Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Secret Agent #19

TITLE: Beyond The River Shadows
GENRE: Literary Fiction

Along the steep canyon walls trees swayed in unison like slow moving breakers. A wondrous expanse of green surrounded him, the sun anchored high above the tallest ponderosa pines, the air laden with heat and sweet fragrance of azaleas and Shasta lilies. At his feet the McCloud River, broad and shimmering with sunlight, coursed by. It had been ten years since Brad Lucas heard the sounds of a river; he had been away too long. Squatting down on his haunches, he removed his wire-framed glasses and placed them on a flat, dry stone. He could feel his heart pounding in his fingertips.

“How much farther?” Brad’s voice cut the white noise of river and wind.

Dean Romans paused in the middle of the trail. Stooping forward, he adjusted the lens of a bulky 35mm camera. The shutter clicked.

“It’s so damned pristine out here,” Dean said, “I half-expect a unicorn to come prancing down the trail.” His tight grin twitched then cracked wide open, exposing perfect white teeth that gleamed in contrast to his swollen black eye.

Brad forced a chuckle loud enough for Dean to hear. He knew it would be a long week if he didn’t humor Dean’s smart-ass observations from time to time. He has his moments, Brad thought, and this place must truly seem otherworldly to him.

Hands cupped, Brad splashed river water on his face and the nape of his neck. The cold snatched his breath away. For a moment, he felt reinvigorated. Only fleeting relief, he thought.


  1. It seems you have an exact image of this scene inside your head, and I know you probably want to convey it to the reader, but I think less is more here. All I’m really getting is a description of the scenery whereas I’m wanting to know why Dean has a black eye. Did Brad do it? Are these two buddies on an adventure? I’m not sure, and to me, the beginning spent painting a mental picture is very frustrating. I’d spend the opening here diving right into Brad and Dean’s relationship. Let the other details come out in their actions and dialogue.

  2. I enjoy the description. The words are precise and the language is rich. I like the slow smolder of conflict and the addition of the black eye. It's obvious in this excerpt that one guy doesn't mind being there, and one does.

    The earlier post has nothing wrong about it, but I have a lot of patience for a well-told lit fiction piece. I read YA, mystery, and a lot of literary, recently Truman Capote, whom I love. There's only so much that a 250-word excerpt can realistically do.

    Really there's a lot offered to the reader. We have two characters. We know their names, their sex, and their surroundings. There is a hint of tension in their relationship and the fact that one is a bit of a loser or a tagalong and the other feels compelled to be patient and attempt to be nice.

    I guess it helps that I've been on a remote trail with another guy and a camera. I like it. I would keep on reading.

  3. I think it's a matter of preference on the scenery. I was part of a writer's group where a lot of well read folks really enjoyed an established setting. Others of us liked to get to the action. If it's done well, and contributes to the story, as I think does here, I think keep it. Maybe streamline the first paragraph a bit and take out one of the descriptive lines. Given the title of the book, a more detailed setting doesn't seem out of place.

  4. I love the descriptions of the scenery and I think it sets just the right pace for this story.

    The swollen eye = we'll figure out soon enough how he got that.

    The relationship between these guys = it will come.

    The only thing that didn't work for me was that he expected a UNICORN to come down the trail. A unicorn? It would have been better, in my honest opinion, for him to imagine an undisturbed mountain lion or something more "manly".

  5. I did like this. Very interested to see where it's going. I've read this a few times, though, and still find myself confused. I think Brad asking Dean how much farther is throwing me off. Dean is the one who finds the area otherwordly, so why is he the one who knows where they are going? I can think of several different answers that may show up in the next few paragraphs, (Dean has the map or GPS, only Dean has been told the location...) but in any case, why doesn't Brad take over and lead? He seems like the take charge guy here and the one comfortable outdoors. Wish I could read the logline! I want to know what these two are up to, why Dean doesn't answer Brad's question, and why Brad hasn't seen a river in so long. Also thrown because this seemed to have a dark edge contrasted sharply by the unicorn and the camera, which had me wondering if I was way off and these guys are just out in the woods for a camping trip. Betting this is a great story! Wish I could read a little more get a better sense of the situation!

  6. Perhaps the scenery can wait a little longer to be presented, keeping some action towards the beginning? I like the description, I could see the setting clearly. Good way to introduce the black eye- which also made me want to know what happened to him. Not sure I like the unicorn reference. I really enjoyed the last paragraph. I'd read on.

  7. I thought it was well written and set up nicely. We meet two characters and one has a black eye, which says something happened somewhere, and Brad hasn't seen a river in ten years, which makes me wonder why. Where was he?

    It's not gripping, but questions are raised that catch my interest. I'd give it more time to unfold.

  8. I love the white teeth vs. black eye observation, but you could lose half of the adjectives in that sentence and it would still work, if not work even better, and that's how I feel about this whole entire opening...the others who said "less is more" are right, seems to me, not only with the descriptors, but also with Brad's somewhat overdone observation about Dean having his moments, etc. Pull back 50% or so and you'd have something more effective--I haven't seen a hint of the story yet, but the writing (in that case) would keep me going...