Wednesday, November 4, 2009

23 Secret Agent

GENRE: Women’s Fiction

The Gothic buildings seemed eerily familiar, an inherited experience, the city’s charm and history, gargoyles and ghosts, all channeled through her enigmatic grandmother whose absence here shadowed the view. Julianne had never visited Oxford, nor England for that matter, merely listened to her grandmother, who’d artfully abridged her stories and now tasked Julianne with no small mission. A mission she’d warily accepted, and presently regretted.

She passed through the arched gate guarding the Bodleian Library’s quadrangle, a spectral world, where long-dead professors argued about physics and theology. Surely, they were all around her. Gargoyles, ghosts, Thomas Bodley—Julianne felt their many eyes on her now. A lifetime of honesty swept away in one visit. With the sun’s heat came a tinge of guilt, but she fanned it away, knowing it was all for her grandmother. She crossed the threshold, feeling as though she were entering a different time period, one where her ancestor’s indelible spirit lived on. Within these buildings, strata of centuries awaited.

The sudden need for sleep overpowered her. She leaned against a wall and, although she dug her thumbnail into the skin of her palm, her head nodded to her chest, the blackness heavy and unavoidable. A nudge to her shoulder woke her, but when she opened her eyes, no one was there. She massaged the back of her neck and glanced at her watch. The episodes were happening more frequently. What would be worse—keeping her secret from Gigi Dottie or watching her crumble at hearing the news?


  1. I was not hooked by the first two paragraphs...I'd start with the third one and just explain that Gigi Dottie is her grandmother (isn't she?)

  2. Not hooked. That first sentence is a mouthful, and the rest aren't much better. Also, I'm not terribly certain what her mission is (searching for dead relatives, maybe?), and even worse, I'm not all that interested in finding out.

  3. "...whose absence here shadowed the view." Not sure what you mean to convey by this. That thoughts of her grandmother overshadowed her reactions?

    I'd probably cut a lot from the first few graphs and pack them into one. Ghosts and gargoyles -- you only need to mention that once to get the idea across.

  4. I really liked the line:

    A mission she’d warily accepted and presently regretted.

    It made me wonder what the mission was. Obviously no small task awaits her and the setting sounds fascinating. I'm hooked.

  5. First sentence is a bit much. I don't understand: "A lifetime of honesty swept away in one visit." If it was honest, why would research change things?

    I like the premise. Going to Oxford to learn her family secret....interesting.

    I'd read a few more pages.

    Good luck

  6. The second sentence does a great job of grounding the reader by telling who the pov is and where she is. I suggest you cut the first sentence and get right to the second. You could work in the first sentence as the pov's thoughts as she enters the building.

    I felt like there was a lot of redundant information in this.

    The last paragraph is where I finally began to get hooked.

    Loved the setting.

  7. This sample was a bit too dense and it lost me. I like that the protagonist is on a reluctant mission and I want to like the setting, but there is a lot to swim through to get to the hook.

  8. I think you need to cut a lot. The setting is evocative but you start with two long sentences, which tripped me up immediately. I think you could combine the first and second paragraphs eg. as someone else said, gargoyles and ghosts only needs to be said once. Great phrase, but twice in two paragraphs is a bit much.

    I'd read on though.

  9. I get the mood and I'm enjoying the "mystery" of what the secrets might be. I love the setting as well. I'm imagining fall, even though the season is not mentioned, but that's a tribute to the tone here.

    But the writing is really confusing. It's almost as if you're forgetting that the readers have no idea about the backstory of this character.

    A few spots where I had trouble:

    "The Gothic buildings seemed eerily familiar, an inherited experience..."

    Deja Vu is inherited? That seems odd to me.

    "...her enigmatic grandmother whose absence here shadowed the view."

    How does absence shadow anything?

    "..where long-dead professors argued about physics and theology..."

    Are the ghosts talking?

    "A lifetime of honesty swept away in one visit."

    I'm lost at this one.

    I think this needs more edits for the story to emerge.

  10. Did somebody upthread suggest ditching the first sentence and starting with the third? I second that enthusiastically. (Except, I hate hate hate the alleged verb "to task". Plus, it really conflicts with the setting. Jowett, Dodgson, et al. would never have said "tasked".)

    I'm a sucker for haunted Oxford, and I really like what I think is the premise here (Julianne's grandmother has sent her to Oxford to do something or get something, and whatever it is she's found, her grandmother's not going to like it -- plus seeing ghosts and narcolepsy-or-something to complicate Julianne's life). And the Bod would undoubtedly be chock-a-block with ghosts, for someone who can see/hear/sense them. So I'm semi-hooked. But there were a number of places where I couldn't quite figure out what was going on, not in a good, intriguing way but in a frustratingly confusing way.

    Julianne hears ghosts, right? OK. What does "A lifetime of honesty swept away in one visit" mean? Why does the sun's heat make her feel guilty, and guilty about what? When you mention "her ancestor's indelible spirit", I started wondering if her grandmother was also dead. But then in the last paragraph it appears this is not the case, so ... which ancestor?

    The last paragraph is really good: except for changing "into the skin of her palm" to "into her palm", I wouldn't change anything -- except that "Gigi Dottie" seems to me such an unlikely name for someone's grandmother that if, in fact, that's who Gigi Dottie is, I think you might need to clarify that earlier on. Stopping to wonder "Who (or what) the heck is Gigi Dottie?" would interrupt my reading momentum even as I turned to page 2 to see what happens next.

  11. I'm not hooked. Maybe because I usually read fantasy, but I wasn't sure if the ghosts were literal or her imagination. Same as the nudge on her shoulder. This doesn't feel like Women's Fiction.

    The first two paragraphs feel heavy, and I had to read them twice to really get a sense of what was going on.

    The background snippets were more confusing than intriguing.