Wednesday, February 11, 2009

5 Secret Agent

TITLE: Convinced
GENRE: Fantasy (contemporary)

Emily Daggett sustained herself through graduate school with an image of what awaited: Research in a cozy campus office. Classes of eager students. Lively chats with co-workers.

Pure fantasy.

Reality proved to be dismissive colleagues, an overloaded course schedule and--the worst part--an office that wasn't in the history wing at all. The basement, that was where it was.

"Can't be helped," said the department chair, a brisk, bony woman whose last name was Fletcher. "Not enough space ..."

Emily, following Professor Fletcher to this can't-be-helped office, had the impression she was being banished. Locked in a dungeon, let out only to give lectures, she thought as she clanked down an old metal staircase. So consumed was she by this disheartening reflection that she didn't see the gargoyle until she was nearly upon it.

Someone had set the plaster grotesque--mouth split in a silent scream, hands rending its face--next to the arched door leading into the basement. Taped above the door was a message in red ink: "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

She stared at it in mingled confusion and amusement, picturing the many students who would change their minds about visiting during office hours. Fletcher, exasperation twisting her lips, said: "Yes, well ... Second office on the left; impossible to miss."

The door at the top of the stairwell clanged shut before Emily ventured in. Her first thought, when rational thought returned, was: Ye gads--this really is a dungeon.


  1. I, for one, was hooked--the realistic description reminded me of The Husband's graduate school in NEPA, right down to the quote over the door. What a memory.

    (All his school lacked was a good gargoyle. Maybe I didn't look hard enough.)

    Love the voice. I'd keep on reading!

  2. The descriptions were great. I just wasn't hooked from the start. Still, the opening intrigued me enough that I want to read some more. Good job.

  3. I wasen't hooked at first, but then I read the bit about the gargoil and I wanted to read on, so I'm hooked.

  4. You have some problems with time elements.

    The paragraph starting with "Reality" summarizes a period of time.

    The next paragraph starts off at the beginning of the summarized time period. In other words, how will she know about the dismissive colleagues, etc., when she's getting her office at this moment?

    This "had I but known" element is rather old-fashioned these days, and it's better used to summarize something more dramatic than a bad office spot and the typical junk a new instructor has to put up with.

    Some of your writing needs to be sharpened because it's too clunky.

    For example, "The basement, that was where it was."

    I'd cut it out entirely and add the location in the first bit of dialogue or the dialogue tag.

    You may want to foreshadow what she will face with a "had I but known" comment like "If the gargoyle had been furry with fangs and claws, the warning would have been truer."

    The set up does have possibilities, though.

  5. I don't know if I was exactly hooked by this, but it had some great descriptions and elements that would make me want to read more if this was tightened. I thought the voice was good, and it was easy to get a sense of Emily from just these few paragraphs.

  6. I found this a little confusing, but that's probably just me. I had a hard time following where the character was going. The descrtiptions were great, but I had a hard time following where she was as you took us through the scene.

  7. Great imagery, and great use of humor. I think that the tone is a little bit stiff, though, which is distances. Also, all of the sensory details are visual -- I don't know what the character is hearing, smelling or feeling throughout this passage -- which is also distancing. Immersing us more deeply in the POV character's voice and what she perceives will bring this opening to life.

  8. I liked the opening, the contrast between her image and reality. A couple of wordings threw me - the time elements that Marilyn mentioned, the "mingled confusion and amusement" over the gargoyle. You don't explain the confusion.

    But I like the set up, the feeling of being in a dungeon. Knowing this is fantasy and that she's a history professor, I'd read on to see what's in store for Emily.

  9. I like this! I'm intrigued how the dungeon-like qualities of her surroundings will tie into a larger story. Definitely keep reading!

  10. Knowing this is a fantasy, I am very curious to hear what happens in that dungeon. LOL

    Great job! Great writing! I'm hooked :)

  11. Not a big fantasy reader - but the realness of this start would keep me reading. And the gargoyle brings up all kinds of questions.

    I agree with Marilyn on the time elements, but if you focused on her following Fletcher to her *office* the time elements could be worked in as backstory.

    Good luck.

  12. I am SO hooked by this! What a delightful voice! The wry humor adds a perfect touch to what otherwise would be overwhelmingly dreary imagery. I feel like a got a good peek inside Emily's head, and I'd like to stay there for a while.

    Nice, nice, nice. :-)

  13. I like this. Definitely hooked. The contrast of the fantasy and reality in the first couple paragraphs is great, and you follow it with wry humor about her situation.

    A few awkward sentences:

    "The basement, that was where it was." And the sentence describing the gargoyle. I'm used to grotesque being used as an adjective rather than a noun (though it is correct), so that threw me off and I had to read the sentence again.

    Good job!

  14. I laughed during this opening, and looked forward to see how the playful foreshadowing of traditional fantasy elements (dungeons, gargoyles, gates of hell) unfolded in the modern setting.

  15. I love it. I'm hooked. Not sure what else to say. I wish you lots of luck with this.

  16. I found it a little cluttered and confusing at first, but by the end I had everything straightened out. You might want to work on the flow of the first two to three paragraphs. I think I'd like it better if you take those first three paragraphs and put them after you have established an active voice, because it was all telling, rather than showing, which can be dry.

    Other than that, I loved it. I would definitely read on. Oh, and I may be wrong, but I thought that the things in a list after a colon weren't capitalized and separated into different sentences. Ignore me if I don't know what I'm talking about. =) Great job!

  17. Hooked!

    This is a great example of the author's voice pulling the reader through the story. The prose is awkward in places (I agree with the previous examples, though I didn't have a problem with "grotesque"), but I loved Emily's voice and found her a relatable character. This compelled me to keep reading.

    I would hope that the action started soon, though. Is the gargoyle going to come to life once Fletcher is out of earshot?


  18. I really liked this a lot once I got to the part about the gargoyle and the taped sign.

    But I thought the beginning slowed it down. You could get your point across with more punch and fewer words.

    Good luck!

  19. *Cracks up* At least she has a job. :]

    You have an awesome voice and I absolutely LOVE this. Great job<:

  20. The voice and the humor alone hooked me. I would definitely keep reading.

  21. I like this! Though there’s not much going on plot-wise, Emily’s voice is wonderful, and I love the humor you’ve infused in this, especially the note! I’d absolutely read on!

  22. Ditch the title! If this is contemp. fantasy, I want a good title that reflects it.

    Okay. The first couple paragraphs were a turn-off. Too much telling.

    But then I started liking what I was reading as Emily reaches the office. Just show the scene, what the office looks like, Emily's reaction. I'd play that up even more and then, boom, you have the gargoyle which is the best part of this.

    Be careful of not overdoing things such as "Her first thought, when rational thought returned,"

  23. Thanks, everyone, for your helpful feedback. I've spent the day rewriting my first page to get more quickly to the gargoyle, and what do you know -- I like it a lot better now.

    It's been a great exercise looking at everyone's first pages. Three cheers for Authoress and all the reviewers.

  24. Can't wait to reread it during the next contest since this was one of my favs.

  25. I am almost hooked – almost, but not quite. To me, this university setting didn’t ring quite true. My dad’s a professor, and I spent many teacher workdays in his office when I was younger. When there wasn’t enough space for an associate professor, they would usually split an office between two new profs – not relegate someone to the basement/dungeon. I also found it hard to believe that the department chair would have time to lead a new assistant professor to her office. And since Emily’s a professor herself, she would probably be more likely to think of Fletcher as Dr. Fletcher or even whatever her first name is. These are little quibbles, but they’re the kinds of things that can disturb a reader’s suspension of disbelief.

    That said, the gargoyle gives this piece a nice sense of both humor and foreboding, and I would read a few more pages to see if anything really unique or exciting happens.

  26. Thanks, Megan M. I do know a shared-office situation is far more likely, but this happens to be a department with no other newbies -- everyone else is a full professor, and they're not about to share with a lecturer on a one-year contract. Since there's already someone else using the basement as an office, they opted to stick a second person down there.

    I'm surprised you think a department chair wouldn't have two minutes to show a new employee how to find her office, but then I have experience with only one college department to judge by. Do you think it would be more accurate to have Emily wander there on her own? (It wouldn't affect the plot either way.)

  27. As a current grad student, I just love this. I so recognize the structure, and what people hope for and what they get. Luckily I don't plan to enter academia! Anyway, I really enjoyed this and I bet it would find a good target audience among grad students and the recently graduated. I know that I would love to read a fantasy set in grad school - a little escape!!

  28. Wasn't feeling the opening, but really liked getting to the dungeon.
    I agree that the title needs to be better.
    I'd turn the page.