Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Secret Agent #4


Everything changed the day I spotted that letter in the recycling. I was shoving an empty milk jug into the bin when my name stuck out.

Ana, it said on the damp, sticky envelope.

No one called me Ana, my name in Spanish. Mom's name was below mine and stained in a circle of olive oil. Care of Ellen Berger. Apparently, someone had cared enough to tear off the return address, so I couldn’t see who’d sent the letter to me.

Even before Mom’s fiancé walked into the kitchen, I smelled him. It was an earthy odor, like someone had lit a match to a pile of leaves.

“Hey Big A,” he said. “What’s up?” Every time Craig called me Big A, I heard, You’re fat. Which I wasn’t.

“Just recycling.” I held up an empty can, hoping he believed me. “Gotta take care of Mother Earth.”

Craig's head poked into the fridge. I bet it was him. He’d thrown my letter away.

I dug deeper into the recycling, under flattened cardboard boxes and empty cans. Wait till I told Mom.

There was another scrap, buried under the soy yogurt. R.J. Blanco, it said. Blanco was my father’s last name—and one of the few things I knew about my dead father. I shoved the piece into the front pocket of my jeans.

“I didn’t hear you come home.” Craig’s grape-colored yoga shorts matched his sweatshirt. “I was meditating. I must’ve gone into another world.”

Craig was always in another world.


  1. This has the makings of a good story, but I didn't feel enough emotional reaction from the MC to seeing the envelope, or to her mom's fiance. If there's tension already there (he's an extreme health nut) and she suspects he threw away the letter, I'd expect more anger, or a physical reaction that implies anger.

    "the recycling" must be regional. We'd say recycling bin.

    The actual name can't stick out. Maybe: my name caught my eye.

    You use "care" twice in close succession.

    Abrupt transition between seeing the letter and the fiance walking in. Maybe she could be so stunned by finding the letter that he startles her.

    The "cared enough" line is confusing. "Wait till I told Mom" implies that it wasn't Mom that "cared enough to tear off the return address," and Craig making her think she's fat doesn't sound like he cares about her.

    "Craig’s grape-colored yoga shorts matched his sweatshirt" seems like an info dump. It might work better if you said something like: “I didn't hear you come home,” Craig said from behind the refrigerator door. His grape-colored yoga shorts and the bottom of the matching sweatshirt were all I could see.

  2. Great title and the opening line was captivating as well.

    Ultra-picky point - When Craig comes into the kitchen, why wouldn't Ana hold up the milk carton she'd been putting in the recycling rather than an empty can? I pictured her pulling out the carton as soon as she spied the envelope, not adding it on top of the bin.

    I'm curious whether or not her assumption Craig was the one who threw out her letter -- rather than her mother -- will prove false. I also want to know if the contents of that letter are what prompt her to run away -- or if it is her mother's (or Craig's) reaction to the letter which serve as the motivation.

  3. This story is intriguing and I already know quite a bit about Ana. I love her sense of self and her voice. Two things that didn't work for me:
    1: How do you know the envelope is stained with olive oil? I think just an oil stain would keep the reader in the moment.
    2: The introduction of Craig brought a very intriguing story to an abrupt halt for me. Perhaps we could get a little more of her discovery before he enters and have his entrance be more dynamic, such as scaring her as MM suggested.

  4. There’s a nice, clear problem here. She received a letter that looks like it came from her father, who is supposedly dead, and someone tried to keep it from her. So we have to wonder who did it and why, and is her father really dead, and if not, where has he been all these years, and if he is, then who sent the letter. Lots of reasons to read on.

    The only thing I thought was missing was an emotional reaction from her. What does she feel when she sees that envelope? Shock? Surprise? When she realizes someone kept it from her? Anger? Hurt? Disappointment? When she realizes her father may be alive which could mean her mom lied to her? More anger? Betrayal? If she’s having emotional reactions, your reader will also.

    You might also cut ‘Everything changed the day’ which is cliché and telling. Just start with “I spotted the letter in the recycling.” There are other techniqe issues which have been pointed out, but the story, I think, mostly works. I’d read more.

  5. Jacqueline YeagerMay 14, 2014 at 7:16 PM

    I like the premise here. The main character finding a letter she's not supposed to find. Even better that it may have been her mother or mother's fiancé that hid it from her!

    That in itself is a big deal. I'm wondering if the shock and mystery of this would have more impact if you didn't introduce the scrap of paper with her presumed dead father's name on it too. Perhaps save that for a later scene. Just a thought!

    I would also like to more of a reaction to the letter before her mom's fiancé walked in.

    It's a great start though and I would read on. Good luck!

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  7. I like your opening scene but I think it could use just a little more tweaking.

    In my opinion your opening line would be more intriguing if it was to start "I spotted the letter in the recycling as I was shoving an empty milk jug into the bin. Ana, was all it said on the damp, sticky envelope." Of course this is just a suggestion, but this way you've cut the word count down and you're getting right to the juicy bit :-)

    "No one called me Ana, my name in Spanish" - I find this line too telly. We don't need to know, yet anyway, that it's her name in spanish.

    "stained in a circle of olive oil" - this is almost too perfect. The letter in the garbage, the oil would be all over it, or splattered, it wouldn't be a perfect circle.

    “Hey Big A,” he said. “What’s up?” Every time Craig called me Big A, I heard, You’re fat. Which I wasn’t" I thought this was really great showing!!

    "Wait till I told Mom". - I think there's a tense issue here. Wouldn't it be "Wait till I tell Mom'?

    I definitely think the opening could use more emotion from Ana. How does she feel when she sees the letter? Do her hands sweat? Does her heart flutter? You get the idea...

    But again, I want to emphasize that I really like your premise and I would read more! Great job!

  8. This hooked me right away. I loved your "Hey Big A" line. The voice really comes through. I also love the "grape-colored yoga shorts". That paints a very distinctive picture of Craig.

  9. I like this beginning a lot. I'd like to know a little bit more about the letter and her reaction to it before step father enters.

    Also, the paragraph where her step father enters felt jarring to me and it confused me at first. I think it would work better to have him say something or for her to hear footsteps. Something that would startle or scare her and alert the reader to his entrance more organically.

  10. You paint a really great picture of the step father, he already seems incredibly patronising and annoying. Your MC is likeable and I'm intrigued by the letter. I agree that showing more of her reaction to finding it would make this a stronger opening.

    But, I'm definitely hooked and would read on.

  11. I like this title, but it may be too similar to Ashley Elston's RULES FOR DISAPPEARING. Maybe?

    "Everything changed the day" feels a bit pat as an opening line. Do we need the big general statement about "everything"? I think you can just show that letter sticking out of the recycling and we'll know it's important by its placement at the top of the narrative.

    I think you might introduce Craig as "Craig" rather than "Mom's fiance"- Ana likely thinks of him as merely "Craig" right? Also, a small thing, but "Craig poked his head into the fridge" might read a little smoother?

  12. Dear Secret Agent, Authoress, and everyone who took the time to comment... I'm grateful for your honest, specific, thoughtful feedback. Thank you so much!