Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August Secret Agent #37

GENRE: Historical Christian Fiction

Winter of 1939

The train wheels squealed in protest against the tracks, pulling my attention from the flurry of questions spinning in my mind. When would I see my family again? Would I ever see them again? Their crying faces faded from my thoughts and I peered from the small window. The dark shadows of trees grew taller outside the train as they passed at a slower pace. I rubbed my weary eyes and as my hand moved across my lids, I spotted something else outside, other than trees. Were they headlights? Lifting my head from against the square window at my side, I wiped the foggy glass for a better view.

Two sets of bright lights kept up with us, alongside our train. Pulling my eyes from the mysterious, bright circles, I scanned the rows of little heads around me and noticed an eerie silence. Did they also see the orange glow?

Every child who shared this train with me had been through, or seen real-life nightmares. We all knew one’s greatest fears could occur in silence just as easily as they could in chaos. The children looked at each other for the answers no one could provide. Why was the train stopping? Whose headlights were shining through the windows? We were still in Germany weren’t we?

The chaperones, Jewish men and women who had volunteered to aid in our transportation, walked through the aisles.

“Make sure your number tag is visible,” a young male chaperone announced. “Sit still and be quiet.”


  1. Nice, tense opening. You did a great job setting the scene, although I'm not sure yet about your main character. I think a child at first, but not sure a child would describe other children with "little heads".
    Also, you have alot of questions that sort of make the reader seem a little slow - you showed the headlights and the train slowing in the first paragraph. Not sure you need to ask the questions about it in the third paragraph. Instead, maybe you can show more - e.g. perhaps your MC can hold his/her hands tightly together or something to show the tension. Of put some tension in the Jewish volunteers - right now I have no idea if they are worried or not.

    With a few tweaks, I think this could be a really good opening!

  2. I liked the opening and was immediately drawn into the situation. I want to know where they are going and why they are leaving. I would read more.

  3. Great opening, I'm intrigued. I didn't get a child vibe at all from your main character in the first paragraph, although it seemed in the subsequent paragraphs that all the passengers on the train are children. Try to get a little deeper inside your character's head so that we feel his/her youth through his observations.

  4. I also did not think this was a child's narrative. There were too many adjectives for my taste. They dilute each other. Besides that I was interested and would read on.

  5. This is a really interesting situation. One comment I had, though, is that the narrator's concerns about seeing his family again feel very hollow without a touch of specificity to attach to them: "Little Sasha was only three--would she even remember me? Would I ever taste my mother's apple pie again, or see the small smile that stole over her face when she told me bedtime stories?" That kind of thing. There doesn't have to be a lot of it for it to be pretty affecting.

    This is beyond the scope of your first page, but you'll want to be pretty clear, early on, about exactly what stage of the Holocaust we're dealing with and exactly what's going on here. I wasn't sure whether they were escaping or being taken by the Nazis.

  6. This is fine as is, but if you want it to be great you need to go deeper. Focus on the fear and the loss of your character. Right now I feel she's an outside observer or someone who's only mildly affected. One of the best ways to go deep is to focus on a prop as a way to illicit feelings.

  7. There are good comments above; I can only add that the opening paragraph started well, with the squealing of brakes, but all the questions slowed me down, took away the urgency. I think we could wait to hear those concerns later; right now we want to be right in the moment; we want to know what those orange lights are, and whether the MC is getting sent to a concentration camp or being rescued--my sense is the latter, but there's an ominous quality to the description of the orange lights that makes me question my interpretation.

    A great topic for a book.

  8. I enjoy the topic, time period, and agree that it's well written, but I'm with everyone else: this narration seems too old.

    In that time period, there were efforts to get Jewish children, specifically, out of the country. I believe the oldest allowed on Kindertransport was seventeen. If your character is seventeen, that makes a big difference in whether her narrative is believable, but also in how she can refer to her fellow travelers: maybe refer to the others as 'the younger children' or the chaperone 'the attractive young man'.

  9. nice period but way to much telling. i am being beaten over the head with the telling. Show me, please. And make it a little more subtle. Otherwise borders on maudlin.

  10. I liked this. I especially love the line, "We all knew one's greatest fears could occur in silence just as easily as they could in chaos." Great bit of tension right there. It could be tightened up a bit - there are quite a few questions thrown out in just this page - but I think you've got a good start.

  11. i enjoyed this, but agree with the above comments--i didn't get the vibe that the MC was a child at all and some emotion would add to it. I am intrigued though.

  12. My favorite line is "I wiped the foggy glass for a better view" because it describes such specific physical action for the MC, and his/(her?) compelling desire to make sense of the unsettling circumstances.

    To keep that sharp sense throughout, you could focus more on the MC's POV rather than invoking the general viewpoint of "every child". Your MC can simply comment knowingly "One's greatest fears could occur in silence..." rather than linking it to "We all knew". Then readers will wonder how s/he learned this, and want to read on.

    Instead of general questions (Why was the train...) you could offer the MC's theories/specific fears.
    Or introduce us straight-away to one or two other children, perhaps whoever is sitting next to the MC. Are they touching each other, bumping shoulders? Have all stayed awake for many hours, or is the stopping train waking them up?

    As an aside - You wouldn't want to start even further back, but I've always thought the sound of a speeding train squealing and clanging along tracks would have been very ominous to Jewish refugees not to say prisoners in these times. Stopping might have been even scarier than you suggest here. Another chance for you to heighten the tension and terror: Eg instead of Did they see the glow - The orange glow was like...

    I'd love to read more.

  13. I'm actually going to be a bit contrary here. I thought this got off to a slower start. Perhaps you could open with the tension and action of the bright lights and then set the scene with the description after the reader is hooked? The use of heavy adjectives and questions dilutes the narrative a bit, ages your narrator, and slows the reader down. The last line, though, really draws the reader into the story. Overall, this is an interesting premise, and deepening your narrator's (gender?)observations with more specific memories, thoughts and emotions will pull your reader in more effectively.

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