Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September Secret Agent #13

TITLE: Nothing's Fair in Love and War
GENRE: Contemporary YA

I know you’ve heard it before, but for the uninitiated and the forgetful, let me repeat—high school is life’s first war zone. Administrators and teachers pitted against students. The school peppered with generals and tacticians, soldiers and spies, stumbling down the halls like war wounded. A kid has to have a will in order to make it through, shell-shocked or triumphant, as they are awarded their medal of honor, or, as parents like to call it, a diploma.

And, because I’m just the tiniest bit obsessed with all things war-related, I’ve watched Casablanca twelve times. That means I totally get the ironic parallel when my long lost love, Hawke, walks back into my personal Rick’s Café. Only the café-bar in this case is my school…or my life…or the middle of the kill zone.

It’s the morning before the first day of school, and I’m dragging my raggedy-ass self through East High’s main office door. Vice-principal Mann looks up from behind the counter as I sleepwalk over.

“Shae?” She tilts her head, eyeing me like I’m a zoo animal she can’t quite put a name to. Mrs. Mann, who is thinner than most of the girls at school (and that’s not a good thing), runs her hands down her red pencil skirt. Her white shirt is tucked in and crispy-starched right up to the mandarin collar. Mrs. Mann knows who I am because I’ve landed in that circle of hell where your vice-principal is also your next-door neighbor.


  1. I love the first 2 paragraphs and the last line of the fourth paragraph.

    I don't love "it's the morning before the first day of school" - can you condense that somehow? I don't know why we need to know everything Mrs. Mann is wearing - maybe just the starched color bit?

  2. The author has the conflict established in the first 250 words (long lost love has returned) as well as the voice (tiniest bit obsessed with all things war-related). The section feels like YA in the school's description.
    My only question is why so much detail in Mrs. Mann's outfit?

  3. I like the writing here, and the war imagery paralleling to high school. It feels a bit like an adult narration a look-back to high school years; maybe a point to consider. I wonder if the second paragraph could be saved for a little later, so you can get the scene and present and active with the school.

    I love the twist that the VP is the MC's neighbor, though I also wondered why so descriptive on the clothes. You could probably leave at red pencil skirt and move on.

  4. I actually like the clothing thing. It's got great character details. She likes red - she wants to stand out. She starches her shirts - she's a bit repressed (or at least, that's the association I get with it). I wouldn't sacrifice details like that.

    I too am having a hard time hearing a teenager, especially in the first few paragraphs, Finding out Casablanca is her favorite movie makes me think she's quirky, which works in your favor, but the voice still seems too sophisticated.

    At least, up until you get to her raggedy-ass self, but even that makes me think more college-age than high school.

    Overall, I thought this was really strong.

  5. I'm curious as to why she's at school a day early? Registration? Pick up a schedule?

    If you want to shorten the one line that Sarah suggested, and stick with the war imagery, you could try: "Tomorrow is D-Day, the first day of school."

  6. The voice of the MC drew me in. I'm a former HS teacher and thought it was appropriate as the voice of a teenager. Teens want clever, sarcastic, quirky characters that are one level higher up the pole than in reality and I think you've achieved this. Great job.

  7. I didn't buy this as a contemporary teenage voice, and I don't think today's teens will get it. Most of them don't know what Casablanca or Rick's Cafe is. This felt like an adult trying to sound like a teenager to me. Getting the YA voice down is incredibly difficult (unless one is actually an adolescent). I think this still needs work.

  8. Perhaps start with parg 3. In pargs 1 and 2, you're doing what a lot of people do in first person. You're having a chat with the reader. Your characters should only be talking to other characters. The reader doesn't exist in you characters' world, so no one should be talking to us.

    Starting with parg 3 starts you in the story. Keep her there.