Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July Secret Agent #8

GENRE: YA Magic Realism

The piano appears on our lawn the morning after our mom left. I am swigging orange juice in the living room, trying to decide if I’m going to take Mom’s car to school, and then I pass by the window and there’s the piano, sitting on the grass all straight-backed and confident as though it’s a Marcel Duchamp sculpture on display at the MoMA.

I drag Angela from the kitchen out to the yard.

“Well, you said you wanted to start playing,” I tell her.

“I didn’t picture it happening this way,” Angela says. She taps the key farthest to the right, and it dings out a little note. It sounds like a shy kid speaking out in class for the first time. She plays a few more, and they’re clearer, louder, coming at us in layers. A passing car honks at the three of us: the piano, my sister, and me.

“Mercedes, try it,” Angela says.

I clunk my hands down in the middle of the piano. A couple of friendly Florida lizards scatter across the driveway in response to the mess of sound.

“Brilliant.” Angela smiles. She looks at the keys again, and I think she’s getting ready to stay there and compose a symphony, or maybe a rock opera. But the door to the other half of the duplex creaks open and shut, and we’re in the presence of Rex, our neighbor and landlord, a bearded industrial freezer of a man who never likes to be left out of the neighborhood activity.


  1. I love the opening line, but the lines following it tripped me up a bit. If this is the day after her mother left the family, I would expect her to be really upset rather than casually having breakfast like nothing's odd. (Her dialogue seems to imply she's not upset either; even if her mom was a jerk, it seems like it should affect her.)

    I am curious about the piano, and I like the description of how the note sounds. Best of luck!

  2. The first line really intriguing! Then everything kind of goes flat after that. I like the piano descriptions, but I don't have a feel for who your MC is. The first time you mention Angela, you might want to just say, Angela, my sister. Because I don't know if that's a friend, a neighbor, a family friend helping her cope with the fact that her mother ran off, which she seems like she couldn't care less about. The MC doesn't seem to care about anything but orange juice. I feel like the sudden appearance of a piano would at least be surprising. I also do t know what MoMA is, but I can assume it's some kind of fancy museum. I do want to know where the piano came from though. Feels magical. :)

  3. I, too, love the first line, but I'm also confused about the Mom situation. Did she leave forever or temporarily (like on a business trip)? If it's forever, Mercedes and Angela seem awfully nonchalant.

    I'm also assuming that Mercedes nonchalance about the appearance of the piano means she either has something to do with its appearance or is used to whatever magic made it appear. Wanting to find out where the piano came from and how it got there is definitely an incentive for me to keep reading.

    You also have a couple of descriptive gems: the piano as "straight-backed and confident" and the contrast in the sounds of Angela and Mercedes playing the piano. We know right away that Angela's the better musician without you stating it directly. That's wonderful!

  4. I love the opening lines! I get an immediate feel for magical realism with the piano showing up, and I love the example of the MoMA which shows the world through the charcter's voice.

    What didn't work for me was the MC's like "well you said you wanted to start playing." I thought the MC was dazzled and perplexed by this, so the reaction felt off,like she knew the piano would be there or she put it there (which I don't think is the case). I figured they would wonder about the piano, and Angela's line is a bit too cryptic for me. She didn't imagine what would happen this way? It's more that I'm unclear with the characters' motivations.

    But I love the showing detail of the girls playing the piano and the neighbor. I just think we need to be a little more grounded in whether this is a common occurrance to find pianos in the yard, or if it strikes wonder in them, we should see that. Even if they play around on the piano with delight, they would still question it. Or if they don't question, why?

    I would totally read on though, I am very curious :)

  5. I found this strange that a piano appears on the lawn and they aren't the least bit confused by that. It's almost as if they expected that because the mom left, and yet as a reader, I have no idea why that would be.

    I also didn't think it made sense that she could see lizards in the driveway when she's playing the keys of the piano. Isn't she looking at the keys?

    I think I would have liked a better connection to mom leaving and the piano showing up.

  6. I like what you have, but I think adding a few lines to explain more and help it run more smoothly. For example: "I drag Angela from the kitchen, (where she sat staring at soggy cereal as if our mother would appear in the bowl,) out to the yard. (I knew Mom wasn't coming back. In fact, I knew she was leaving. I could see it weeks ago. There was no use in wasting time thinking she'd return, not with a piano on the front lawn.) Of course, this might not work at all for where you're going, but it would make more sense to add a bit more thought into the mother so the MC doesn't seem off. It would also bring more of her voice into your work, depending on how you word it. I really love the premise. With a little tweaking you can make it super strong and intense in the same way the last paragraph is.

  7. Like others, I loved the opening line. It immediately sets up two questions - Why did Mom leave, and where did the piano come from.
    Unfortunately, neither of those questions are answered or even mentioned or thought about by your characters. It seems anyone who woke up with a piano on their would immediately ask - where did it come from? How did it get there?

    The rest of the piece is about playing the piano, and that just didn't grab me in any way. Perhaps consider a rewrite that deals with the issues the reader is most curious about.

  8. I was so captivated by the piano that I overlooked the loaded bit about Mom leaving. Your description of it is hilarious. I guess you could spell out MoMA. I guess it could be "on loan from" instead of "on display at." But my first impression: I love it.

    The spot that throws me--forgive my brain--is that the MC's name is introduced immediately after the car passes: Mercedes. Even though my favorite aunt's best friend is named Mercedes, I jumped in the car and got lost.

    Rex is well-described guy. I would read on to learn what the main story problem is going to be. That's the thing that isn't clear. Is it keeping Mom's flight from Rex, so the girls can stay home? I need to focus my concern soon.

  9. Love this! Great, zinger of an opening line that definitely makes me jump into this story, so I can learn what’s going on. I love the voice as well. The whole page is seeded with perfect descriptions: the confident piano, looking like sculpture. The notes that sound like a shy kid. The industrial freezer of a man. Great! I do want to know why Mom left, but am happy to go along with this character, and learn more about that later. I did pause at the line, “Well, you said you wanted to start playing.” – as it didn’t make sense to me, but I definitely want to know what’s going to happen next!