Wednesday, February 11, 2009

59 Secret Agent

TITLE: Rites of Clay
GENRE: Science fiction / fantasy



A person who has nothing cannot let go of anything.
—Sumerian Proverb


Summer in Houston means temperatures in the hundreds, humidity in the nineties, and mosquitoes so fat with blood they can barely stay airborne.

It reminded me of home.

"Home," sneered the angry inner voice that spoke up whenever I made the mistake of thinking about the past. "Home doesn't exist anymore. And whose fault is that?"

It wasn't technically true. Home was still there, right where I'd left it. It was just buried under thousands of tons of sand at the moment.

Home was history. Literally.

I sucked in a deep breath of air, thick with ozone and benzene and half-burnt hydrocarbons. The heat grabbed me and twisted, wringing the sweat out of me like I was an old dishrag. It squeezed me so blessedly tight that I almost couldn't feel the perpetual ache of the keshda behind my navel. After four millennia, you'd think I'd be used to carrying around that sizzling knot of divine power.

I dragged the back of my hand across my gritty forehead, not wiping the sweat away so much as smearing it around. A road crew clogged the next intersection--two surly-looking men in neon orange vests gestured at frustrated drivers while a third watched a workbot jackhammer through asphalt. I ignored their stares as I trudged past the line of idling cars. Pedestrians were rare in the most air-conditioned city in the world.

28 comments:

jeannielin said...

Very intriguing! I could feel the oppressive heat and the dust. The voice has a starkness to it that sets up a dark, edgy feel to the setting. I'm definitely wondering about the knot of divine power -- would definitely continue reading1

Tara Maya said...

This is a strong beginning. The name of the book, the Sumerian proverb, the line about the Texas heat "remind[ing] me of home" and the four millennia had thinking, Hm, Sumerian god from 2000 BCE?

I could be totally off-base, but I would keep reading to find out. I love the word "keshda." Is that made up or from Sumerian? My Sumerian-English dictionary says that keshda means "bind" or "knot". Either way, it's a nice word.

Janet said...

I don't read a lot of SF/Fantasy - but this was intriguing. And I loved the voice. And the description (the dishrag line was perfect). I would read on hoping that a big story question asserted itself to lure me into the heart of the story.

Amanda said...

You have a wonderful voice for this character. I definitely want to learn more about this character and the setting. Definitely hooked.

Authoress said...

The opening sentence, in talking about the weather, almost lost me. Then the brilliant line about the mosquitoes grabbed me. :)

Still, it's overwritten in some spots. We get that the narrator is hot, sweaty, and cynical. I think you can probably convey that more briefly.

And I wanna know what a keshda is. :)

Lisa and Laura said...

I had the opposite reaction to keshda and probably would have stopped reading. Of course, I never read any fantasy, so that might be part of the issue. Overall, it's really well written. Love the title, love the mosquitoes fat with blood (man, is that a great visual). Nice work.

Marilynn Byerly said...

I'd place her in the scene faster so we know she's walking in a busy city.

I'd also like to know a bit faster the point here. I know it's only the first 250, but I'd like a bit more than she's walking, and she's Sumerian.

Is she walking toward something good or bad? Is she feeling apprehensive or frightened?

To me, these points are more important than she's feeling really hot.

Mariel Ren said...

I love the description! However, be careful with some of your "it" references. When you say "It reminded me of home"-- what reminded him of home? The temperature? The mosquitoes, the humidity? All of it?

Your first sentence is written in the present tense, but the rest is written in past. Consider swapping the "means" with "meant."

Scott said...

I'm intrigued . . . but lost. There's a Sumerian proverb, a reference to Texas, and then a - very good, btw - description of a city. Where/when is the city?

The voice is very good as well. I would definitley read more. I do agree with Authoress that there is too much description regarding the heat. Sometimes, less is definitely "more".

Good job.

On a side note - my verification word just gave me the name of a character or city. : )

wordslayer said...

Hooked.

lilianamama said...

OH YES!!!! I'm a lover of this sort of thing and HELL YES!!! You can probably trim some description here and there, but you've nailed the voice, grounded me in the scene. Tell me when this is published.

Megs said...

Ok....

Two things.

The narration sounds too peaceful at the start, so the angry inner voice doesn't sound like it's coming from the narrator/protagonist.

The other thing is nothing happens except maybe the protagonist is thinking as he/she crosses the road.

That said, I do like the proverb at the beginning. :)

Bersexes/Toivomaki said...

*Very* nice writing. I don't think the description is too much -- just about perfect. You really paint the picture well.

BUT... you start the story in the wrong place. You should start here:

"I sucked in a deep breath of air..."

Come back to the current opening of "just like home" later if really needed, but I suspect not.

Kat Harris said...

I'm not a sci-fi fan, but I like the voice and the writing here.

One thing, however, the dishrag line felt very cliche.

I'd keep reading.

Sheila said...

You write very well, and that alone would make me turn the page here.

I would like to see some conflict/story happen soon, but I'm pretty patient.

GillianG said...

I really liked this! I thought the opening was great, wasn't sure about the weather, but as soon as the inner voice started talking about a non-existent home, I got hooked! Great job in setting up the opening, I really wanted to read more!

Lori said...

Ditto on the conflict/"Hook" comments, but the voice is very unique and I really like how you Show us who this character really is rather than just Telling us. Also, your descriptions are very poignant and vivid and really paint the scene exceptionally well. Good job!

Trish said...

I don't usually read Ski/fi, but I liked the way this was written. I'm hooked. I want to know what the kashda is.

Leigh said...

Great opening! First person narrative got me right into the character's head. Lots of sensory descriptors made me feel the simmering Houston heat. You set the scene and told us she's an ancient Sumarian on the streets of Houston. I, too, want to find out what a keshda is and would turn the page immediately. Good job!

Keyboard Hound said...

I, too, liked the opening proverb and a lot of the description is great. I loved the image of being squeezed like a dish rag.

Keyboard Hound

Sarah Jensen said...

Oh, I really like this.
And the description of Texas heat is dead on.
Hooked.

Carol said...

Vivid writing, I can feel the moment. I want to know where home really is and why the character is stuck and exactly what is the divine power. I'd read on to find out.

disorderly said...

I'm definitely in for this one. The description of Houston in the summer was excruciatingly real (trust me), and I love the voice. The hints at a mysterious past and the introduction of Sumerian mythology/legend/belief system really caught my attention.

I didn't think the description of anything was overdone, but then I tend to drag on with descriptions too long for most people's taste, so you might want to consider that a suspicious positive response. ;-)

Charlie V said...

The writing is excellent. Love the descriptions and you place the reader right there. But I'm confused. You talk of 'home' being buried beneath tons of sand, literally, but then you talk about the city, the cars, the roads. I had thought the city had been buried.... but it isn't.

I also got the impression this was futuristic but then you showed the city, streets and cars, so again, I was confused.

But I'd keep on reading for a little, mostly because I was hooked with the writing.

Anonymous said...

Summer in Houston means temperatures in the hundreds, humidity in the nineties, and mosquitoes so fat with blood they can barely stay airborne.

Love this--great imagery and very to the point.

It wasn't technically true. Home was still there, right where I'd left it. It was just buried under thousands of tons of sand at the moment.

Consider rewording this, killing and/or breaking up some of the it's to help make it stronger and streamline it. Something like, "Technically, that wasn't true. Home was still there, right where I'd left it. Only now, it was buried under tons of sand." And the "at the moment" isn't needed.

I sucked in a deep breath of air, thick with ozone and benzene and half-burnt hydrocarbons. The heat grabbed me and twisted, wringing the sweat out of me like I was an old dishrag. It squeezed me so blessedly tight that I almost couldn't feel the perpetual ache of the keshda behind my navel. After four millennia, you'd think I'd be used to carrying around that sizzling knot of divine power.

Again great imagery but be sure to not overdo.

Blodwyn said...

I liked this, but felt a little bogged down in the writing. I have been very much critiqued for overwriting, so I'm in your camp with that one, but I do feel that some of your sentences slow the tempo a bit. Loved the mosquito line, loved the hints at keshda and that she'd been carrying it for so long...although I'm not sure why I think she's female. Maybe the reference to navel.

Secret Agent said...

I have mixed feelings on this one. I loved the opening but then got turned off by the "inner voice."

Then the next two paragraphs were telling (instead of actual world building) and then we are back to the scene where the narrator is walking by the road--which I liked.

I'd read a few more pages but I'm pretty much on notice.

Daria Drake said...

Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on this entry! I appreciate your feedback, and will be using it to rewrite.

Ms. Nelson: Thank you for your crit! I'd planned to query you when I finish revisions on this novel (I'm a fan of Linnea Sinclair's, and thought that if you like the kinds of stories she writes, you might like mine too). It didn't occur to me that the heroine's inner voice might be off-puting so early in the story -- I'll rework the scene without it.

Tara Maya: :D Yes, she's Sumerian, a former priestess of Inanna who was made immortal as a result of having participated in the ritual that created the keshda (which binds a war god, preventing him access to the human realm).

Authoress and Marilynn Byerly: I don't usually put this much setting in one scene, but after entering my opening in several contests and getting a nearly-unanimous response of "NOT ENOUGH SETTING DETAILS" from 12 different judges, I rewrote my opening to focus on future Houston (and, I realize now, delayed the introduction of the story question). Guess I went overboard on that! Thank you for the feedback -- I will be compressing/deleting some of the setting info in the next pass through!

Scott and Charlie V: I'm sorry you found my opening confusing -- I'll try to think of a way to make it clearer that the heroine is in Houston (about 150 years in the future).

Megs: Thank you for pointing out the discrepancy in tone between the interior monologue and the rest of the piece.

Bersexes/Toivomaki: Thanks for your suggestion that I open with action rather than the heroine thinking.

Anonymous Anonymous: Thanks for the suggestions for rephrasing!

-Daria