Wednesday, April 14, 2010

April Secret Agent Contest #30

TITLE: Ashfall

I was home alone that Friday evening. Since you're reading this, you survived and already know exactly which day I'm writing about. Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing, in the way my parents remembered 9/11, but more so. Together, we lost the old world, slipping from that cocoon of mechanized comfort into the hellish land we inhabit now. The pre-Friday world of school, cell phones and refrigerators dissolved into this post-Friday world of ash, darkness and bloody knives.

But that Friday was pretty normal at first. I fought with Mom again after school. That was normal too; we fought constantly. The topics were legion: my poor study habits, my video games, my underwear on the bathroom floor--whatever. I remember a lot of those arguments. That Friday, they only fueled my rage. Now they're little jewels of memory I hoard, hard and sharp under my skin. Now, I'd sell my right arm to a cannibal to argue with Mom again.

Our last argument was about Warren, Illinois. My uncle and his family lived there, on a tiny farm near Apple River Canyon State Park. Mom decided we'd visit their farm that weekend. She announced this malodorous plan over dinner on Wednesday. My bratty little sister, Rebecca, almost bounced out of her chair in delight. Dad responded with his usual benign lack of interest,
mumbling something like, Sounds nice, honey. I said I would not be going, sparking an argument that continued right up until the three of them left.


  1. I like this. I would keep reading. I think you could cut out a few adjectives here and there (malodorous was one). I love the line about selling his arm to a cannibal. I realized after I read it that I don't know the gender of the MC. I was thinking it was a girl, but after re-reading the part about video games and underwear on the floor, maybe it's a boy. You might want to clear that up. Nice job.

  2. I like this. Especially the hoarded jewels of memory and the cannibal line. I'd break up the first paragraph before the word "everyone." I like malodorous, and I'd vote to keep it. Tell, rather than show that Rebecca is bratty. Quotes around Dad's "Sounds nice, honey." And, I don't care what the name of the state park is.

    Those are all nits. This is a great voice, and I'd read on.

  3. I like your opening and would keep reading. The only thing that didn't quite work for me was the third sentence in the first paragraph. The 9/11 reference threw me out of the story. It just didn't seem like something a teenager who hadn't been alive during 9/11 (or had been very young during 9/11) would be thinking about, especially if they had survived a much, much larger disaster.

  4. Not exactly hooked. The 2nd person bothers me as do many of the descriptions--cocoon of mechanized comfort, malodorous plan.

    I do like the setup. Event worse than 9/11. The fact that the MC didn't go to the farm and survived when the rest of the family didn't.

    So, I'm torn. Would give it a few more pages to decide.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. The second person is weird. In fact, I find the second sentence more confusing than anything. I think this piece could be much stronger without all the diddly-daddlying around about 9/11 and what it is that I remember. I don't know ... as it's written, it doesn't work for me for some reason.

    Best of luck, though!

  6. Not hooked. I want to like this, and I think the concept is good. I'm just struggling with the timeline (are we in the future? the past? how long has it been since "that Friday evening"?) and the crazy voice in the first paragraph.

    Also, the word "malodorous" has to go. (How can a plan be smelly, anyway?

  7. I like this I'd keep reading. I like that it's assumed we know what happened to the world, although I'd be intrigued to see how you;re going to share that information later on (or maybe you won't).

    I quite liked the malodorous, it made me laugh. I could picture her telling her parents their plan was malodorous, and them trying not to laugh :)

  8. Like it - intriguing. Bloody knives threw me, as does malodorous, although I suppose a teen might deliberately misuse this word. The mention of the cannibal is nice. I'd keep reading.

  9. I really liked the first two paragraphs, but the third one lost me a bit. I'm eager to either hear about her current circumstances or about the disaster that happened on Friday, not details about the Wednesday breakfast. I'd just put in a line about how her parents had gone to her uncle's or something. Loved the cannibal line as well, and I thought the reference about September 11 was good - gave us some idea of timeframe.

  10. Not hooked. This starts with that awful day, and I think that's the story I'm getting, then it goes into backstory and I'm wondering if the story will be about events that led up to that awful day. By the end, I still don't know which story I'm getting. Perhaps an amalgamation of both? I don't know.

    I would have been more interested in what his world looks like now, where/how he's living, things along those lines. You really lost me with all the backstory.

  11. For me, there's too much flashback that tells me what's happened. Can we not see it in action?

    The only thing I know about this MC is that s/he's in a worse place than our regular Earth. But you didn't identify it as SF, so maybe I'm off the mark.

    Maybe you need to start when the changes came and make it an actual scene, with dialog?

    Your writing is good, so keep at it.

  12. I was into it, until the last paragraph. I'm not a fan of back story at the start of a book, but this was such an interesting concept I'm willing to forgive it because I want to know a little bit.

    I think you can find a way to merge the first and second paragraphs, to keep the mention of selling the arm to a cannibal (I loved that) but cut out some of the excess.

    Since this reads like a diary entry, maybe start the chapter that way? With a date as the chapter heading? Something like that? It's hard to say when you don't know the story.

    You don't want to start out with something as awesome as the first paragraph, then back track in the second. You want to keep building up the tension, not slowing it down. It's like riding a roller coaster up, and you get to the tip and you're anticipating the rush of the fall, but the coaster just sits there.

    If it isn't a diary entry, maybe throw some action in there. What is he/she doing? Sitting on something, cleaning his dirty fingernails with a pocket knife? Anything would be better than nothing.

  13. I definitely find myself compelled to keep on going, based on the great, tense first paragraph. But as people above have suggested, you gotta stop giving backstory and start giving... er... frontstory, asap.

    Still, I'm interested, for sure.

  14. I agree that the second person bumped me too. That having been said, I was curious about what happened Friday evening. I would keep reading to find out.