Wednesday, February 11, 2009

47 Secret Agent

Title: Mourn Their Courage
Genre: Historical Fantasy

Liu Jie raced into the orchard after his son.

The moon’s bony face lit his path. He slipped on fallen peaches and the smell of sour wine enveloped him.

Autumn leaves chattered like a shallow stream. Like the river that brings the dead to hell. Did his ghosts crowd him now?

“Quick, Papa! Someone's lying on the ground!” Shan gestured ahead.

Jie’s robes slapped against his legs. Hurry, hurry!

Each cold breath was visible before he reached the garden. At last, Jie slid to his knees among the turnips.

Moonlight dappled the hollow cheeks of an emaciated teenage boy. Jie put his ear to the boy’s chest. It rose.

Unsure air squeaked from the child’s blue lips.

“He’s alive. Beg the innkeeper for hot water, Shan. I’ll follow. Run!”

Shan sprinted away.

Liu Jie cradled the child and memories burst in upon him.

Twelve years ago he’d heard the river of the dead. Now, he looked at the bony child in his arms, but didn't see him.

Jie saw Jiao and Jun – his sons. Their eyes were open and clear in the moonlight. Clear and accusing.

“Why did you fail us, Papa?”

He sobbed. They had not asked him that in a long time. He thought they’d forgiven him. Maybe they had, but he couldn’t.

He wished saving this child would alter the memories. But Jie’s life was a ladder of wishes. Twelve years ago he’d failed, so now he bore a stranger’s child in his arms and ran.


  1. This opening was very haunting and the details like the peaches and sour wine were vivid and distinctive.

    The only line that gave me pause was "Maybe they had, but he couldn't". It seemed abrupt and vague, I had to read over twice.

    But overall, the opening was hypnotic and emotional. Good job!

  2. I'm curious as to why Jie is running through a garden in the first place. Is someone chasing him? Are they near the Inn? Does the innkeeper know of the danger? The description is good, and I'd read on. I love the title too!

  3. I liked this, but I'm not convinced I understood what was going on. It's possible that what's going on is sufficiently complex, it can't be made obvious in 250 words, and a page or so more would clear it up, because otherwise, the writing seems solid. Everything is clear at the sentence level.

    However, five or six characters are introduced.

    Liu Jie -- the MC. Ok.

    His son.

    Shan. I assume this is his son, but it would be more clear if you linked the relationship with the name immediately, at least once. Doesn't have to be in the first sentence, but early on, frex: His son Shan gestured ahead.

    Jiao - one of his sons - dead?

    Jun - one of his sons - dead?

    Child - a stranger's child

    For a moment, I thought Shan was a ghost, leading him to the child. Then I thought, no, Shan is still alive, two different sons died because he "failed" them.

    I like the tortured, compassionate character and would probably read on.

    Btw, what exactly is historical fantasy? Is it history or fantasy? Slipstream, magical realism? I don't know this sub-genre. Not your fault, I just wondered.

  4. FYI, Historical Fantasy is where you take either real historic events and add a fantastical element (the case here) or you extrapolate more of a fantasy world that uses events from our world's history. G.G. Kay's Tigana is more in line with that. Thanks for the comments!

  5. Moon's bony face <- that description is a little too distracting. Same thing with other descriptos - like 'unsure air'.

    I do love the lit but accessible feel of this. I'd definitely read on<:

  6. I like this and would definitely read on. The voice was lyrical, haunting. And the urgency of finding the child came through in your description. I didn't mind all of the characters - you introduced them well, no confusion on my part.

    Good job.

  7. This is achingly beautiful prose. Maybe it's the small type size, the short paragraphs, the fleeting thoughts...but the entire effect gave me the impression of a delicate Japanese painting. Based on these 250 words, I'd say this is quite literary in style, even though you characterize it as "historical fantasy." (BTW: I read recently that some agents really seek novels that can meld high style with the sorts of plots and characterizations found in genre fiction. I think you may have done that here.)

    Nice. This one will haunt me for a while. Will you find a publisher, please, so I can read the entire thing? :-)

  8. The italics confused me, and I'm a bit confused by the number of characters being introduced on the first page. However, this is an interesting concept, and I'd read on to find out more.

  9. I remember the previous version you'd posted in a AYH contest and have to say, I think I liked that one more. The language is beautiful, but I really feel that the lyrical-ness of this takes away from the tension and action. I think this would be stronger if you focused on the injured child more here, and Jie's memories of his dead sons become more of a minor note, rather than a full blown hit here.

  10. Yoo hoo, lilianamama! I've been searching for your e-mail. I write in a similar genre and would love to chat. Click on my name and get in touch with me please. My addy can be found on my website. :)

  11. I have a soft spot for fiction set in China, because I live in China.

    At first I thought Liu Jie was a woman because Jie Jie means older sister (for instance, we call our helper "He Jie"). But there are lots of Jies, so I'm sure it's a different Jie-character in this man's name.

    I would definitely keep reading. Even though it's a bit melodramatic, I think it fits. Chinese literature always has that touch of melodrama to it. Fraught with weeping and suicides and lost loves....

    Hope I get to read more when this hits the shelves. Best of luck to you!

  12. This is different. I would read on. You have me intrigued.

  13. I remember a much earlier version of this, and I must say that you have GREATLY improved this!

    A nitpik: Would you really refer to a teenager in your arms as a "child?" Unless it was a young teenager.

    This is haunting, and definitely different from your average read. It feels literary. I would read on.

    Keep working. You're making so much progress. :)

  14. Thank you, Authoress! That's means so much coming from you! Oh, yes, he's just thirteen. :)

  15. Oh my gosh. Every one of my senses is engaged, including my sense of curiosity. "A ladder of wishes". Powerful.

  16. Truly beautiful use of language. I'm a sucker for imagery. And it also matches the tone wonderfully. I think this is a great place to start your story, pulls me in immediately. Hooked.

    "...ladder of wishes..." SWOON. Love that.

  17. Lovely writing. Haunting. I'd read on. The word bony strikes such an image in the moon description that it's almost shattering when you use it again to describe the hurt child.

  18. I'm a little confused. Is it a child or a teenager? And if it's a teen, how strong is Liu Jie to carry him, running?
    I think the writing is great, and I'd read on, just those questions.
    Almost hooked.

  19. Lovely lyrical writing. You have a great beginning, although I think it needs to be tightened some as others have suggested. Good job.

  20. Nice writng. Not a genre I read but would continue. Would like to find out what happened to his sons.

  21. I like what seems to be setting up to an interesting setting but I have to say this entry left me mostly confused.

    Writer needs to solidify the physcial space and concentrate on what is happening here.

    Liu Jie slips so I'm thinking it's him on the ground but then another character (?) points to somebody else lying there. This character is not introduced.

    Then there is the flashback of sorts "Jie saw Jiao and Jun..." with some clunky telling "memories burst upon him" right before.

    At this point in the story, it doesn't add to it. The reader needs to be grounded in this event first.

    I'm thinking the author needs to master basic techniques of writing first but this story could have potential because of the lyricalness.