Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April Secret Agent #50

TITLE: A Boat Against the Current
GENRE: Upmarket Women's Fiction

I was ten when Gaysie Cutter tried to kill me. It was just like her too, always leaving a bad first impression. It was July, the same week my father moved us to Sioux, Iowa, his childhood home, and the place he had met and fallen in love with my mother, Vienna.

A heat wave moved with us, a debilitating wet blanket that snaked its way around town like God’s curse upon Pharaoh. And though it was hot enough to kill a cat, it couldn't keep my little sister, Bitty, and me, from attempting to run a whole mile down Lanark Lane. It was one flat stretch of farmland, John Deere tractors, big ol' farmhouses, fields of corn, more corn, and something else smaller and green.

While running, a real life cow mooed and scared Bitty and me so badly we about jumped out of our skins. Finally able to resume, we were running down the open, dirt road, ever further away from the comfort of New York City skyscrapers, honking cabbie drivers, and our favorite hog dog vendor on Fifth Avenue. We ran until we saw it: the great red tip of the rocket slide, the marker of Sioux Elementary.

We would have made it too, if it weren’t for the boy.


  1. I like this. The prose is smooth. (Although I tripped a bit over "honking cabbie drivers.")

    I'd definitely read on because I like the writing so much.

    But I'm curious about how it fits into the genre because right now it reads like a coming-of-age piece.

  2. This is solid. There's a lot of nice writing here. I love the opening and ending lines. The opener draws us in right away and the closing line makes us wonder what the boy is going to do. My only nitpick is the list, "It was one flat stretch of farmland..." I don't think you need "and something else smaller and green." tacked on there. We get the idea with the previous items mentioned. Nice work.

  3. I would read more. The opening paragraphs are written in a way that pulls us into the scene and the last sentence grabs our attention. But I have reservations about the writing. I think the second paragraph needs to be edited. I like the "debilitating wet blanket" but a blanket isn't likely to "snake" around the town. The two images don't work together. And after the other two metaphors about heat, I don't think "hot enough to kill a cat" is needed. The first sentence of paragraph 3, needs to add the words "we were"...."While we were running".. Otherwise it says the cow was running. The details about New York and the past work well.

  4. Your first two lines hooked me, and I enjoyed reading the rest of the page. I don't have any criticisms because this is well done.

  5. Great first line! Makes me want to read more.

    For some reason, I got a Southern vibe from this piece, even though they moved from New York to Iowa. Maybe it was the "God's curse" line.

    Not a huge deal, but the first sentence of paragraph 3 is a dangling modifier. Sounds as though the cow is running, not the girls. An easy fix. :)

  6. I really like your first line, it immediately caught my attention. There are quite a few names of both people and places for 250 words and each time a new one is introduced it does take me out of the story a little bit, for example do we really need to know right this instance that her mom's name is Vienna? Or could that be introduced later? But the prose itself is beautiful and the imagery (great little details!) and voice are great so I would definitely keep reading.

  7. Love the first two sentences and the last one, as well as 'hot enough to kill a cat'. There's a bunch of interesting stuff here and the makings of a great voice. However, I did find the middle paragraphs a bit disjointed and unclear and 'resumed' seemed off for the voice. There's a lot jammed in there about the past and then suddenly we're in the present running down the road. But if you just smoothed this out I think this could be great.

  8. Love love love the first two lines. Not sure about the next one... you're giving a bit of backstory here and it could work but feels like you may be squeezing in just a little too much info. At the very least I would drop the "met and" and just leave it at "and the place he had fallen in love with my mother."

    I like the second paragraph... only thing I might consider would be to change the "hot enough to kill a cat" to hot enough to something else because you already used the word kill in the first paragraph and it lessens the impact.

    The third paragraph has some passive verb problems. I would not start with "while running". Maybe something like "As we ran through the blah blah blah, the loud moo of a real-life cow scared Billy and me so badly we about jumped out of our skins. But we kept up our pace down the open, dirt road...

    Love the last line.
    This has a nice flavor. Good job!

  9. You have a good opening paragraph.
    Personally, I would cut the "and something else smaller and green" as well as "a real life" cow, I think readers would assume that it was live if it mooed.
    Great job and I'm curious what happens next.

  10. I think what you certainly have going for you here is voice. There is a very specific feel to the person narrating. I'm interested right away, I think this will be a good story.

    I agree with some of the other comments - the running cow, for example.

    If I had to pin down my biggest criticism, it would be that you have too many elements here. There's Gaysie Cutter, who I'm not sure is the same boy who appears at the end of excerpt or not. If it's not the same person, then I think maybe it's too many adversaries for such a short space? Your description of the mile they run is great, I can feel the hot wind. But are they running just for the pleasure of it? If they have the goal of getting to the rocket slide maybe that can be stated up front as their reason. That way the fact that they don't make it would be more effective. It would also set up tension (We wanted to go on the slide but we never made it (for example)).

    Other than that, love it!

  11. I love the first two lines, but I got lost as the paragraph progressed. IMO, there's too much info. Take a look at all the proper nouns. Lots to absorb in a beginning paragraph. Look as well at how you use "was" to start the first three sentences: I was, it was, it was. More variety, perhaps?

    Great imagery, good voice, though I did trip up on "resume"--doesn't seem to fit the narrator.

  12. I would read on. I loved the opening line. I loved the last line about the boy, too. But I will say if it doesn't get back to the girl in the first line soon I would start to wonder if she was only mentioned right away because it was a good hook.

  13. Great first line! Nice attempt at creating atmosphere, too. Two things, though: 1. Try not to overstuff/mix your similes and metaphors. We've got a "wet blanket," "God's curse," and "hot enough to kill a cat" all in one paragraph. 2. Make sure your voice is authentic and consistent. For instance, no one from NYC would say "skyscraper." And a "cabbie driver" is simply a "cabbie."

  14. Great first two lines, especially the comic timing of the second. Those sentences, plus the hook of the final line would definitely keep me reading.

    I agree about the overload of conflicting images. It is strange to think about the heat wave as a wet blanket, for example.

  15. I love the opening line, but then it gets completely ignored in the rest of your opening page. This makes it feel a bit like a false start. A shortened version of the battle scene that's revealed as a dream.

    I agree with the other commenter that had concern that an upmarket women's book opens with the backstory of a ten-year-old. It makes this feel like a prologue.

  16. Mm-hmmm. I like this!

    And regarding the youthful start... I've read TONS of books that start with childhood flashbacks to cement the beginning of the story. Whether you want to join the ranks or try something different, up to you.

    So far, it's working for me.

  17. I also enjoyed the first sentence, but it kind of felt like it was only put there for impact because you didn't actually proceed to tell the story of her trying to kill you.

  18. I don't have a lot to add to the comments above--just want to add my voice in praise of a very interesting opening. I'm quite ready to find out how Gaysie tried to kill her. Hope that comes in the next paragraph.