felt far too contemporary to me to be considered historical, but I do feel you have a wonderful YA/MG voice. And that's half the battle. :) Get some details in there to set the time period and also need a hook - this kind of sets a scene but doesn't tell us much what the story is to be about.