Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January Secret Agent #41


"Mom, are you home?" Amanda swung through the front door.

Penelope, the family dog, rushed over, sliding on the hardwood floor. Amanda allowed her ankles to be sniffed and licked. She scratched Penelope on her wrinkled pit bull head and in back of her silky ears. She shrugged off her navy school blazer and dropped her heavy book bag at the bottom of the stairs.

“Mom?” She called again. There was no immediate answer, but she’d seen both her mother’s car and her Aunt Vivian’s in the driveway.

"Come in here, honey." Her mother's voice, oddly stressed, came from the study.

"What's —"

Amanda stopped in the door. Her Uncle David paced behind the couch where her mother and aunt sat. Aunt Vivian held both of her mother’s hands. The room was dark, one floor lamp lit against the mid-November gloom. The wooden shutters had not been opened, and scant light filtered in from two high round windows filled with eighty year-old stained glass. It was an old house, old by California standards anyway, 1930’s, Spanish style. The fireplace was rimmed with colored tiles that two years ago, for her father’s birthday, her mother had painstakingly matched against the originals.

"What's going on?" Amanda asked. A cold feeling spread through her middle, radiating from where her lowest ribs met.

Uncle David stopped behind her mother and placed his hands on her shoulders. Everyone looked strained and strange.

Amanda’s mom stood and held out her hands.


  1. For me, the pace of this opening was a little slow. I like the details you have about the fireplace, etc, but maybe they could be worked in somewhere else? Or, what if Amanda immediately sensed something was wrong, but couldn't quite figure out what?

  2. I liked the opening, you had good descriptions, but when you got to this one, "It was an old house, old by California standards anyway, 1930’s, Spanish style. The fireplace was rimmed with colored tiles that two years ago, for her father’s birthday, her mother had painstakingly matched against the originals," it took me right out of the story. Save that tidbit and use it somewhere else.

    Also, one of the Authoress' pet peeves is not using the right genre. She'll tell you that YA is not a genre. So what is this? Contemporary, paranormal, thriller?

    In any case, I'd keep reading. Nice.

  3. Lots of potential here!

    Great descriptions too, but I think maybe you go too far with them. When you mention the house, say, "It was an old house, 1930's era Spanish." Then don't even talk about the fireplace. Even though I liked your description of it, I agree with the other commenters that it pulled me out of the story.

    Another phrase that pulled me out of the story was, "...radiating from where her lowest ribs met." Perhaps you can say something like, "...radiating from somewhere deep in her belly." For some reason the word "ribs" was all wrong to me. But that's purely subjective.:)

    My last suggestion would be to change your line, "Everyone looked strained and strange." It's all telling. SHOW us how they looked, facial expressions, postures, etc. Don't just tell us they "looked" strained.

  4. I will say I thought this riveting. Perhaps because I knew what was coming (or at least I think I do). And I think you captured the normalcy of a day and the step-by-step memory that comes into play. I thought this wonderful. The only thing I can think of to improve is to (not necessarily eliminate) rearrange the time between her seeing the hand-holding and Uncle David pacing and the rather lengthy description of the house/room, etc. But, other than that, I got it and was completely drawn in. A great job in my opinion.

  5. I second the other comments about relocating the description of the fireplace/house to a bit later. Keep the windows, because the light is relevant to the scene, but don't focus on architecture when the poor girl's world is about to get smashed. (I'm guessing.)

  6. You might want to consider trimming your descriptors. "Silky" ears, "Wrinkled pit bull head" slow down the pacing for me. Are these details important?

    Navy blazer, heavy school bookbag...all of these adjectives were distracting. Unless the color of the blazer is intregal to the plot, I'd leave it out. This should help your pacing.

    Best of luck!

  7. Whew. My dad died when I was 11...and your opening brought me right back to it.

    You may not have the punchiest opening, but IT SURE FEELS REAL.

    I would read on...

  8. I like the concept here and would read on. I do agree that your descriptions slow things down a bit. For exapmple in the first few lines your MC swings through a door, allows her ankles to be licked, shrugs off her blazer and drops her bag.

    I wonder if you could accomplish the same feel with fewer actions and descriptions. If you were able to cut down just a tad, you could have the revelation (of the dad's death I presume) right at the end of your first page. Having it on the first page would really draw me in and make me want to read on.

  9. I liked the title! And I’m assuming the bad news is that Dad is dead. You’ve marked it as YA, but is it contemporary, fantasy, historical paranormal? Knowing would give a clue as to where it might be going. As is, I can’t tell, so I don’t know what I’m getting. Will this be about a girl trying to get over the loss of her father? Will it be about a girl who hunts down his killer? Maybe Dad comes back as a ghost and they both hunt down his killer. I have no way of knowing. Nor is there any hook here, or a reason to care, because I haven’t seen Amanda do anything but walk in the door and pet the dog. Perhaps this isn’t the place to start.

    You might also consider cutting the description of the house. She walks in to see her Aunt and Uncle hovering around her Mom. Something has obviously happened. Instead of wondering what it might be, she starts to think about the décor, which kills the mood you were creating, which worked very well. Let her wonder what’s wrong, maybe make some guesses, to keep that mood and tone.

  10. I like the title. The voice sounds young for some reason. Take out all the descriptions of the house. Took me right out of what’s going on. I’d love a different opening. This doesn’t leave me questioning what’s going to happen, so, unfortunately, I’m not hooked.

  11. Your title intrigued me, but since we already know the dad dies from the title, you may hook more readers with a different opening. Have you considered using one of the letters she writes to her dead dad? I'm assuming, of course, that's what she does.

  12. There is an impending sense of dread building here that I find very effective. Yes, there is some descriptiveness that could be trimmed, but for me the overall effect of the delay is like watching something in slow motion - knowing it's coming only heightens the anticipation. I'd say trim some of what's been suggested, but don't succumb to just getting the scene over with; I want to feel that building dread with the MC.

  13. Just Another YA AuthorJanuary 19, 2013 at 11:50 AM

    I think you have a good story here, but the writing still needs work. The descriptions feel out of place, which lessens the tension you're trying to build, and some of them do nothing in the way of description so they are wasted words. For example, what does "oddly stressed" mean? This doesn't show me what she actually hears--a waver in her tone? gruffness? a hush? Convey what the viewpoint character is feeling, seeing, hearing...not just what she concludes from those things.

    Also, the description of the house in the middle sucks all the tension out of this passage. It isn't realistic for her to go to such lengths to describe a house she's familiar with, so it comes across as her telling this to the reader, rather than simply living the scene without knowledge of a reader "watching" her.

  14. Love the title! I agree that the opening is slow. Maybe you could inject subtle tension in the beginning by changing her first line to, "Mom, why are you home?" or something like that, so that we already know something's wrong. Near the end you start to show there's a problem, but I don't think it comes through early enough. Tightening the writing and throwing in a bit more tension could help.