Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February Secret Agent #41

TITLE: Pieces of Forever
GENRE: Young Adult

The black hearse was sitting in my driveway the day the old St. Scholastica school bus dropped me home from school. I can remember that day as clearly as if it happened last week, even though it was years ago, the events burned into my brain forever.

Our cranky old bus driver eyed me suspiciously in the rearview mirror as he stretched one arm across the dash to open the bus doors. "Mare!" His voice cracked when he finally hollered my name. He could have been miles away for all I knew. By the time I stood from the last row of seats, the blood had left my face and hands. Cold. I had the weirdest feeling in my stomach, like I should be afraid--but of what, I had no idea.

I had never seen a hearse before--had never even been to a funeral. But there it was in front of me: long, sleek, and shiny black, the sunlight gleaming off of its tinted windows. If a hearse could speak, this one would have whispered one word, one syllable, choking all the oxygen out of the air around me: death.

Somehow I managed to stumble down the center aisle, past the other kids' stares, their eyes burning holes into my skin. And when I finally stood on the curb, the school bus doors quickly shut behind me, nearly sucking me backwards. I caught myself and leaned forward.


  1. The first sentence is great. The second one pulls me out of the narrative, although I know why you included the reference to long ago. Is it important that we know she's looking back from the distance of years? Can we experience this alongside her?

    The bus driver hollers her name presumably b/c she's transfixed by the sight of the hearse in her driveway, but I have to project that assumption, and I'd rather you made it clear. We don't really get in her head, to know what she's feeling, despite the internal narrative. Shouldn't she be asking *who* died? Or, if she knows (if her dad was sick, or whatever), shouldn't she be thinking, "It's finally happened?"

    It's a great opening scene, just needs some more emotional narrative to get us really invested.

  2. I agree with ckbasi. I'd like to feel more of Mare's emotions. Although she's never seen a hearse, some kids on the bus may have. Perhaps one says something out loud like "Uh-oh. Somebody's dead." That would fuel Mare's fears and help her make the connection between hearse and death. Kids don't censor their comments! Anyway, I really like the hook. I think if you tell us less and make us feel more, it will be stronger.

  3. I agree with the comments above. Also, consider rearranging some of what you've got as you layer in more emotion. The line, "I'd never seen a hearse before..." is powerful. It might work as an opening line. Also, the one word being "death" isn't adding anything to my experience as a reader, becasue I already think death when I think hearse. So, surprise me.

    I really like the line about the bus doors nearly "sucking me backwards."

    It sets a good scene, emotional connection to teh protag will make it a great scene.

  4. "Years ago" throws me, because I don't know the context ... the speaker could be 60 or 22. Better, I think, to say "when I was 14," or whenever it was.

    And the hearse also throws me a bit, because more often it's an ambulance, not a hearse from the funeral home that picks up a body. (In an at-home death that doesn't require an autopsy, I assume a hearse could be used, but the first thing I think of with hearse is funeral, not sudden death.)

  5. I agree with other commenter that the line 'I'd never seen a hearse before' might work better for an opening line, though the way you have it now works nicely, too. Also, the first line tripped me up a bit because 'the day St. Scholastica school bus dropped me off from school' makes it sound like the bus dropping her off was the unusual occurrence, where it was the hearse that was unusual.

    The last para=awesome. Good luck :)

  6. Great. Inciting incident in place, a young girl subject to hyperbole (almost being sucked back into the bus etc.). I love unreliable narrators.

    On your next go-thru consider tightening up a tad by removing "from school" (redundant) and instead of "the bus doors" try "the doors." (same problem). IMO, you don't need the exclamation point because the intent is clear and agents usually don't like them.

  7. There are certain parts of this that I really like, and others that seem flat. I agree with the others that your first sentence is strong, but then the second one takes us out of the voice.

    I'm curious about her age, it seems like she may be older, but she's never seen a hearse before.

  8. It shouldn't be a hearse. It should be an ambulance or a coroner's van. Hearses are for funerals.

    Also, if the narrarator is telling the story from an adult's POV then it's not YA. The narrarator has to be 18 or younger to be YA.

    I like the description a lot.

  9. This is good but it's all backstory. I'm intrigued, though. Because why is the hearse there? Something tells me there's more to the story than we're seeing here. If someone has just died then it should be an ambulance.

    This line almost makes me think this is a paranormal story: "If a hearse could speak, this one would have whispered one word, one syllable, choking all the oxygen out of the air around me: death." And that's mostly because of the hearse being there instead of an ambulance. ;)

    Good luck

  10. I like the feel of this. Very vivid. I can picture myself there with her.

    The hearse is not a problem for me. I assume it's the day of a funeral, though the body is usually at a mortuary unless there's a wake at the house? If the wake and the body are in her house, I want even more emotion from her. Also, "years ago" threw me, set me up for a flashback, and I want to start where she starts.

    Lines I loved: the first one, the bus sucking her back in and the description of the hearse, so sleek and shiny and at odds with death.

    Thanks for sharing!

  11. I like the image this portrays, but like the other reviewer, I found the hearse to be out of place. But, maybe there is a reason for it being there. The father or mother could work at the funeral home. But anyway, the opening works well. I definitely want to know what's going to happen once she's off the bus.

    One nit is that you have school twice in the first sentence. Perhaps just call it a bus.

  12. I thought the hearse was a bit out of place too - but I'd read on to find out if there's a good explanation.

    I agree with most all the other comments. It is backstory, and the years ago threw me. I'd love to see this a bit more active - a bit more vivid. :)

    Good luck with it!

  13. rather than tell about what happened, why not start here with a date and the protag's age:

    "Our cranky old bus driver eyed me suspiciously in the rearview mirror as he stretched one arm across the dash to open the bus doors. "Mare!""

    her name is called, a hearse is there, and she has no idea what's happening? seems naive for a young adult.

    She's never seen a hearse or been to a funeral and she's a young adult? again, doesn't seem plausible. usually some kid in school or a grandparent dies by the time you're a young adult, and hearses are in movies all the time.

    many unnecessary words, e.g., somehow, managed, to stumble; maybe, I stumbled down...
    nearly not needed either

    not sure you stumble past stares, maybe past kids who stared?

    this has great potential, just needs more work to shine.

  14. Good writing, good voice, but I noticed a lot of use of the word "had" which tells me it's backstory. Can you eliminate some "hads" and make it more active?

  15. The voice is good but the story so far is buried in adjectives and adverbs. The tension and fear and sense of "this can't be happening" could be told in about half the words and without so much reference to back story. Too much past perfect tense. And I think there are too many stories out there that begin with funerals.

  16. Good start, good hook, good writing. Most of my criticisms echo what others have said, so something else to think about, that's entirely subjective - how strongly do you feel about your title? They are after all our first glimpse of a story, and I just feel like there's got to be something stronger and more personal to the story than 'Pieces of Forever.' It feels a little generic and...soap opera-ish for lack of a better term? Not that there's anything wrong with soap operas, haha, its just that I don't think that's what you're going for with this story and a good title should say as much about the feel and tone of your book as it does the content.

    Again, just something else to think about.

  17. I had the same thoughts as ckbasi. Perhaps get in some emotion here. You tell us what happens, but your MC doesn't react to any of it or have any internal thoughts. It's already pretty strong, but that could make it stronger.

    As to the hearse, usually ambulances come because people die suddenly and their loved ones immediately dial 911. In cases where people are terminally ill, arrangements have often been made ahead of time, and when they do finally die, it's the funeral home who comes to get them. I don't know what the situation is in your story, but it's just a bit more info to consider.

    Anyway, I thought this was well done and I'd read more.

  18. This is excellent. I think the last sentence of the first paragraph is redundant. If you'd make that into two sentences, or ditch the last phrase, I think it would be a much bigger hook. Also, the bus driver hollering her name pulls the reader away from your MC, and I don't think it's necessary. Leave the reader stressing with her. Great job!!

  19. You have a good tone and style to your reading. Good descriptions though I'm a bit confused as to what exactly is going on.

    I like your voice and find this compelling enough, despite my confusion, to read on.