Wednesday, September 10, 2014

September Secret Agent #31

GENRE: YA multicultural

I’d hiked more than two miles over rocky mountain terrain when I heard a stone tumble behind me. I glanced back. The Sheriff was about a hundred yards below me. He’d tracked me, silent as a whisper.

When he visited our ninth grade class last month to talk about Afghanistan, the Sheriff told us he tracked a Taliban unit through the mountains for three days. They led him to their hideout. My best friend Pablo asked if he killed them. He shook his head and said he called in air support. When he and his team went through the rubble afterward, they counted the bodies. There were so many pieces they couldn’t be sure how many were killed, but in his report, he wrote thirty to forty dead Taliban.

I was pretty sure he couldn’t call in air support to get me, not here in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in northern New Mexico. But I wasn’t taking anything for granted.

“Stay there, Goop,” he said, pointing his pistol in my direction.

The gun didn’t scare me. There’s no way he’d shoot. “Where’s my dad?” I asked.

“In custody. Turn yourself in. I promise nothing will go on your record.”

My dad was supposed to be the lookout. They must have jumped him quick because he didn’t radio me. Either that, or he fell asleep.

“What about Oscar?”

“We don’t put dogs in jail. You can take him home. Deal?”

I turned and kept climbing.

He spoke into his radio. "Suspect declines to surrender."


  1. I really liked this - the atmosphere, dialog, the little story about the sheriff. I especially loved the sherriff's response about Oscar. I'd definitely read on.

    I'm guessing "goop" is a nickname - it has a lot of slang meanings and some aren't MG appropriate. Maybe another commenter can give some insight on whether they think the inappropriate ones are common enough for it to be problematic or not.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.


  3. The starting sentences of the first two paragraphs took me out of the story, which is a shame because there's SO MUCH excitement going on in this opening scene. What if you started the first paragraph halfway through? "I glanced back. Nothing. I'd hiked more than two miles over the rocky mountain terrain but couldn't pause to catch my breath now. I heard a stone tumble behind me. The Sheriff! A quick glance showed he was only a hundred yards below." For me, everything after the first two paragraphs was perfect! Really drew me in.

    There was one logistical aspect in the beginning that made me pause. Could someone become a Sheriff in such a short amount of time if they'd recently been discharged from the military? Since the tracking job in the military implies work of an enlisted ground soldier, we're talking completion of tour of duty, discharge from military, entry into civilian life, application to police academy, some level of college, about 5 years working as an officer and then time to campaign and be elected as a Sheriff. Added up, that's a lot of time. Also, if you spend time in the company of military, not many of them would agree to tell a classroom of kids about a tracking or other sensitive job, especially details related to blood and gore.

    For me the story that came after the first two paragraphs developed the characters and plot and made me want to keep reading. You did such a great job making me wonder about how this situation came to be, propelling me forward. Yet, I'm still hung up on how probable of a background story you've provided in the first two... Fix those and I'm there!

  4. I like this. There's enough detail to get the vision in my mind without over doing it. I'm wondering why Goop is a suspect, why a gun is pointed at him (a ninth grader!) and why dad is in jail. I'd read on.

    But, I do have to say, I can't get past the name Goop. It makes me think of Gwyneth Paltrow and that website she has called Goop. I don't know how important the name is in this story, but it's something to consider perhaps.

  5. I liked this a lot - the pace, the dialogue. I would, however, shorten the second paragraph. There is so much in it that is pulls me out of the story. I don't think we need that much info.

    I would also change the name from Goop. It sounds too much like a racist slur.

  6. I love the voice in this, I love where you started. There's so much I want to know.

    I had a hard time getting past some of the logic of the Sheriff's behavior. In the military, they're trained never to point a gun at someone unless they intend to fire. That's a really big thing, actually.

    And second, to draw a weapon on an unarmed minor also seems way out of character.

    Goop tells us he knows the Sheriff won't shoot. But it still feels wrong for the Sheriff to be pointing a gun in the first place.

    If I had read this before Ferguson, I don't know if I'd have had such a strong reaction to the Sheriff thing. It might just be timing and my own biases.

    Otherwise - this is a great start. I want to read more.

  7. The selection reads really well after the first 2 paragraphs. The second paragraph is where I got tripped up; I think it's too much explaining which kills the momentum you've created at the start. I also question the sheriff being in Afghanistan anytime recently, and to be so graphic with school kids. All of that can wait until a later page regardless.

    It's probably worth a mention in the narrative why he's named Goop.

    Also, I would suggest adding a known genre to the YA label--mystery, suspense, contemporary, whatever fits. Multicultural is a bonus that you have diverse characters, but doesn't say enough about the genre you're writing.

  8. I agree with Adib's comment about the Sheriff pointing his weapon. It's hyper-aggressive and unnecessary. Just having the MC see it on the belt would add the desired tension. As to SL Eastler's question about the time it takes to become a sheriff, it's possible, given that U.S forces have been there since October 2001. And, maybe he's actually a deputy instead of a sheriff (which takes less time), but the kid doesn't know the difference.

    I like the sense of innocence in the young narrator--not quite sure if air strikes will be called in, wondering what will happen to the dog.

  9. There's much to like here, but it's getting bogged down somehow. For instance, I like the paragraph about the Sheriff in Afghanistan, but is that what you want to lead your whole manuscript with? Is it key? (Possibly. I'm just asking.) It feels distracting. I'm also distracted by the name/nickname Goop. Lastly, "YA multicultural" isn't a genre, although it's nice to know there will be many types of people in this story.

  10. I like a lot here! Voice is working for me big time. But yes, I would leave "Goop" out of the first 250. It distracts me too. I don't automatically buy that a sheriff would call a kid by his nickname if the kid is a criminal. But that's realism from my perspective. That being said, finding out later that everyone calls him Goop won't have me asking questions like that this early.

    I'm dying to find out more about the dad/situation. So go you!!!

    If I could get a few more hints of the setting/location, I would appreciate that too.