Wednesday, January 19, 2011

#13 January Secret Agent

TITLE: Soul Sifter
GENRE: YA urban fantasy

London Howell wanted to start his summer right. If he could persuade his uncle to teach him to drive, the positive vibes might trigger other improvements in his life--like being able to sleep instead of sprinting through his neighborhood at midnight.

He stopped to gather his breath beneath a lamppost, his hand braced against the cool iron. The heavy air stank of a mixture of grass and drying paint from a neighbor's fence, but beneath it sat the bitter scent of the city. It smelled of distant summer evenings beside the docks, scraping mold off rotting wood with the sharp edges of stones, of oil and brine and Dad's arm against his side as they watched shadowy barges pass like ghost ferries.

Amun, ever helpful, yawned into the receiver and said, "You sound like a goat on the rack."

"How," London asked between breaths, "do you know what a tortured goat sounds like?" He shook out his legs, but it didn't help. Even running for two miles hadn't burned off the excess energy.

"Animal Sacrifices Hour. Wednesday nights at eight. Bring your own blood bucket."

"Now that I've got that brilliant mental image, I'm hanging up."

"Did running work?"

"No." London was getting used to the restlessness. True, he'd begun naming his counting sheep (he liked Phil, number one hundred and seventy-two) and his days passed in a blur, but after weeks caught in a twilight of exhaustion and energy, he'd learned to endure it through sheer perseverance.


  1. You have really funny stuff in here - the tortured goat, naming the counting sheep - but some of the language trips me up. "He stopped to gather his breath" threw me, and I don't normally think of the smell of grass as a stink.

    It's an interesting setup, and I'd probably read on in spite of the word choice issues for more of the dark humor.

  2. Yes, I agree with Nora. It's edgy, vaguely creepy, with humor, and I love smelly prose passages!

    Why would anyone scrape mold off rotting wood with the sharp edges of stones?

  3. I love the dark humor. I love the way the first paragraph ends, and "Bring your own blood bucket." Excellent!

    The paragraph with all the smells tripped me up. I don't think I can wrap my mind around more than 2 or 3 smells mingling together. And, I agree with Nora about word choice.

    But I would definitely keep reading. I love the voice.

  4. I love the descriptions in this. I can smell the stink and feel the grime as you're describing his surroundings. I also really like the voices of the characters. The interchange between London and Amun is very amusing. I'm also really interested to see what's going on with his excess energy. I'd keep reading for sure!

  5. I think the first two paras need some reworking - once you got into the dialogue, it made me laugh and I really liked it. As someone mentioned, grass and drying paint doesn't seem like a particularly unpleasant smell, so 'stank' seemed out of place.

    Also when you say it 'smelled of... scraping mold...' it threw me because I wasn't expecting verbs, they don't work for me. I think it'd be better as 'It smelled of distant summer evenings beside the docks, of mold on rotting wood, oil and brine and Dad's arm against his as they watched shadowy barges pass like ghost ferries.' Just imho.

    I also think you could make the second sentence punchier and clearer, I'm not really sure what his uncle teaching him to drive has to do with anything.

    But like I said, I love everything from the third para down, v funny, I would defnitely read on.

  6. Second paragraph a bit overwritten, but this is good - and intriguing - and I'd keep reading.

  7. I don't know what's going on in the story - except that London's running - but you got some funny stuff here. I like Phil. And I like London enough to keep reading on, even though I'm totally clueless right now. I also like your descriptions.

    Though I can't say your beginning paragraph hooked me, I can say that by the end of the 250 words I was hooked.

  8. I think the writing here is good, but I wouldn't read on.

    The trouble I have with this beginning is that I'm confused about what's going on. Well, I can figure out what's happening, but the text isn't helping.

    For example, Amun comes out of nowhere. There's no mention of a phone before that point, so I'm first imagining a disembodied voice, then a giant receiver that's hanging off of the lamppost for some reason, and it's really only until I get to the mention of hanging up that I know this is a phone conversation.

    Other than that, as I said, this is definitely well written, but I don't connect with the character or the setting.

  9. Even though I was a bit confused with the information on his sprinting at midnight (does he have no control, do his legs just start going? Is he a werewolf, a running kind?) I still thought the first paragraph had a lot to recommend it. The MC is established: his age, the fact that he has a problem, his funny way of thinking about vibes. The setting is there.

    I have no problem with the descriptions in paragraph two, except for where they are: too early for this much.

    The tone is funny, yet we know something serious is just under the surface.

  10. The dialogue was great. I loved it! But I have no idea what is going on. London runs because he can't sleep - that's what I get. I don't know why he can't sleep, I don't know why he runs (as opposed to expending his energy some other way), I don't know why Amun is staying in contact with him while he runs, I don't know who Amun is. There's too much I don't know.

    I don't get the connection of the first parg (learning to drive) to anything further on. Maybe I'm just dense, but I'd like a hint of what's behind it all.

  11. I was confused too--not that you need to spell out exactly what's going on, but I think a little clarification would go a long way. Love the humor and the dialogue. These seem like fun characters.

  12. I liked this. I was confused at first, but would ultimately read on because I liked the end of the passage. A few comments:

    -Not that I've ever met or heard of anyone named London, for some reason it strikes me as a girl's name. Maybe because Paris is more popular as a girl's name. Also, the MC's name and the fact that he's in a city made me immediately think he's in London, which may not be true. That could be clarified.

    -I also wondered if he was a werewolf at the beginning.

    -The smell of grass didn't bother as it did others. Grass can be really strong! Especially if you're out of breath - that heightens the intensity of smells, for me, anyway

    -I'm wondering wear Amun comes from and am now wondering if London is on some kind of mission

    -The second paragraph took me out of the story. Too much info for me.

  13. Not sure what London's dilemma is

    Nothing happens.

    I need more action or at least a hint at what London faces.

    maybe a little more of his inner dialogue so I can understand him a bit?

  14. Hey, Secret Agent here! You have some nice writing going on but I’m disoriented. Ground us in the present, including the fact that London is on the phone. Arun comes out of nowhere (and who talks on the phone while sprinting?). It also lowers the stakes when you present us with a situation that’s pretty cool and then say, within the first page, “oh, but he was getting used to it.” Keep it distressing for longer!