Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May Secret Agent #5

TITLE: Soul Cutter
GENRE: YA Horror/Romance

In the center of town, the clock tower above City Hall chimed midnight. Twelve metallic gongs vibrated across the countryside. The last of autumn’s leaves spiraled down from naked branches, ducks buried their beaks deeper in feathered-warmth, and housecats curled closer to the fire.

It was time for all the good little citizens of Kirby Landing to be in their beds.

So, naturally, Élan Duchamps was far away from hers, running across a shadowy lawn with her camera crew close behind.

A holly bush caught her black sweats, its barbs pulling threads loose. She threw a glare at the plant as if that could make it apologize. Against the holly’s dark leaves, small red berries shone like droplets of blood.

Frowning, Élan skulked past another bush and into a withered flowerbed outside an old Victorian home. Plant-stalks crackled under her soles as she stood on tiptoe to peer through the window. Her pulse cranked up a notch, and her tongue slipped out, wetting dry lips. The man inside would call the ghosts soon, and she didn’t want to miss a thing.

Beside her, Tyler braced the legs of the tripod among the dead flowers and aimed the camcorder toward the glass.

“Make sure the lens cap is off and the auto-focus is on,” Élan whispered, surprised to see her words become puffs of white in the cold air. Every year, the first frost came as a shock, as if summer’s heat wiped away all memory of the past winter.


  1. Fantastic! So well done! I was instantly hooked and would absolutely keep reading. Even the opening descriptions felt like action... felt like they were signs that meant something was coming. I'm having a hard time finding something to complain about. Maybe someone else can nitpick it, but I'm sold.

  2. I thought it was a good start. I would read more. I want to see who is calling ghosts and why... and how Elan knows this is going down.

    I'm a little confused about Elan's age. She's implied to be a "citizen," and she has a camera crew, and that made me think she must be an adult--a professional journalist. Is she a teen? Maybe "It was time for all the good little teenagers of Kirby Landing..." would help clarify it a little more, or you could work in some other hint about being on the school newspaper or something.

  3. Cool opening! Love the voice & the clippy-ness of it!

    The only part that felt a tiny bit out of step was Elan stopping to glare and notice the blood on the holly bush when she's just been running across the lawn & seems very motivated to get somewhere. The blood on the bush is such a cool detail, esp for setting up the horror element, but maybe it could be worked in later? Alternately, if she's *done* running across the lawn & has moved into the foliage up against the house, maybe that could be established somehow. Right now it feels like the bush is in the middle of the lawn to me.

    Other than that, this feels fun & I would read on.

  4. This is great. The descriptions are vivid but they don't slow the pace. Right from the get-go we know this is going to be a frenetic, exciting ride. I would totally read on.

  5. Nice, kind of creepy set up. I agree with the comment about her stopping to notice the holly berries. The glare seems sufficient if she's hurrying. Also, I didn't think the last line fit. If it said, "the first frost came as a shock to HER," and stopped there, I think it would work better.

    I was also curious about her age because of the camera crew reference.

    I would keep reading to find out about the ghost calling. : )

  6. Great voice! Not knowing Élan's age right up front doesn't bother me as it will probably become clear the further along the story goes.

  7. I agree with writeidea. We don't need to know her age in the first 250 words. It's enough to know she'd old enough to have a "camera crew" in tow, and if it turns out she's a kid (teen or younger) with a camera crew, what an interesting surprise! Somethings are better to find out as you go.

  8. Good voice. Excellent writing.

    I'd say this is a win.

  9. LOVE this!! Wow. Completely hooked in and wanted more. Had to go back and read it again. Love all the creepiness in the details you show us. Fantastic entry!

  10. I do hope the question of the MC's age is cleared up soon (if she's an adult, why is she the MC of a YA story but if she's a teenager, why does she have a camera crew?) But I'd keep reading to find out what "calling the ghosts" means and how she knows it's going to happen.

  11. Hooked! I'd definitely read on. I'm assuming the main character is either an adult or an older teen, and I agree with others that you don't need to set that out in the first 250 words, though I'm assuming it will be clarified fairly early on in the story. One pet peeve, though: "She threw a glare at the plant" - why not just say, "she glared at the plant"? It makes it just a little bit tighter (to my eyes, anyway).

  12. Love the title!

    I wondered about the opening pargs. They're upbeat and warm, but it's midnight, and you're comparing holly berries to blood, and they're trying to film ghosts, so perhaps the nice, soft descriptions about people snug in their beds and cats curled by the fire could be replaced with something more in line with the holly berries like blood?

    Since this is horror, making the night a bit scarier or darker could lend more of an eerie feel to this.

  13. Love the fast paced feel of this! I like that she glares at the bush as if she can make it apologize. Gives great insight to her character. I get kind of a Veronica Mars vibe out of her. Competent, commanding, sneaky and not keen on following rules.

    I think the camera crew/age thing could easily be cleared up. I'm assuming she's a teenager and her "crew" are other teenagers she's roped into her quest to capture ghosts on camera. When you mention her camera crew you could modify. Eg: ...with her camera crew, if you could call a pudgy sixteen year old with a typeofcamera and a tripod a crew, close behind.

    I would definitely read on.

  14. I think Barbara fails to see your vision. You're trying to juxtapose the sweet, simple city with the sinister, paranormal happenings that actually occur at midnight. And it's done beautifully!

    I must say, you know how to pace a story and effortlessly glide the reader through it. Well done!

    My only gripe is Tyler's introduction. It is done as though we know about him and it seems odd. Perhaps use something like this: Beside her, Tyler, her cameraman, braced the legs... I think this works a lot better.

  15. I was hooked. I enjoyed what I read. The only nitpicky thing I have is the description of the bush when she's busy rushing off somewhere. I liked the description, but it just seemed to clash a little with the pace that was being set up.

  16. I was hooked. Great opening. I would read on!

  17. I have no critique to offer! I'm so freaking hooked to this that I found myself leaning forward as I read!

    Well done!

    PS. I'm completely in love with your title.

  18. Nicely written.

    Three nits. The first is tiny - you could easily lose "In the center of town" since that's where most people would picture City Hall.
    Second is the holly berries, already mentioned.
    Third is the final sentence - not sure how a shocking first frost can be compared to summer heat wiping away the memory of winter. More likely it would be a reminder of winter and wipe away the memory of summer.

    But otherwise, image provoking and well written. I would love to know her age, because she's even cooler as a teen - and totally love if she's a Veronica Mars type. Really, why didn't that show last when we all loved it???

    Good luck!

  19. I like the idea of what's happening here, but the action and uniqueness of the situation is buried with unnecessary description. Minimize describing the town and get to Elan faster. You could even cut out the entire first paragraph.

    Other unneeded descriptions also slowed the pacing. The holly bush (how can the berries gleam if it's dark?) can also be deleted--we learn nothing from her encounter from the bush. And again, your last sentence interrupts our focus just as we're getting good and comfortable on the couch with our popcorn ready to scream "Don't go in the house!" (especially with the genre listed as horror--yay!). You have plenty of time after the captivating beginning to add in the little details.

    Cleaning up the pacing and extraneous info will plop us right into the action. I'm hooked with the idea of the camera crew trying to catch a man calling ghosts.