Wednesday, August 7, 2013

August Secret Agent #49

TITLE: Grace and the Guardian
GENRE: Young Adult

When Grace Cartwright walked into the debutante luncheon at the Varangian hotel’s ballroom, she didn’t just see a room filled with pretty and popular sixteen-year-old girls, she saw the natural order of a wealthy suburban species.

“If this were a room full of zebras,” Grace said, scanning the crowd of her so-called peers, “I’d be the one attacked by the lion.”

“Grace!” Her mother, Sybil, scolded. “What kind of talk is that?”

“Lions,” Grace continued, her gaze ferocious, “kill the weak, the sick, and the lame.”

“You’re not -” Sybil began, but then clamped her mouth shut.

Grace wasn’t weak or sick, but she was a gimp, and there was nothing her mother could say about it. Crippled by cerebral palsy, every step was a limp, every word she spoke sounded like a strangled duck.

“Good thing you’re not a zebra,” Hope, Grace’s perfect sister, chirped.

“Yes.” Sybil’s stiff smile matched her posture. “And good thing there aren’t any lions.”

Grace wasn’t so sure. Some of the debutantes’ mothers looked carnivorous.

Grace wanted to quit. She also wanted to be normal, to have a boyfriend, to kiss a boy. She was used to disappointment.


A husky, male voice whispered her name. Grace looked around, but the herd was all female. No men in sight.

“Grace, I’m watching you.”

The strange, sexy whisper was in her head but it sounded so real.

“You’re not alone.”

A tiny thrill twirled up her crooked spine like a flowering vine.


  1. Grace is a likable character. She's smart and witty, and I like that you've taken a big risk in having your YA MC handicapped in some way.

    Your first paragraph read like a synopsis, and at first I thought that's what it was. As I continued reading, I saw that your prose matched the first paragraph. You have a good idea, but you need to work on placing the readers in the scene rather than giving us a run down of what's happening. Unfortunately, it's the old adage of show vs. tell.

    BTW, I always get a kick out of any character named Sybil.

  2. I liked Grace and felt the opening was good. And I could relate, even though I'm physically or mentally handicap. I liked the bit about hearing a male voice in her head. Unless you're writing in omniscient 3rd person, I personally find it offensive to refer to parents by their first names in a story about kids. I did like the younger sister's comment. Good luck. Sarah

  3. Lots of hints of cool things coming up. I was taken out of the story with the word "ferocious." I know it plays on the zebras and lions, but as she thought she'd be eaten, it felt like it didn't fit.

  4. I like the premise, but I wonder where you're going with the zebras and lions -or conversely, with the title. Does this have a paranormal element and is the voice in her head the guardian? If so, COOL! but the zebras and lions are misleading. Is this contemporary? Then is the title misleading?
    Good luck!

  5. Grace is a sympathetic character and I enjoyed the animal imagery - it immediately set her apart from the usual sixteen-year-old girl. I'd suggest cutting the first paragraph (which reads more like a log line) and starting with the 2nd paragraph, then work in the piece about who else in the room (scanning the crowd of pretty and popular girls). I think you can go deeper into Grace's POV and help us really picture the scene through her eyes. Hope's comment about the zebra was very funny, as was the "Some of the debutantes' mothers looked carnivorous."

  6. I like Grace's personality. She's snarky. That's good. I do think your pacing is off. Get us more into the story. Develop the scene a little and then start throwing the voices-in-my-head part into the mix. Like someone else said, it read more as like a play-by-play, and I didn't get a chance to connect with Grace before things started happening to her. Show us her surroundings. Show us who she is. Have her talk to people. Get us into her head. And then, BAM! Here come the voices.

  7. I like your character's voice. Two things that felt off to me: I agree the first paragraph sounds a bit like a logline. Second, I feel like the voice in her head appears too suddenly. You might want to show us more of the scene so we can get to know her better. Perhaps some interaction with the other girls that is indicative of why she felt like giving up.

  8. you should visit the Disability in YA blog and really assess how you'd like to write about your handicapped MC. I felt uncomfortable reading the negativity here, and it feels like you're sending the wrong message to girls with cerebral palsy--that they're crooked, crippled, strangled, and should be used to disappointment.

    otherwise, the first paragraph is what made me want to read the excerpt. the word choices, however, put a bad taste in my mouth unfortunately. good luck :)

  9. I have no problems at all with this except that I wanted more :) Loved it! Best of luck!

  10. I too enjoyed the animal imagery. It shows how Grace feels and that she has a good imagination. The title sets up who the male voice is, which gets you right into the story. Grace feels strong and like many teens, finds a reason to feel different and on the outside looking in. Good job. Drop the mother's name and let it just be "her mom."

  11. I am hooked by Grace's voice. But I almost feel like you'd have a better hook if she heard the voice in her head first and you continued to splice it in through the rest of the scene. Also, I find it strange that the mother is referred to as 'sybil' I would refer to her as 'her mother'

  12. Love the last line and love Grace's voice. Love the zebra and lion metaphor -- perfect for any young girl who knows she's not part of the popular crowd. I've felt the lions circling myself.

    I agree the first paragraph is a little weak. Maybe start with her line about zebras and sprinkle the background setting details in. Or maybe start with her hearing the voice as she sits on the side watching other girls dance? Not sure when it would be most effective to bring that in.

    I love the last line. I believe her description of her crooked spine is realistic here, part of accepting her cerebral palsy. I did not like the paragraph where she calls herself a gimp and makes fun of the way she talks. I found this a little offensive and too negative for an otherwise accepting and upbeat voice. In fact, I wonder if it wouldn't be more effective and more in character for her to feel gleeful that she's caught her mom about to say she wasn't lame -- kind of a joke on mom that introduces her disability in an upbeat way. This might be more engaging for most readers and wouldn't put off readers who have disabilities.

    Oh, and calling the mother Sybil felt awkward to me. I would call her mom unless you have a really good reason for using the first name.

  13. Oh I loved the opening of this, especially the 'natural order of a wealthy suburban species' and the 'mothers looked carnivorous.' I'd request this simply because I was intrigued by the writing.

  14. I agree with other commenters that Grace has a very endearing way of looking at the world. Unfortunately, this line stopped me cold:

    "Crippled by cerebral palsy, every step was a limp, every word she spoke sounded like a strangled duck."

    To me, that came across as the writer describing Grace, not Grace describing herself, and it was offensive. (The word "crippled" in particular.)

    I wouldn't announce up front that Grace has CP. Instead, try to show what it's like to be Grace. Does she use crutches? Maybe she has to wear flats when the other girls are in heels, because she can't balance on heels. Maybe the other girls stare or avoid eye contact. Maybe she tries to talk to someone and they can't understand her. My point is that there are ways to bring the reader into her experience without labeling, and that would, I think, make this a more enriching story.

  15. The wild animal opening is catchy. I agree that the line where she talks about her CP sounds more like the author than the character. Perhaps she could just say that she IS a zebra and let us gradually find out why.

  16. I agree that the angsty words surrounding the disability casts it in a negative light. The word gimp is off-putting so early on; once we have a chance to know the character, she might say that in frustration and we'd understand.

    I actually liked the opening lines; it was some of the follow-up angst that seemed to veer toward melodrama. All easily remedied with some tweaks. I would read on!

  17. Oh, I really like Grace right away! I was a bit meh about the voice because of how expected his dialogue was--I guess I wished for something a bit more mysterious and a little less "I'm watching you duh haha". I guess I wanted to be wowed by a one-liner.

    Since this is in Grace's POV I would like to see her thinking of her mom as mom. I guess I want to get more in her head, using diction Grace only would use. I love the zebra illustration.

    It did throw off the flow of the piece a bit how much you broke up the dialogue with description. Any way you can bunch the diogue together and throw the description around it? That makes it easier to get the full effect of each.

    Just some ideas. I do love it!

  18. I like the nature show reference. It makes your story stand out above the rest.