Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July Secret Agent #48

GENRE: Young Adult Fiction

At sixteen, guys are supposed to be tough, right? But when Mom pounds up the stairs shouting, “Aidan! Maya! This is it! We’re leaving…now,” tough isn’t what I feel. I hug the hallway wall because the openness of the balcony railing all of a sudden makes me dizzy. Usually I like to lean over to see what’s going on in the living room below.

Maya gets the easy job. She just calls our dog, Zeus, to her side, while Mom lowers and raises the window blind over the kitchen sink to signal that we’re ready.

Since the kitchen is in the back of the house and faces Lake Michigan, I’m not sure why we need a blind on that window. But, hey, it does work for giving signals, I guess.

Mom says it makes the window look complete.

I focus on finding our cat, Kramer, who must know something is up, because he’s hiding behind the water heater in the basement and doesn’t want to come out. A lot of pulling and coaxing later, I have my buddy in my arms hiding his head under my left elbow. Of course, we’re both covered in dust and I sneeze all the way up the stairs.

Mom’s jaw muscles swell from clenched teeth and she’s three shades paler than normal. Makes my gut twist on itself. Damn all terrorists to Hell. And damn Dad’s undercover job.

“Calm,” I tell myself. “Breathe,” I tell myself.


  1. I had difficulty getting my bearings with this one. Is Aiden scared of heights? Cats? By the end - and after checking the title - I understood it had something to do with terrorists, but (for my taste anyway) it took too long to make the connection.

    Making the phrase "Mom lowers..." as a separate sentence might help.

  2. Great entry! I like the set up and am eager to see what happens next. Just a few hopefully helpful comments :)

    I think you could cut the "" from the first paragraph. It's clear with her pounding up the steps that leaving is imminent. The "" slows things down when you want things to be moving. I also think you could cut "hallway" for the same reasons, and perhaps even the last sentence of that paragraph. You want to keep things going ahead.

    You could cut the "just" from the second paragraph, again to keep things clipping along.

    I like the window blind as a signal. Works great. That said, I think you could cut the whole "I'm not sure why we need a blind" paragraphs. It's pretty clear why they need one -- to signal. He would understand that, I think.

    Love him finding his "buddy" and the cat hiding in his elbow. Makes us know something very likable about him that he will work to get the cat.

    I'm wondering if it would read better to say "Mom's jaw swells as she clenches her teeth" or something like that?

    Like how his feelings about terrorist and his dad's job are very clear.

    In the spirit of keeping things moving, you could take out the second "I tell myself," but of course that could be a rhythm thing you're going for.

    Great entry. I would be interested in reading more!

  3. i like this opening. it's just weird enough to make me want to read more. the only problem i had was that the boy was hugging the wall upstairs one second and in the basement the next second with no transition.

  4. I agree with above comments. Take out the I tell myself. Instead of having the jaw swell, what about having the mom rub her jaw or he sees a vein throb in her temple? Tighten this up a bit and it'll be good to go!

  5. I agree with most comments above. It was a bit hard to get my bearings. I wasn't sure what was going on or why they had to leave right away. Near the end of the excerpt I started to see a tie in to the title, but it might help to show more of Aiden's feelings on this -- how this happens all the time, how he still gets scared even though he has been through it before. We don't need as much detail about, like, the window. I want to know more about how he feels about the situation and why.

    I'm intrigued though to want to know what the terrorists might want to do as usually terrorists target public places and government buildings.

  6. I like how much character you reveal/ pack into such a miniscule number of words. I already feel as if I know the personalities of Aidan, Maya, mom, and even Kramer. Kudos there.

    I really like the line "Mom says it makes the window look complete." It helped to give me that picture of mom's character.

    Nice description throughout.

    I don't know how likeable Aidan is yet, but I'm not bothered by this. You establish his voice pretty well.

    Here is where I got confused. I wanted to read "Damn all terrorists..." as a direct quote from mom, but finally realized there were no quotation marks there. Are these Aidan's thoughts?

    If so, then why are his next thoughts "Calm," etc in quotes? Is he saying that bit out loud?

    The only other struggle I had was determining whether this was fantasy or based in reality.

    Is hell usually capitalized?

  7. I like the story concept of fleeing a terrorist attack.

    Two things throw me. (1) Mom's decorating opinion in the middle of the action (cute, but made me stumble); and (2) the trip to the basement for the cat. If Mom is signaling to someone on the lake that they're ready to go, why isn't the cat already in a carrier? Maybe that's why Mom is so mad.

    I would keep reading. I'm intrigued!

  8. I like that the MC is a boy. The way he slowly revealed details of his predicament made me curious to keep reading.

    I found the second paragraph confusing. Would you consider revising this so that Maya calling the dog to her side and Aidan fetching the cat happens in the same paragraph? I think that may be a better juxtaposition (can't believe I worked that word into a sentence) than Maya calling the dog and Mom opening the blinds.

    Overall, I enjoyed this excerpt.

  9. I think my comments are in line with a lot of things that have been said above. First off, I like the idea of a family on the run and a terrorist fighting dad (I assume Dad's job has something to do with fighting terrorists). Just a thought for a fresh angle--have you considered having Mom be the terrorist fighter and having Dad play the role of getting the family to safety?

    Okay, on to the actual writing. Like There's an inherent hook here with a family on the run, but I think you're dragging down your pace with too many unnecessary words. You could fit more action into your opening, and more of the character's reactions/emotions related to the action, if you cut back on some things. We don't need to know that he usually likes hanging over the balcony right now. We can get that something's changed from the "all of a sudden." We don't need to know the background on the blinds--that it works for a signal is enough. We don't need to know that the blinds are unnecessary b/c the house faces Lake MI and Mom thinks it makes the window look complete, etc. It feels too chatty for this kind of opening and also like you're working too hard to include setting details that aren't necessary at this point. Besides, would the character really be taking the time to think all of those things in such a tense situation? I don't know that jaw muscles swelling works for me. I'm spending too much time trying to think about whether that's possible, and that takes me out of the story.

    Overall, though, I really like the premise. I think you've got a good set up/good bones here.

  10. I'm in. There are some tiny things I'd change if it were my piece, but I think it's a success as a hook.

  11. This didn’t read like YA to me; it felt more MG – the MC grabbing the cat, the focus on his mother, hugging the wall. This is a very dramatic moment, but it comes before I’ve had the opportunity to learn anything about the character, so its impact is muted. I’d start by giving us more about him. There are a number of asides that are distracting and unnecessary – that the MC likes to look over the balcony, the rumination on the need for a blind, sneezing up the stairs – all of that drags at the urgency of this situation. I am intrigued by the impact on a teenager of his father’s undercover job, but think this needs some re-working.


  12. Thanks for all the helpful comments. Would this read better if I put this scene in through out the book as flash backs and started the story when Aidan is in his new school, trying to remember his new identity?