Thursday, November 13, 2008

39 SECRET AGENT: Are You Hooked?

TITLE: Ashes of the Red Heifer
GENRE: Thriller

Annie Grant stared out her window into the pre-dawn black of the Israeli kibbutz. She set her lips in a determined line and raised her chin, defiant if only to the moon, the same moon shining over the Nebraska prairie. "This time it's going to be different."

The vaccine would work, she was sure. Annie had veered from the path the other researchers had followed, made different assumptions and now she knew she was right. The impending birth would prove it. She'd cure BA 23, save cattle, but more importantly, she'd save people.

What if it didn't work? Doubt battered at her brain like Chinese water torture. She'd been close to her dreams before and every time she'd failed. She didn't know if she could weather that kind of pain again.

Her cell phone bleeped. She leaped for it automatically, checking the clock. At this hour it could only be Hassan and it couldn't be good news. She flipped open her phone. "What's wrong?"

His voice sounded frantic, which could mean a crisis or a stubbed toe. "Esther. Her water's broken."

"Take a deep breath, Hassan. I'll be right there." Before he could hang up she stopped him. "Call David. If this calf is born alive, he'll want to be there."


  1. I don't read thrillers, so I'm not very intrigued.

    However, I will say, good writing, good dialogue, and good story!

  2. The part about the Nebraska prairie threw me a little bit. I think I understand what you mean, but I sat wondering for a minute whether the kibbutz was in Nebraska instead of Israel.

  3. Predawn black? I think of deep indigo,lavenders--black to me is night. I'm probably being anal, but the moon comments irk me. The time difference from Israel and Nebraska, is it a full moon? (It's the astrologer in me, sorry)

    First she's sure it will work and then she's not.

    Not so hooked. Yet. I think you've got a good story. I wanted more tension.

  4. Not my genre, but yes - this is strong writing, and you have a hook here<:

  5. In 250 words, you mention the Israeli kibbutz, Nebraska prairie and Chinese water torture.

    I'm geographically overwhelmed.

    It's also difficult to check a clock and leap for something at the same time.

    I think you might have a good idea going on here because I'm curious to know what's happening, but the way it's presented hasn't hooked me.


  6. First you have the protag certain she's right. Then the next paragraph is about how she's filled with doubt. Fix those lapses of narrative and I'll get more hooked

  7. Sorry, just not my thing. You're writing is good though. :)

  8. I thought the writing was good. I am intruiged as to why a person from Nebraska would be saving cattle on a kibbutz. I think it might grab the reader more if she were at the birth of the calf in the beginning scene...a little more drama. But I am interested. I think I would read on.

  9. I'm intrigued and would definitely read on. I actually liked the seesaw of her emotions -- obviously the stakes are quite high so it's understandable she's doubting her cure, but it also makes sense that to be brave enough to take a different road from the other researchers, she'd have to have a pretty strong belief in herself.

    Also, the "crisis or stubbed toe" is a great line.

  10. I'm having trouble feeling connected to this character.

    Specifically, I think this bit:

    What if it didn't work? Doubt battered at her brain like Chinese water torture. She'd been close to her dreams before and every time she'd failed. She didn't know if she could weather that kind of pain again.

    Researchers are-- as you even say here-- accustomed to failures. There's nothing to suggest urgency that this time be the time she succeeds; nothing that gives me as a reader a personal stake in this time being different.

    So, it just kind of feels whiny to me. I'd rather have a feel for why being right NOW is so important. What are the stakes?

    Is there an epidemic that she can stop? Is she out of grant money and this is her last chance? Give me some reason why this is the make-it-or-break-it moment for this woman.

    Or else cut those sentences altogether and show us later that she's insecure and has had a hard time with her research in the past.

  11. Starting off with a character musing into the night is a cliché tool used by a lot of writers to throw a lot of back story onto the reader at once. Nothing happens here until the very last paragraph, so maybe start there. Also, most of the cow ranchers I know wouldn’t use anthropomorphic terms like “water’s broken” to describe an animal’s birth. They’d just say, “She’s calving.”

  12. I agree with most of the other comments. This seems fragmented and confusing, but I suspect there's a good story here. I love thrillers and would like to be thrilled from the opening line. Also a bit confused about Annie Grant from Nebraska in a kibbutz (in Israel?) with David ( a nice Jewish boy) and Hassan (a nice Arabic boy) acting as a cow midwife. And the title definitely didn't grab me. Sorry.

  13. What about starting with the phone ringing? It gives action, I like her thoughts about Hassan, and then she can drive/run acros the kibbutz, describing it as she goes. Her conflict of certainty/doubt could be moved into snippets of dialogue as they help with the birth or debried each other later.

    And I love the title. I read your entry based on title alone. :)

  14. Hmmm.

    Pre-dawn usually isn't black.

    I think this reads like a first draft. There is a lot of room for rewriting and clarification in the first few paragraphs. It comes across as fragmented, and the prose itself isn't very strong.