Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October Secret Agent #9

TITLE: The Meadow

January, 1984

The tiny lamp haloed the blue-lined pages of the spiral notebook. The digital clock glowed 2:07A.M. as Nathan hunched over the desk with a pencil eraser pressed against his lips. Brow creased.

The nightmare had awakened him. Again. The scuffling behind. The odor of spoiling meat. The darkness pressing against him like water as he sprinted in slow-motion toward a pale ball of light. Sniffing a hint of her floral shampoo, he sensed Charlie beside him tonight. Sometimes his hand clutched the holey canvas sneaker stuffed with Jason’s bloody foot. This time that terrible burden jiggled inside his backpack.

When he woke up, he was alone as usual—body upright in bed, mouth sucking shallow breaths, beads of sweat dribbling down his neck. But the worst thing for Nathan? The awareness that much of the dream really happened.

Sad, bitter images of Jason bent over his sketchpad in the meadow haunted him. He shook his head and muttered. “So stupid. Why did you go out to Ben’s after dark? Why did you die and leave us alone?” When he heard his words, Nathan wanted to swallow them. Shame washed over him.

He sighed, rubbed his watery eyes with a fist, and wrote the first lines:

We stared with wonder and terror at the rusted steel rungs hammered into the rock sides of the dark shaft. Little did we know then, that ladder would take Charlie and me straight to hell and back. …


  1. I love your wording and imagery. Although I feel slightly confused with so many characters in a small amount of words you drew me in and I would read more!

  2. It sounds like this could be quite an intriguing plot, but the pacing of the opening seemed a bit slow to me. I think it might help if I knew why Nathan was writing down what happened with Charlie and Jason. Is it somehow going to help whatever terrible thing that happened from happening again? If I don't know why he's writing it down, it seems much like an info dump to me--I'm hearing about something that already happened, and I'm much more interested in what's happening in the "now" of the story.

    One other rather nitpicky thing--the last couple of lines in your paragraph describing the nightmare were hard for me to follow. I got them on the second read, but the first time through I didn't follow for some reason.

  3. The sequence of events seem out of order. At first I thought he woke from a nightmare, then a ghost was haunting him, but that was a nightmare too. But I think I'm reading it wrong, which means that readers will be utterly confused.

    Also, no to the waking up from a nightmare opening. It's been done to death and back and then done again. Find a better way to draw readers into the story that doesn't smack of a million books that have come before. I promise it'll make the story stronger and just be a better beginning.

  4. Author's note: this is a sequel to another novel that has already won a Secret Agent competition.

    I do not think any sequel can really stand by itself (although I've been told that this does a fair job). The first chapter, especially the beginning, bridges the two books. The dream beginning is quite logical happening to someone who has experienced trauma. Now, he is prepared to deal with the tragic event by writing about it.

    Sorry for not making it easy. I did not know many other ways of beginning the novel since it's aimed at those who will know what is happening already. Indeed, aimed at those who will want to know what is happening in the minds of the surviving characters.

    In your opinion, is this valid approach?

  5. Given that this is a sequel, it's not the best candidate for a competition that is based on the opening alone. Either way, waking from a nightmare—or any dream—is still not the best opening.

    Also, I don't suggest focusing on writing or revising a sequel until the first one sells. Instead, move onto a new project so that you've got something else available if the first never goes anywhere.

  6. You're trying too hard, I'm afraid. A bit trite and I'm not picking up on a distinctive voice that's needed in this extremely competitive market.

  7. I was just confused. Actually, reading it was too much work for me.

  8. There's some good writing and an intriguing story buried here, but I'm afraid I have no idea wtf is going on. He's dreaming, no he isn't, yes he is... You don't want your reader to be confused.

    Just saw that this is a sequel. It makes no sense whatsoever to query a sequel. Sell the first book first.