Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July Secret Agent #15

TITLE: Ethærea
GENRE: YA Fantasy

Thunder roared through the hallway as Asa Huntington eased the zipper on her backpack closed. She could smell the rain outside, even over the perfume, sweat, and hormones of her classmates. The scent of ozone and rain hitting the dry earth lifted her spirits. It was like a sign from the heavens that taking nine finals to graduate would not, in fact, be her undoing.

Her backpack, on the other hand, might be. As she hefted it through the buzzing, ancient stone halls of Alder Country Day, she prayed for the creaking seam to hold. One more week, and she could retire the bag forever. She wondered if it would make it.

She heard steps directly behind her and looked down to a see a pair of checkerboard Vans on the oak floor. “I’m not talking to you,” she told the Vans, skirting around a navy and gray clad couple making out against a stone arch. She looked up at her best friend, his mop of bark brown hair swept to the side. “I mean, six stupid finals? Six? No wonder you have time for rugby and baseball and other stupid things.”

Cal grinned and slung an arm over Asa’s shoulder. “Hey, you brought this evil on yourself, graduating with the losers instead of next year with me. What’s so great about Harvard, anyway?”

“Apart from my phytochemistry internship? The Greenhouse Café’ is supposed to have killer kale smoothies.”

He made a face. “Tempting. At least you won't be the only freckle-faced nerd there."


  1. I'm not sure talking about a backpack first off is the best way to start, but it does let us know up front she's done with hs in a unique way. Most people miss smells so adding the odors is good, but what does ozone smell like? Descriptions of the checkered vans as a way to introduce the new character was nice.

  2. I feel like there's good character in this excerpt, especially in the last line of the first paragraph. The first sentence tripped me up a little, I think because roaring thunder doesn't seem at all related to why she's zooming through the hallway. Perhaps they deserve their own sentences?

    I'm also not sure what "hormones" smell like, although the details of sweat and perfume worked. This is fantasy, though, so maybe in this world, hormones are smell-able? Otherwise I'd reconsider.

    Good luck!

  3. You've grounded the reader well in the first 250 words. We know a lot about Asa and the setting. Including the smells is a nice touch.
    I'd like to know something more about Asa so that she doesn't just seem like someone who studies all the time. It's fantasy so we know something unique will happen. Can you foreshadow something to pull your readers in more?

  4. My thought is that there's supposed to be something in that first parg. that perhaps represents the fantasy element in the story, but I'm not getting it.

    The parg might also have a stronger impact if you eliminated the backpack, that way the weather becomes important instead of the backpack.

    And in the 3rd sentence, you're saying the smell of ozone hit the ground. Put the rain first, then the ozone, so that the ozone is being smelled. But I did wonder if you could smell ozone.

    Parg 3 - she hears footsteps behind her and looks down. First, she needs to turn around because Cal is behind her. Second, when she does turn, why would she look at the ground? If she's looking to see who's behind her, wouldn't she look at eye level? If you want the shoes to introduce Cal, perhaps she needs to bend over to pick up something she dropped or to tie her shoe?

    And who is doing the skirting? Her or Cal? If it's Cal, leave it as is. If it's her, say - as she skirted.

    Does bark brown hair work? Bark comes in all different shades of brown. Perhaps something more specific?

    IT's not a compelling first page, and nothing really happens, and yet, I would read on. For me, it's that first parg that draws me, even though I can't say why.

  5. I felt like this was a really solid first couple of paragraphs with a good sense of Asa's character. We know a lot of things about her life pretty quickly.

    I would like a little more action in the beginning. I don't think the backpack is enough. I'd also like to know how many finals she's got so Cal's Six has a better context.

  6. From title/genre/first par, I'm getting the impression that Asa has some sort of connection to the elements or weather... and likely heightened senses overall, if the hormones mention is literal.

    However, some of the imagery doesn't work for me — thunder roaring through the hallway doesn't quite make sense (hearing the rumble or crack of thunder from indoors, in a stone building, would sound very different than hearing it outside).

    I'm sure it makes sense in the overall context of the story, but saying that she interprets ozone & rain are a positive sign that she'll pass her finals is a confusing comparison in a first par to a reader who doesn't know what's special about Asa.

    If you're going to stick with mentioning the backpack in par 2, I need to FEEL the weight of it on her. All you mention is the creaking seam of it and the word "hefted," but I want the straps biting into her shoulders, the ache in her lower back, the tension in her neck from lugging it around all day.

    If the steps are behind her, wouldn't she need to turn around to see the Vans? And if Cal is her best friend, why won't she look up at him right away to be snarky, even if her gaze starts at his feet?

    I'd say "only six stupid finals," to emphasize why she's mad.

    Also, if she's lugging a near-bursting backpack, it would HURT to have the extra weight of Cal's arm on her shoulders.

    You definitely captured the dynamic of their friendship well, and how they interact with each other. However, this makes me wonder if Cal knows about her specialness (assuming my guess is right), as he seems as average-human as they come.

    None of this is a dealbreaker by any means, but I definitely think you could tighten and clarify so things are more engaging.

  7. Your first few sentences aren't strong enough in my opinion. Starting with weather is overused and it's not really need here. Maybe it becomes part of the plot in a few pages, but I really don't think it's needed in sentence one. I'd rather get to know your character, who I really like btw. I think you do a really great job of making us feel like we know both characters in a very short space. You've got voice at the start of paragraph 2, great! I like that she talks to the vans and what she says. 1 tells us about the person who walks up to her in a unique way, the other tells us about her personality. Both are great. I also like the hair swept to the side and him slinging his arm around her. Love all of this. I just don't think your first two sentences do this justice.

  8. I love this. It's nearly perfect, and the voice is absolutely great. I love it. Well done.

    There is just one thing: the title is unpronounceable without some knowledge of the Phonetic Alphabet. Also, it's rather nondescript. Brainstorm it again. I'm sure you can come up with a much better one. (try finding ten titles that might work and ten more. You'll be surprised by how much easier it is to come up with twenty titles than with one)

  9. @Barbara yes, you can smell ozone. It's got a rather sharp, tangy odor that's difficult to explain to someone who hasn't smelled it before

  10. I always thought the distinctive pre-rain smell in summer was ozone, caused when lightning splits the O2 molecule and they reform into O3 (ozone). But I could be wrong.

    It's a good opening, but there's too much about the weather. I read that opening with a dream, waking up or meteorlogical descriptions are considered to be cliches by most agents these days, so they're best avoided.

    I'd suggest more tension in the opening to strengthen the pace.

    The line about a kale smoothie got a giggle, and it showed us a lot about the MC.

    Imwas a little confused about where it was set. I assumed the US, but the line about rugby made me wonder that it might not be, because I had no idea that anybody had heard of, let alone played rugby in the States.

  11. Rugby is definitely known, but I've never heard of/seen it played. At least not in the places I've lived (Maryland/Ohio)

  12. My nephew is at rugby camp right now! It's a lot more common in the east coast. :)

  13. #15
    I love the relationship between Asa and Cal here, and their conversation. I wanted you to open with Asa complaining about her nine finals and then bumping into Cal. Your first paragraph has tons of details, but I can’t quite get a handle on all of them (the smell of the ozone and hormones in particular.) Your opening line also doesn’t read clearly – I wasn’t sure if there was somehow thunder inside the school itself? Since Asa is such a strong and believable character, you might want to lead front and center with her. Maybe we can get a line or two about why she is so sick of school, and what motivated her to graduate early and get the heck out of there?

    Very interested to see what fantasy elements you introduce down the line. I would read on if this came in to me!