Wednesday, October 14, 2009

35 Secret Agent

TITLE: Queen of the Crescent City
GENRE: Historical Fiction

Aimée had no warning that he was coming, but she should have. In her experience, such an event never remained secret for long, and that she had not been told was all the more hurtful. Perhaps the others were afraid that she would run away to the Bayou Saint-Jean or some similar place, and that they would be punished for her behavior. But even so, her sister Désirée certainly knew what was coming and did not choose to tell her, though she had ceased to confide in Aimée in several months.

She had been in the kitchen of the Legendre townhouse when Toussaint summoned her. Toussaint was Maître Dominic's valet, and he accompanied his master everywhere, always smartly dressed in the gay gold and royal blue Legendre livery. Aimée handed the knife she was using to Marthe, the old cook who struggled to hide her arthritis from Dominic's butler Lucien. The air was humid for January, and in the heat of the smoky, fly-infested kitchen Aimée had begun to perspire. Quickly she splashed water on her face, smoothed and retied the tignon over her hair and shook out her russet skirts. Then she quietly followed Toussaint upstairs and through the gallery to the townhouse's formal parlor.

There two men sat in exaggerated positions upon elaborately carved rosewood chairs lined by plush green velvet. Toussaint refilled their glasses with dark amber bourbon from a crystal decanter and retreated.


  1. The first graf reads like preamble, with too many long, slow phrases, and not enough nouns and verbs.

    The story actually starts in the second graf, which has better description (though "who struggled to hide her arthritis from Dominic's butler Lucien" was like hurdle in the middle -- don't make us go over if it's not necessary).

  2. Is Aimee a member of the family of the house, or the staff? We're being set up to wonder what is going to happen to Aimee, so some context about her would definitely help.

    This sentence: But even so, her sister Désirée certainly knew what was coming and did not choose to tell her, though she had ceased to confide in Aimée in several months.

    I question the use of "though" above, because it's serving to contrast her sister not telling her/her sister not confiding in her, and they are not contrasting ideas. Could it read "But even so, her sister Désirée certainly knew what was coming and did not choose to tell her; she had ceased to confide in Aimée several months ago"?

    I agree with JohnO about the detail about arthritis. You're setting up a vague mystery, so if it doesn't serve the immediate mystery, then it's unnecessary. If it is necessary, my apologies. :)

    A lot of names are thrown at us in a few paragraphs, so I'd say overall, simplify it so that I'm trying to unravel Aimee's event, not just keep people straight.

    Good luck!

  3. I was slightly overwhelmed by the second paragraph. I think it's best to hold off on introducing what I'm assuming are support characters (Toussaint, Marthe, Lucien, etc.) until you've got some immediate action going on. That way, your readers are hooked, and they will be more open to the effort involved in keeping all the new names straight.

    Also, the first sentence of the third paragraph did create some vivid imagery for me, but it is very wordy, and I think you can be more powerful with a little less.

  4. I agree with other critters that there's too many names being bandied about here. I'd dispense with the first paragraph altogether, because it seems to muddy the waters.
    There are one or two instances where you use more adjectives than you need to and that slows the story down too.
    I'm still interested enough to want to read more, I just think it needs tightening and pruning a bit.

  5. The first paragraph sets up Aimee upset because someone was visiting. The second paragraph totally threw me.

    Is Aimee a servant? How is the fly-infested kitchen with the arthritic cook relevant to the man coming to the house?

    The third paragraph has excellent description. I'm in the parlor with the men drinking that bourbon.

  6. Too many names too soon. At this point, I'd be taking out pen and paper to start jotting down names and relationships so I could remember them.

    I think the best advice I was ever given was not to overwhelm the reader with too many names too soon. If I'm supposed to care about Aimee - then let me know about her first, the rest of the names can come later in the first chapter. : )

    Also, why does it matter that Aimee didn't have warning? If it's important, let me know why, right from the start.

    I think you have a good premise, at least what I can guess at, and would probably read more.


  7. I think you can get rid of some of the 'that's.
    Lots and lots of names get hard to sort out.
    Not sure on the:
    her sister Désirée certainly knew what was coming and did not choose to tell her, though she had ceased to confide in Aimée in several months.
    It's redundant, we already know her sister failed to tell her. I would pick one or the other.

  8. Agree with the above comments: too many names, too many adjectives in several sentences. The first paragraph can work if you tighten it to one or two sentences that convey her lack of warning and her sister not confiding in her if that is all that the reader needs to know. I'd keep reading. Good luck!

  9. Not hooked. Just not enough to make me read on. I don't know where this is going.

    I agree with the above comments on the names and adjectives.


  10. I liked your first sentence, but then my interest waned. I think that's because the rest of your sentences lack the punch of that first one (i.e., they're too long and rambling).

    The character soup in the second paragraph has got to go. I spent all my time trying to keep everybody straight, not really paying attention to what they were doing.

    Not hooked.

  11. Er, sorry, one more comment. As with another entry, the first sentence promises something that the rest of the page doesn't deliver. I want to know who "he" is, and I want to know why Aimee should have known that he was coming. Try infusing the rest of this page with the anticipation of that first sentence; it might provide a better hook.

  12. "Aimée had no warning that he was coming, but she should have."

    I'm reading these 37 backwards. I realized we now have a theme- x didn't know y.

    This might work in a short story but I don't think it's enough to move a book along. What does the MC want? How does he/she get it. What obstacles must he/she overcome.

  13. I agree, too many names.

    I am interested to see why she was upset about the visitor, however.

  14. Not hooked. It jumped from one thing to another. You start with her finding out someone is coming, which she should have already known about, then she's suddenly in the kitchen describing a man to the reader. Then she's using a knife (for what?) then she's talking about the cook, the weather, the flies, all this while Toussaint waits and no one says a word to her, nor she to them.

    Perhaps try focusing more on the original idea. Why is it a big deal that she didn't know this man was coming? What does his coming mean for her? How does not knowing he was coming affect her?

  15. Lovely scenic and historical details. The first two paragraphs could do with a bit of pruning, though, to really make the scene and character setting stand out. A bit of backstory in the first that didn't seem immediately relevant right in the opening and an excess of names in the second could be trimmed away.

    Still, I'd read on. I'm curious to know why Toussaint dragged her out of the kitchen.

  16. This looks like it has promise, but I agree that the first paragraph (except maybe for the first sentence) needs to be cut, and that there's too many names and details first up. I agree with another commenter that the third paragraph is great. I think this would work really well if you started with Aimee walking into the parlour with Toussaint.

  17. I was disoriented throughout this piece. I like the first sentence and its bit of mysteriousness. I was curious. But when curious turns to confused, interest wanes. I have no idea what the first paragraph means. The second paragraph has too many names, and details that may be important but seem misplaced, such as the cook’s arthritis.

    After I’d read it about four times, I started to understand what was going on. Obviously, that’s not a great way to start a book. I’d recommend tightening this up. Skip the bunny trails and all the speculation going on in Aimee’s head. Get straight to the action. I’d keep the first sentence of the first paragraph. Then skip straight to the first sentence of the second paragraph. Delete all the explanations but keep the action – Aimee handing the knife to Marthe, splashing water on her face, etc. Get us interested in what’s going on here. Get us to the encounter with the two men as quickly as possible. If there are details we need to know, include them when we need them, but not all at once.

    Because I hate being confused and disoriented, I wouldn’t read any further.