Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Dakota in Spades
GENRE: Mystery

Sam Dakota fought his way through the courthouse crowds. Late afternoon, downtown Kansas City was problematic. With his long ebony braid, sorrel skin, and a lean lanky frame often swathed in black, he blended in with the mix of people battling for the sidewalk. Danny’s bus stopped at 4:00. Sam’d never make it. He’d never missed a drop off since Kate died. Until today.

His Tony Lamas boots slapped the concrete as he rushed to his truck. He knew all the shortcuts and made use of them. Maybe this would be one of those rare times the bus ran late. He’d prepared for circumstances like these; the keypad he’d installed to open the garage door, and his neighbor, Alvin. Eighty but spry and active in his yard when the weather was nice, he was willing to keep an eye on Danny.

In accordance with Murphy’s Law, Sam hit every light red. At Oak, he hung a left, followed by a right on Brindle Circle. Number 215. A quaint white Queen Anne highlighted by Everest green shutters and an etched door his wife, Kate, had insisted on.

Sam pulled into the driveway, slammed it into park, and leaped out in one movement. He crossed the lawn, stairs, and porch in record time, calling Danny’s name as he entered. He glanced at the wood floor where his son dropped his Spiderman backpack. Sam had tripped over it too many times.

The wide planks gleamed, unmarred by the black and red pack.


  1. I enjoyed this. Immediately I liked Sam and was able to get an idea of him in my head. You give us his fierce devotion to his kid (I assume) without telling.

    To be completely honest, I was really drawn to him. He might be one of those literary crushes us girls get :)

    Good job and I'd want more. I do want more. I mean is the kid there? Is he okay? I'm not sure it's going to be that simple...just a feeling haha

  2. I like the voice here and your writing style. But the way you describe Sam seems a bit awkward. I mean, would Sam describe himself that way - lean, lanky frame often swathed in black?
    Otherwise, I liked it. It hooked me enough that I'm worried about the boy.

  3. I liked this and am reasonably hooked. Sam's worry really comes across.

    My main complaint is how you describe him. It seems really dropped in there, and the phrasing is odd. 'Often swathed in black' -- so is he wearing it now?
    'he blended in' -- this stood out to me, because to me, after describing him, using this phrase suggests everyone else in the crowd looked/dressed similarly.

    Overall, though, good. Getting in those early descriptions is really difficult.

  4. You built up some good tension here. I'm worried about Danny.

    I'm curious about Sam. He leaves a courthouse, yet doesn't fit the description of a typical lawyer. Maybe they're more casual in Kansas City? :)

  5. I immediately want to know more about Danny and the situation, so this is good hook.

    If this is written in Sam's POV, the descriptions of himself should also be in his POV.

    The missing backpack set my skin on edge.I already feel queasy at what he is about to discover. Great work there!

  6. I like the vivid detail in the descriptions - Tony Lamas boots, Everest green shutters, Spiderman backpack, wide planks gleamed. Also, you brought me right into Sam's predicament, his immediate action and problem while still giving background and framing his life. I thought you did this really well. Like describing the Spiderman backpack instead of describing Sam and saying how old he is - I know about how old he is because he has a Spiderman backpack. By the end of this page I know alot about Sam, his family and where he is in his life, so that I'm there with him sharing his worry when it seems Danny isn't home, and I want to know more. Well done.

  7. I meant describing Danny in reference to the Spiderman backpack. Sorry.

  8. This would have been a reasonably good beginning except for the overabundance of images and adjectives. "With his long ebony braid, sorrel skin, and a lean lanky frame often swathed in black, he blended in with the mix of people battling for the sidewalk." The redundancies stand out. "Long" and "braid" seem to pile on each other. Braids are long. "Lean" and "lanky" seem to be the same thing.

    I prefer a leaner style. There is too much crammed into this for my tastes--so much that I had difficulty getting to the content.

  9. I liked this choice of a place to begin the story, but agree with the last comment. I prefer less obvious descriptions. They broke the forward motion of the prose.

  10. This seems like it could be interesting, but certain parts didn't quite work. I thought Sam needed to catch the 4:00 bus, but then you mention his truck. It took me until the end to realize it was his son that would be on the bus.

    In the second paragraph, there is a misplaced modifier (my pet peeve, so I notice them) and it sounds like the keypad opens the neighbour, Alvin. Don't think that's what you mean :}

  11. This is smoothly written, but for me there were too many questions. Why is he at the courthouse? Is he a lawyer, a defendant? What made him late today? It was probably something out of the ordinary, so why not tell us?

    And what's he really worried about? That something will happen to Danny? That he'll look like a bad father? That Danny will resent him missing the bus? Perhaps he knows that nothing's too likely to happen to Danny, but ever since Kate's death he can't shake some anxiety for his son's safety. I'd love a little more detail about what he's feeling.

    To me, this feels like something I often do: trying to rush to the big moments when spending time on a little more detail will make those moments so much richer.

    And I agree that describing him in such a distinctive way, then saying he blended in with the crowd, feels jarring.

  12. I enjoyed your writing style and you got immediate sympathy by mentioning his dead wife. However, I had a little bit of trouble following the progression. For example, I thought Sam was heading to the bus stop, so it threw me when he pulled into his driveway (even though you'd mentioned his contingency plan.) But then, I pictured a city bus stop since my mind was already at the courthouse and it just occurred to me that it was a school bus. Perhaps specify that? I also didn't immediately assume Danny was Sam's son; if I had I might have assumed the bus stop. Just a few technicalities, but all in all an interesting story. And a good hook at the end.

  13. The description is good, but I think you focus almost too much on it. As beginnings go, it's good, but I felt we could pick up the pace just a smidgen. It does make me want to keep reading, though, to see why it's important not to miss Danny's drop off time.

    I would see if you can do some fixing with the pacing and cut some of the description (I don't care, for instance, what brand his boots are) and go from there.

  14. Nice set up. We know who Sam is, what his goal is, and what stands in the way. I found the red lights adding to his lateness very relatable. I worried that he wouldn't make it home in time. The missing backpack definitely sounds like trouble in Sam's future.

  15. I liked this right away. There were a couple little things that could be addressed.
    o When I read bus, I immediately thought of Greyhound. Consider adding school before bus. That helps us understand he's worried about a kid. Which makes reader worry too.
    o For some reason Tony Lamas, and Everest green seemed like trying too hard.
    o The sentence about Alvin confused me. Consider expanding it just a tiny bit to say, He'd prepared Danny for...
    o It's picky but consider making it etched glass door, unless it is the wood that's etched.

  16. Ooo, I really like this. You've established a lot in such a short amount of time. I would definitely keep reading.

  17. I like Sam, he seems like a salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. Unfortunately, so many proper nouns thrown out so fast detracts from what's going on in the story. You might want to tone some of those down a bit. Overall, good start!

  18. I liked this and felt the tension, but this sentence was the sore thumb: "With his long ebony braid, sorrel skin, and a lean lanky frame often swathed in black, he blended in with the mix of people battling for the sidewalk."

    It stops the action and takes readers out of his perspective. (I know it's third person, but it's close third, and who among us thinks as we're running late, "Boy, I really blend in with the crowd, given the way I look, which is ...")

    Otherwise, good stuff! Fingers crossed about Danny.

  19. A good opening. My comments: A lot of names in the beginning: Sam, Kansas, Danny, Tony, Alvin, Brindle.
    Only other thing - the use of "problematic." The word didn't ring well. I'm sure you can find a better way to capture the moment - but I know how hard those openers are. Good luck!

  20. I like this. But that said, the start is a bit abrupt for me. I think I'd do : "Sam Dakota glanced at his watch as he fought through the courthouse crowds." That way we know for sure time is of the essence. Not sure I love problematic, but it gets the point across. Definitely needs "school" bus added in, if that's what Danny is on. He might be old enough for a city bus, depending on what the schools use. If so, maybe add "his son, Danny" in there somewhere.

    I like the part about the backpack, and how it meant so much that it wasn't there to trip over.

    Good job. I'd read on!

  21. Should "drop-off" be hyphenated?

  22. I'm late, but for what it's worth... While I liked Sam and the idea of what's going on here, I was lost in too much description, and I had no idea until piecing together bits of comments that Sam is trying to beat Danny's school bus home.

  23. I think you may have started this in the wrong place. It's a slow beginning with extraneous information that lacks tension. I really like that you're inside Sam's head from the start, but I didn't feel his concern for his son. Physical description, clothing brands, a neighbor's habits and stage directed action gets in the way of strong story telling.

    I suggest you skip the getting there part and begin with Sam's discovering his son isn't home when he should be. Include other clues that would make readers worry along with Sam. A mystery needs to be tense right off the bat.

  24. This entry does a good job of setting up the tone by using short declarative sentences, giving us an active yet mysterious protagonist and establishing a firm setting. However, some of the detail is awkwardly placed (eg. Tony Lamas boots). The details are good but they bring up too many questions. Also, the sentence structure had little variance so that it came across as choppy and there were shifts in tense forms. However, the tension is strong SO if some of the descriptions are cleaned up, redundancies are removed, and the action and characterization moves forward, this could show promise.