Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May Secret Agent #25

TITLE: Cast in Gold
GENRE: YA Contemporary

The lined notebook paper was beginning to tear in the crease. I folded it carefully and slipped it back into the pocket of my jeans.

“Sadie!” Miss Myra, my foster mother, hollered.

“Coming!” I yelled. I pulled my thick brown hair into a ponytail. My foster sisters always ragged me about my looks. Called me high-yellow and tried to get me to admit my dad was black. Whoever my dad was, I doubted Rhonda remembered him. Rhonda, my birth mother, was nothing but pure white Georgia trailer park.

I hopped down the stairs. When I turned the corner at the bottom, I almost collided with Katherine.

Of all of my caseworkers, (eight if you count the “still with birth mom” time) I liked Katherine the best. Fresh out of graduate school, she was determined that I would be her first adoption, her special case. Difficult case would be more like it. Because, come on, who in their right mind was going to adopt a sixteen-year-old lesbian?

“Hey, Katherine. Well? Any news?”

She was already headed back to the cramped utility room that Miss Myra had outfitted as an office, just for these kinds of visits. I followed and tried to see into her briefcase, the manila file folders jammed in so tight it was impossible for her to zip it shut.

She slung her satchel onto the small table and motioned for me to sit down.


  1. A few things:
    1) When you say "my foster mother" you are telling the reader something that the main character would not think which pulls us out of her head. Find another way to communicate this. Same comment about "my birth mother" and about her hair colour (no one thinks about their own hair in colour).
    2) I would add the word "probably" in "it was impossible for her..." Otherwise, this is kind of out of POV as the main character can't actually know it was impossible for her to zip the briefcase. She can only think it was impossible.
    3) This is a minor thing but are the briefcase and the satchel two different things? The way this is written, it sounds like they are which confused me a little since I use the words to mean almost the same thing.

  2. I like this. The mc has had a tough life, bounced around between foster homes, and I'd read on. The writing is also really good.

    My first impression was that there was too much back story for a first page-- but now that I look again, I see that there's only the reference to her foster sisters teasing her about her skin color and then the line in parentheses about how many case workers she has had. I wonder if these bits of information are necessary here, or if they can be saved for slightly later? Imho they interrupt the action and slow it down. Even page 2 might be a more suitable place for this kind of information.

    Just some thoughts! Hope they're helpful and best of luck!


  3. I enjoyed your writing alot. Great voice and awesome conflict from the beginning.
    I love the line about "pure white Georgia trailer park", but found the sudden introduction of Rhonda to be a bit jarring. I wouldn't get rid of it...just wonder if you can re-word that some.
    Overall, I was hooked! One of my favorites...

  4. The term "foster mother" and "foster sister" felt a little "so you know, Bob," but the rest of it was very strong writing. I especially liked the phrase, "Rhonda, my birth mother, was nothing but pure white Georgia trailer park."

  5. I like it. Her foster sisters calling her high yellow but trying to get her admit her dad was black confused me, because the use of the term "high yellow" makes me think the foster sisters are black so why would they want her to "admit" her father was black? They might insist he was black ...

    And think you could improve the phrasing of "who in their right mind" bit - because the main issue is her age ... "who in their right mind would adopt a 16-year-old, let alone one who's mixed race ... and a lesbian."

  6. I liked this but I thought you did a lot of telling. If it's not something your MC would think to herself, then you shouldn't be telling it to the reader. For example --

    Fresh out of graduate school, she was determined that I would be her first adoption, her special case.

    She knows this already and wouldn't think it to herelf, so you have to make it evident some other way. Turn some of the telling into showing and this will be much stronger.

  7. I think you've done a great job of creating a character I want to know more about. The story felt real and fresh to me. Maybe some of the information which comes across as telling could be simply cut--it actually didn't pull me out of the story because the voice was strong.

    I'd keep reading.

  8. There seems to be a lot of backstory and explanation clouding up your hook. The thing that confused me the most was this line:
    Because, come on, who in their right mind was going to adopt a sixteen-year-old lesbian?
    Why not? It's not like she's a druggie, a serial-killer, or seriously ill. You make the fact that she's a lesbian a serious flaw. Maybe I'm just naive, but I find that hard to believe.

  9. I think it's a good start. Right off the bat, you're making sexual orientation and race issues in the story, and if that is your intent, well done. If they are more passive themes in the rest of the book, you might want to lighten those a bit in the opening. But I like it, and I'd keep reading :)

  10. Thanks for the comments all. And really the issue of adoption is more age than sexual orientation, though this is set in Georgia where things can be fairly conservative depending on the environment and proximity to Atlanta. I really like Sara Henry's suggestion for that sentence, but may just change it to her age as her sexuality comes back up a few pages into the chapter. Onward! And best of luck everyone.

  11. I like this a lot. The MC's voice comes across loud and clear. I don't typically read adoption stories, but I think the MC is prett compelling.

    I agree with earlier comments about the telling. Instead of saying that the foster sisters tease her about her looks, actually have one of them insult her.

    The "Well?" when she's talking to Katherine reads a bit awkward and I think the dialogue reads easier without it.

    I'd definitely keep reading.

    Thanks for sharing and good luck!

  12. What I liked: How quickly the character comes across, the descriptions.

    What needed work: From a market perspective, I worry about this story potentially being too quiet. It’s the curse of YA contemporary right now, which we’re all hoping will rebound, but if there’s not a strong concept to go with it, or impeccable writing, these stories can be tough to place.

    Now that I’ve gotten that bit of Negative Nancy news out of the way, I also agree with some of the other commenters that the author has to be careful how things are described coming from the narrator’s POV. Getting physical and circumstantial details across can be difficult in first person without feeling very “and just so you know, here’s this and that” etc, and I do at least appreciate that the main character didn’t stop in front of a mirror to describe what she looked like, but just be careful about spacing it out a little more.

    Would I read on based on this sample? Yes, but with trepidation due to the target market.