Wednesday, August 29, 2012

#4 First Line Grabber 500

Title: Bet Her Life
Genre: YA Sci-fi/Thriller

Today is my 6,570th day of life. When you say you’re eighteen, people think you’re young. But when you throw around a number like that—almost 7,000 days—they start to realize no one is as young as they think they are.

The fog falling from Manhattan’s nuclear shield is particularly thick today. The misty air has chased everyone inside and 34th street is uncharacteristically empty. Most people would say that today is dreary, but not me. Today is the day I break free. I’m going to take New York for everything its got, and then I can leave. I’ll take Samantha and we’ll go far away, where the war can’t touch us. Today, I’ll have enough money to put working for Ares behind me.

My phone chimes as I turn onto 8th. Two messages. The first is from Ben: Dream Team is in position for offensive. No opposition sighted. Good to go.


The second from Samantha: Come see me before you become primo number guy.

I can’t help but laugh. Sam’s nickname for my job has always made me smile.

Madison Square Garden’s hulking cubical shape looms out of the mist. Architecturally it's probably the ugliest building ever designed. But despite that, and the weather, there’s still quite a crowd waiting in line for a chance to get in. Good. I want as many people as possible in the audience tonight.

I walk up the line to the front. Joe, one of the biggest guards the Viperas have, is on duty. He nods to me and waves me in front of the people in line to the scanner. I put my eye to the sensor as it reads my retina. It’s merely a formality, but I watch as my name scrolls across the door panel. Welcome, Mark ‘Cash’ Johnson. I head inside, confronted by the smell of sweat, smoke, and over-heated metal.

Before this most recent world war started, this was performing venue. Now it’s the biggest betting center in the city and the seat of the Vipera’s regime. The inside of the Garden is dark and smoky, filled with the blue light of video screens. It’s still a stadium, a giant screen facing each side of the room, and each seat with a little screen of its own for personal betting. The result is a flickery and dizzying light that gives you a headache if you’re here for too long, which I always am.

I glance at the closest screen. The satellites are currently looking at the northern front up in Montana--Contention Point 162. A group of our soldiers are facing off with an enemy unit, this one made up of Chinese troops. The numbers scrolling across the bottom of the screen tell me that two hundred thousand dollars total is being bet on this exchange, and the odds of the Chinese winning are pretty high—seventy-two percent. We’re way outnumbered. The Chinese launch an incendiary device, and three Americans die. As their green life signs fade within the image, I hear cheering from the far side of the Garden.


  1. I like this, the writing is good and it has a Hunger Games feel to it. I'm not sure of what is exactly happening but I'd definitely keep reading to find out.


  2. Wow, betting on war! I have to say this is AWESOME. You wouldn't happen to be looking for a critique/lookover/reader would you? This looks so cool.

  3. Excellent start and tight writing that holds your interest. A very unique way of presenting a new reality in a recognizable (Manhattan) world. It certainly grabs my attention and makes me want to read more. The only crit I have would be the opening paragraph which does not seem to add anything at all to what follows. In fact, you could easily start with the 2nd para and lose nothing. In fact, it might even be stronger. The use of the numbers just seems to provoke the question as to 'why think in those terms?' That question is left unanswered or unexplained which slightly weakens it as an opening choice. But, apart from that, really first rate.

  4. Ammi-Joan PaquetteAugust 29, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    This is an intriguing opener, though the dystopian topic makes it a shut-down for me personally, with such a glut in the current market. A few thoughts:
    * I liked the opening paragraph when I read it alone. In context here, it doesn't grab me quite as strongly--seems to prenote a different book, perhaps? Or doesn't seem to tie in as strongly to what follows?
    * Watch your proofreading. There are a few obvious typos here ('for everything its got'; 'this was performing venue').
    Overall, this feels like a strong opener. It doesn't feel quite new or different enough to compel me to read further, but it's capably executed.

  5. I didn't like the opening sentence and still don't. The second paragraph is much more compelling. That's where I was hooked. After that, I wanted very much to know what was going on and would have turned the page to find out.

    Consider swapping the first two paragraphs. It still gets everything in, but starts with more tension and interest.

  6. I like this one. I'd keep reading. There are a few details I don't understand (who are the Viperas) but that's something I'm confident will be explained to me later on.

    Tight execution and an interesting premise with betting on wars. My one real question was, how small was the incendiary device, to have killed only three people? Also, were there any injuries vs. deaths?

  7. I thought this was well-crafted. I like the first sentence.

    Aside from the grammatical errors (Have you tried reading out loud to proofread?), this only needs a few tweaks. For example: I'd write "Before the last world war started ...." You rid yourself the two "this's" in close proximity.

    Nice job and good luck.

  8. I really like this, but agree that the opening sentence doesn't necessarily fit. Also, there are a few redundant statements--when he says his friend's nickname for his job "always makes me smile", for instance. We don't need that. We see him smile already (laugh, but you get it)

  9. For me, it's too much too soon. I couldn't keep track of what was going on, and I think I would have enjoyed a slower build up of tension. Looks like you might have an interesting premise, though. Good luck!

  10. I had the same issue as Ammi-Joan in terms of dystopia fatigue (sound familiar, Ms A?). Also, if you are going to describe MSG, and it hasn't been destroyed and rebuilt, then it's rounder, not cubic...

    This is well written enough, but felt very familiar.

  11. I liked this! I understand dystopia fatigue, but I still felt like this is a great story. I shuddered as the betters cheered.

  12. One thing to understand: I'm thinking about this as an agent looking for a new client, and where I know that publishers have most of their dystopia lined up for the next couple of years. I don't necessarily think (and y'all can tell me!) that there is dystopia fatigue among READERS. But there sure is among editors.

  13. I'm usually against defending my work against critique, because I think it can get too defensive very quickly.

    But I just wanted to say that it is very much not a dystopian novel. At all.

    I'm not quite sure why the first 500 is reading that way. If any of you commenters who expressed that it felt dystopian come back, can you tell me why?


  14. I didn't comment previously, but just to try to answer the writer's question: this is reading as dystopian because it appears the society is crumbling (there is war on US land) and government as we know it has been replaced by something more repressive-- you describe it as a 'regime'.

    Also wanted to concur with another poster that Madison Square Garden is a cylinder. The only place I've seen it portrayed as cubical is on the TV show "Futurama", where it has been replaced as Madison Cube Garden in New New York.

    All that said, I found this compelling and I would keep reading.

  15. Lauren,

    Thank you SO much. This pinpoints the exact problem. I as the writer wasn't removed enough to see it. The Vipera family is a crime family/gambling bosses that rule the underside of New York. I never realized that my use of the term 'regime' would make people think the government had changed! (Silly, I know)


  16. This was my favorite of the entries. I liked the voice very much and was intrigued by the concept (she says, clutching all her dystopian books to her chest).

    Like another commenter, I understood the tone differently in the first paragraph, expecting something a little lighter. I see the connection with numbers and betting, though. I read the first lines earlier. If I'd read this all the way through, the first time I saw it, there might not have been such a disconnect with tone for me.

  17. I like it. It has a nice feel to it, and I'm intrigued to see what this world is about. What exactly he is going to do.

  18. I like this, but I think part of the problem is that there is too much, too quickly. If you eased into things a little more slowly, perhaps some of that dystopic feel would go away.

  19. Great tone, by the second paragraph Im hooked..nuclear shield!? More please haha. Plus there's intrigue and conflict. I live in Montana too so I'd be interested to see what's going on! This is my favorite, the kind of book I enjoy reading right now. Well done and good luck.

  20. I find this intriguing and I'd probably read more (I ask for ten pages in my submission guidelines and for this one I'd probably read all ten).

    That said, when I read I'd be looking to see if this was too close to The Hunger Games (I'm worried it might be) and I'd want to see if I got a better feel for the character. If I hadn't by page ten, I'd put it down.

  21. I don't mind the first paragraph, but it felt sort of (this is going to sound terrible) - felt sort of "girly." I didn't realize he was a guy at first. (And in fact, I liked it BETTER when I thought he was a girl, oh well for me.)

    I read the author's comment and I must say I too am surprised that this is not dystopian. It seems to take place in a bleak future where Manhattan has at least been threatened by environmental or other attacks ("nuclear shield" - "Far away where the war can't touch us"), there are satellites and soldiers and what seems like a blade-runner-meets-hunger-games hellscape happening with what SEEMS like it is going to be some kind of gladiatorial war-game type event in MSG... yeah.

    I got the crime family aspect, but assumed that was just another part of the dystopia. If indeed this is NOT dystopian but rather some sort of mafia/crime novel, I think that should be made clear - and then I would be much more interested in reading further.

  22. I agreed with most of the agents who commented. This felt dystopian to me, as well, even though it was labeled as SF (I love SF). I think it is the mention of the nuclear shield and a few other small details that made me think this was the city after some kind of apocalyptic event. Like Jennifer Laughren, I also thought the protagonist was female initially (perhaps the title led me to that). I like the idea that people are betting on war as entertainment...I found that compelling. If you can somehow give this less of that dystopia vibe right off the bat(which you said isn't really what the ms is about anyway) I think you'll hook more of us. Good luck!

  23. I really like this one. Not too sure how the intro paragraph fits in, though. Maybe the age bit will come into play later. I like your intro, but the second paragraph is just as good and makes a better starting place, especially the mention of our MC "breaking free". Which I'm pretty sure people have already mentioned, so I guess I'm seconding the motion.

    I don't read dystopian, so I didn't get a dystopian hit from this. Then again, maybe classic Heinlein and Asimov are labeled dystopian now, so I could be lying. But I am a HUGE "Futurama" fan, so I thought the description of Madison Square Gardens as a cube was normal!

    I knew what they were betting on the instant you mentioned betting. It's perfect for the story set-up and adds a bleak view on human nature (which may be a dystopian thing, so sorry).

    Even though I don't read this genre anymore, this one grabs me and I would read on!