Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July Secret Agent #9

TITLE: The Pit
GENRE: YA Contemporary

Carbonado Currier: October 24, 1889

Explosion Reaps Death and Mystery

Four bodies of coal miners were recovered from the gloomy depths of Carbon Hill Mine after Monday's deadly explosion, the most disastrous in the mine's forty year history. They were raised to the surface through a ventilation shaft near the accident site.

Mine spokesman James Lear said, “The calamitous event was likely caused by a pocket of methane gas ignited by the open flame of a miner’s headlamp. Efforts to recover three more members of the unfortunate crew are continuing. The deceased will be buried at company expense.”

A member of the rescue team, who wishes to remain anonymous, reports the blast not only collapsed much of the tunnel, but also opened an entrance to a cluster of natural caverns heretofore unknown. He claims there is no sign of the bodies of the missing. “I do not understand,” he said. “We found helmets, headlamps, and picks but no bodies. Not a trace.”

Carbon Hill Coal has refused further comment.

* * *

March, 1983

From the white-pillared entrance of Carbonado School, a set of red-painted stairs stuck out like a tongue. I could imagine it slurping up students in the morning and spitting them out in the afternoon. With each upward step, the knot in my stomach pulled tighter because, despite being the end of March, it was my first day of school.

I hesitated at the door and gulped in some air. Well, no turning back now.


  1. I really like the imagery of the school stairs and would rather spend more time with the narrator there than read the news report on the top. Information like what happens in 1889 might work better if you insert them into the novel as it goes.

    Yet, at the same time, what happened at the mine does give off an atmosphere of mystery...

  2. Even though your book starts with a newspaper clipping as a prologue, in contests and when submitting, it's best to no include it and go straight into the first chapter.

    As to what there is of the first chapter, the writing is good. Although, I've read that agents see a lot of first day at school opening pages, so if you could start somewhere else that could benefit you.

  3. "I could imagine it slurping up students in the morning and spitting them out in the afternoon."
    Great, great imagery. I like the narrator already.

    Is the newspaper clipping the right opening for YA? Do YA really identify with coal miner's plights and problems? I'm thinking skip that or save it for a bit later. Schools slurping up students may be the better lead :)

    Of course, the newspaper article's real purpose seems to be setting a back story and giving a sense of what we're getting into--it's going to have some mystery and danger clearly--so make sure that works into the narrative.

  4. I was struck immediately by the newspaper clipping and its mysterious content. The difference in dates leads me to believe that the two events will cross later and have something significant to do with the plot.

    My interest was also piqued by the narrator's first day of school happening in March. Doesn't school usually begin in September?

    And a strong image. I've often felt that way about schools; I feel an affinity toward the narrator too.

  5. I liked the newspaper account opening. (Writing is all so subjective, ain't it?) Right away, I know we've got a mystery here, and I thought it was an interesting one. The school steps didn't hold much interest, but the fact that the MC is starting school in March is.

    I did wonder if they knew about methane in 1889. I know they were aware of gas, but you might check to see when the word came into use.

  6. I'm a bit stuck on the category saying YA Contemporary when the dates listed are both historical (even 1983 is historical). If the setting is 1983 and not 2012, I belive your category is historical (I had the same question regarding my own WIP which takes place in 1963; 49 years ago is definitely historical).

    Other than that, I assume the mine incident has to do with the MC 100 years later, but I think the article would best be shown when the character finds it and then we readers can learn with her about the past event. It doesn't grip me as a strong opener.

    If your story needs to start with a first day of school, by all means keep it, but if an option exists to tell your story without the first day of school cliche, it's worth exploring.

  7. Interesting comments. It seems to me that as writers we are often stuck with the way the exposition of a story is "supposed" happen as opposed to a fresh approach. I think this piece gives a different approach.

    In any case, the writing is excellent and writing is always the trump card. I'd like to read more knowing that there is more going on than just the first day of school.

    I'm hooked.

  8. I have mixed feelings about this. I like that you're setting us up to wonder about what's going to happening with the story related to the news event, but nothing from it felt 1889ish to me and the dialog it held didn't feel natural.

    Also, I had the same thought as Stephsco. If this is about 1889 and then 1983, how is it a contemporary? I don't write contemporary, so maybe it is, but I'd also be surprised if I was getting what I thought was a contemporary book and it was 1983.

    I do really like these lines -

    From the white-pillared entrance of Carbonado School, a set of red-painted stairs stuck out like a tongue. I could imagine it slurping up students in the morning and spitting them out in the afternoon.

  9. I really liked the mystery set up by the missing miners but understand the comments mentioning weaving it in later. Could you possibly start the chapter with a small quote from the paper that hooks the reader and then have the MC find the rest of the article later? You have to do what works best for your manuscript, though. :) I really enjoyed it and would absolutely keep reading. Loved the school's mouth like most of the readers, but for me, it was made more vivid because I wondered how the mining accident tied in with the school.

  10. I read this with interest because I also have written a story with a newspaper article in the first 250 words.
    For me, it worked. It's probably going to be a matter of taste, though.
    What really drew me in to your story was the writing: "red-painted stairs stuck out like a tongue..."
    The MC starting school in March makes me think it's a transfer student, but this "new kid, new school" cliche can be forgiven with good writing.

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  12. I really like this. The newspaper clipping gives the opening so much atmosphere, and it gives the setting a lot of context, which is always a great lead-in. Just from the first two paragraphs of the 'modern-day' segment, I really like the narrator's voice, too.

    Hmm. Yep, reading back over it a couple times - pretty much the only thing I'd change is that I'd cut the sentence, "The deceased will be buried at company expense." Since the sentence before it has just broached the topic of the missing members, and the next paragraph also concerns the missing members, I wouldn't change the subject back to the dead. It's not really necessary information, either.

    Other than that, looks awesome. I'm very intrigued! Best of luck.

  13. I too was a bit confused about whether this was historical or contemporary (or 1983), but I'm guessing the old clipping ties in with whatever is happening in 1983. The writing is solid. While I can't say I like starting with a newspaper article, I'm intrigued enough to keep reading.

  14. Jennifer Laughran has a great blog post on defining genres and her line about historical is: "Historical is stuff set in the past. YES, the 80's count as the past and are historical. YES, that means you are old."

    Makes me laugh (and curse her for pointing out that I am indeed old)!

    Here's the full post, if anyone in interested in more genre defining

  15. Seems like two different stories; need a bridge to put them together. Also, the newspaper article is dry and doesn't really provide a personal hook. I agree with the others who say start with the school and then maybe the protag finds the article or is assigned to report on it and gets caught up in the mystery?

  16. I am instantly pulled in. I have to say, nice job with the vast time jump. That adds instant intruige and almost makes the reader think something sinister is going to happen. Especially with the topic of the article. Now, whether that's gonna happen or not, you've hooked me as an agent and most likely your reader.

    The article was very well written. Very true to journalism form. And the last paragraph gave great imagery. I loved it.