Wednesday, March 7, 2018

March Secret Agent Contest #17

TITLE: What We Were Missing
GENRE: YA Contemporary

I can’t remember the day my dad left.

Those twenty-four hours yawn like a black hole in the story of my existence.  A blind spot between total happiness and familial unraveling.

It’s been six years and I still catch myself sipping coffee and googling memory retrieval.  Therapy.  Hypnosis.  Optogenetic technology.

But I don’t pursue any of it.

Successful retrieval of lost memories hinges on one common factor.  You have to want to remember.  And believe me.  I don’t.

I’m standing on the front porch when Jo’s black SUV swings into our short driveway, two steaming cups of coffee warming the palms of my hands.  Tiny Christmas lights wrap around the railing, lending our house a cheery glow in the late afternoon fog.

“Um, you do know it’s November?” I said earlier as Mom hunted the extension cord.  

“Riley, let it go.  They look inviting.”  

Your house tells a story, after all.  And we need ours to be a happy one.

The engine shuts off and I bend back my thumb, snapping it forward with a loud crack.  Nervous habit.  Jo emerges first, her blonde hair pulled back in a sloppy ponytail.  The twins, pent up from the four hour drive, shoot like rockets from the car the moment their buckles pop open.

“Aunt Riley!”

I set the mugs on the small table next to our porch swing and hug them tight, spinning around with one pint-sized human tucked neatly under each arm.  I like the way the world blurs around me, softening at the edges.


  1. I love the family tone of this opening. I'm wondering how old your MC is though. It says YA, but some of the language feels slightly too mature (existence, familial, retrieval, etc..) Plus, he/she is standing with mugs of coffee. Also, didn't seem possible he/she could crack her thumb while holding them. Are the Christmas lights/flashback with mom significant to the rest of the story? If yes, keep. If the lights don't come up again, I'd try to include something with more characterization so we can get a better sense of your MC in this opening. Good luck!

  2. An interesting beginning. The part in italics throws me, because I can't figure out the context, or what it represents, but that might become clear in the next page or so. I would like some hint as to the narrator's age (either now or six years ago - I can do the math!). The tense of the title clashes with the present tense of the narrative, which feels slightly awkward as well. But overall, a strong opening. (Also, very minor - double spacing after a period is no longer a thing in the computer age. I suspect agents will assume you're in your late 60s or your 70s, though I don't know if that matters.)

  3. This is a lovely beginning, but the voice feels older than YA to me. I really love the image of the world blurring as Riley spins around with the kids, especially after the contemplation of looking for her dad, but there’s a mature world view here that feels like women’s fiction.

  4. I don't yet have a real idea of the hook but I'm drawn enough to want to keep reading and find out. So I think it's a good beginning. A few small suggestions. "I set the mugs on the small table next to our porch swing and hug them tight, spinning around with one pint-sized human tucked neatly under each arm." This sounds like the speaker put the coffee mugs down and then hugged them and spun them around. The bending thumb back doesn't make sense because I thought the speaker was holding the coffee cups. And then I'm not sure what she/he is snapping the thumb against. And yes, I'm still not sure if I should be visualizing a girl or a boy.