Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September Secret Agent #35

TITLE: She Came From the Hill
GENRE: YA Horror

Nothing thrived at the far end of the park. Even laughter died at the first stunted tree. Clay tightened the straps on his overnight pack and pedaled up the dusty path. Shadows danced between the brittle trees. The shadows were moving in the blistering sun, but the trees weren’t. He pedaled faster, his feet moving with the rhythm of his pounding heart.

Clay could have skipped the shortcut if Alex, who had the communication skills of a wet cell phone, called an hour earlier. Didn’t he know proper packing takes time? In five months Clay would have his driver’s license and never need the shortcut again. A branch snapped somewhere in the dusty haze behind him. Five months never felt so far away.

The creepiness clung to his skin like cobwebs, even after he left the park behind. He coasted down the road and skidded to a stop in Alex’s driveway. His friends were scattered around the yard, none of them in uniform. Clay straightened his scout shirt. They needed to take scouting more seriously.

Alex aimed a small camcorder at him and pushed a button. Light flashed in Clay’s eyes, blinding him.

Clay shaded his face with his hands. “Alex!”

“The enhanced light works!” Alex turned it off, leaving Clay seeing spots.

“What’s the camera for?”

Alex shut the screen, leaned forward, and whispered, “The camera sees what we can’t.”

“Like what?” The scoutmaster didn't let them go anywhere at night, no matter how quietly they sneaked out of the tent.


  1. As an enthusiastic fan of horror, I am pre-disposed to like your work if only because I see so little of it these days. The title is good and the excerpt is effective because - even though nothing scary happens - it sets up the tension that something could/will at any moment. And it is that anticipation/dread that is so effective in good horror writing. I like that you have already established a friendship in the opening 250 between Clay and Alex that is natural and holds the promise of interesting and entertainign interactions. I would certainly look forward to reading more pages.

  2. I love the "communication skills of a wet cell phone" line. That is a fantastic image! I also agree with Daniel that this excerpt is effective and tense, but I wanted more about Clay's shortcut through the creepy park. You have a gift for imagery--I want the creepiness to cling to MY skin just reading about it, and I don't quite have enough specifics to feel that.

    I would read on.

  3. I enjoyed this piece, and I liked the creepy description of the far end of the park, and the fact that shadows moved, but the trees didn't. Nice touch. I think you might have been able to give us a little more of Clay's apprehension at riding through it, maybe have him pause at the edge of the creepy zone. Nice job!

  4. Love the lines "communication skills of a wet cell phone" and "creepiness clung to his skin like cobwebs."

    My only nitpick: I'm a little confused about the time of day. You mention the "blistering sun" but also say that the light of the camera blinded him - which is more likely to happen in the dark.

    But otherwise I really liked this. I'm a wimp when it comes to horror, but I'd probably read on.

  5. The only reason I wouldn't keep reading is because I prefer older YA and boy scouts doesn't spell older YA to me. But I do love YA horror, so you got bonus points there. Otherwise, I thought it was a compelling beginning with a good mix of description, inner thoughts, and action.

    So kill the boy scouts (um, you know what I mean) and I'm hooked. :D

  6. Like the others, I love the imagery of the creepy park. I can totally envision the scene as it unfolds!

    But I do agree with Anja; this actually felt a lot more like MG than YA to me. Maybe it's because the characters are boy scouts, but the voice also felt a bit young, especially when we see how scared Clay is of the forest and how concerned he is with packing, keeping his uniform nice, and following the scoutmaster's rules, which seem like a younger kid's rather than a teen's concerns. If there hadn't been a mention of the driver's license, I would've assumed Clay and Alex were 11 or 12 years old. Maybe you can add a few details here and there to give this a slightly older feel. Is Clay ashamed that he's afraid of the park because he knows he's too old to freak out about stuff like that? Does he like being a boy scout or does he resent that it restricts his schedule and forces him to follow orders? I'm sure you go more into this stuff in the rest of the manuscript - such is the problem with only seeing the first 250! - but I just wanted a bigger hint at the YA voice in the opening paragraphs.

    I am definitely intrigued and would love to know what happens next with the camera... Good luck!

  7. I agree that this reads like MG, but overall the writing is good and sets the right tone.

  8. I don't really read a lot of horror, so I don't know how trustworthy my opinion is, but I wasn't sold on the first paragraph. Don't get me wrong, the imagery was great, but I can't help but think that there might be a more attention grabbing intro to use. Overall I thought it was great, and I loved your witty similes and analogies. Great job!

  9. I liked the imagery and metaphors, too--good to help set the stage of a spooky setting. But like others, I questioned the reader's interest in boy scouts in a YA horror genre. But when the MC straightens his scout shirt, has the thought that the others need to take scouting more seriously, and then has a camcorder shoved in his face by those who are out of uniform--I begin to wonder what's going to happen to him. You've got my interest...

  10. Looove the wet cell phone line - I don't remember that one from WriteOnCon. I love this opening - I think it's really shaping up well. The sneking around kind of makes me think middle grade. Anyway great job!

  11. Thanks for all the comments. It is aimed for the younger end of YA (11/12-15yrs). Clay is borderline OCD. He likes things orderly, which is why it was so fun to stick him on a haunted hill. The boys are still going to scout camps because they like camping with each other and none of them can drive yet.

  12. I really like the first two lines. I think you should have something happen here even if it's just a minor scary thing. Something that foreshadows more strongly.

    This had the feeling of SUper 8 and did feel younger to me.

    Love love the wet cell phone analogy. I'm not a fan of horror but am a fan of cool analogies and if your work had more of these it would make me keep reading just for that.

    Good luck with this, seems like it's going interesting places.

  13. The imagery is great, very moody. But two things pulled me out of the story. The first was the word 'danced' which sounds happy and playful and interrupts all that dark and creepy imagery. Perhaps this is the 'she' of the title. Even so I found it intrusive when we've only just begun.

    Second was the reference to boyscout. I don't mind that he's a scout, but how about eagle scout which sounds older and better matches his age.

  14. I'm afraid the writing here didn't do much for me. I know I should have liked the 2nd line of the first paragraph ("Even laughter died at that first stunted tree") but it felt too obvious, and I thought you could come up with something more interesting to expand upon the initial thought. Later in this paragraph, I would delete the sentence "The shadows were moving in the blistering sun, but the trees weren't." And while I understand what you were attempting to convey, I didn't think the last sentence of the entry fit with the previous one, "Like what?"