Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July Secret Agent #49

TITLE: Mysterious
GENRE: YA Gothic Mystery

Here began my journey to solve the mystery of my past. For sixteen years, I'd been content to live with my foster parents, but now, I wanted to know my real parents and nothing could stop me.

On a cold, gray day in June, 1967, overnight case in hand, I stepped off the train at Spearsport, Maine. While the fog rolled in, I waited in front of a deserted one-room Victorian station house and wondered why no one came to meet me. The brochure had been quite clear on that point, yet no one appeared.
The train pulled away, picked up steam, and headed up the rock-bound coastline. Its lonely whistle echoed in my ear. The stormy Atlantic matched the dark gray of the sky, and the surf pounded against the shore. When raindrops splattered against my face, I pulled the hood of my raincoat over my hair and headed toward the gloomy mansion high atop a nearby cliff.

Moaning like a dying woman, the wind rushed up the rocks from the sea and swirled around the mansion's gothic turrets and spires. I started up the cliff road, only to get my heel caught between two rocks. When I tried to yank it loose, I fell back onto the gritty ground.

"What have we here?" a deep, male voice said.

When I slid my foot out of the shoe and turned my head, I saw that danger lurked in the dark brooding eyes of the stranger who stood over me.


  1. "real parents" is a phrase that hurts all good step and foster and adoptive parents. Unless the back story was horrible fosters then birth parents would not make my heart twinge in the very first paragraph.

    I love the image of the wind moaning like a dying woman and the sea matching the clouds. That stood me right in the middle of the scene.

  2. You've set a good tone, and I would definitely read more, but I think your starting point should be the second paragraph.

  3. I'd also start with the second paragraph. You can incorporate the first paragraph into the second, such as "I wondered why my birth parents hadn't come to meet me." The reference to the brochure seems odd. Is it from a company or agency that unites foster children with their birth parents? The story would be more interesting if MC had done the research herself.

  4. I agree with the "real parents" comment. Also, "the mystery of my past" seemed a bit of a cliche, but I would probably read further.

  5. I think the title isn’t as catchy or unique as it could be.

    I would cut the first paragraph. It’s all telling. The first sentence sounds off to me anyway. And I’d rather not know right away that the mystery is all about the girl’s parents.

    If the date isn’t key to making the story make sense, I might consider cutting it.

    While I like the sound of the wind and the image that paragraph creates, I'm a bit confused as to how the MC knows it’s swirling around the turrets and spires when she's only just beginning her climb up a rocky road.

    I do like the tone of this piece and think it could just use a little bit of restructuring and tweaking.

    Good luck & thanks for sharing!

  6. I'm a chump for a good Gothic Mystery! My first thought was why is this set in 1967? It just kind of threw me. Being a Mainer, I kept wondering about the train that dropped the main character off alone in Searsport in 1967. Felt like it should be 1867.

    Yet, I'd read on and explore the gloomy mansion on the cliff and wonder how the tone shifts when the sun comes up.

  7. I agree with Julie (above). Why 1967? I love a gothic of any ilk so I'd read more. Some things I'd change. I'd start with the second sentence. Lose the first. The thing about the whistle echoing in my ear was kind of weird. I understand what you were going for, but maybe rephrase. Other thing was the movement through the scene. I wasn't clear on whether she was on the train or walking (until she fell) and she scene goes by too quickly. I know you want to get to the action, but if she's describing the train ride then we should be with her and get to know her. If it starts with her there, then we should see what she sees at that point without the flashback - hard to follow. But having said all that, I'd read more!

  8. The first paragraph doesn't do it for me. I just want to know *why*. Of she was happy w/ these people, then why the sudden, unstoppable desire? I'm sure you have a really good one. Maybe give us that at the first line. Or start with the second paragraph.

  9. I like that this jumps right into the plot, and you do a good job of giving a feel for the mystery from the get go. I think it moves a little too fast, though. Like others, I would lose the "real parents" unless she has strong reason to dislike her foster parents and love her birth parents, as it's an offensive term in the adoption/foster community.

    I like the idea of the story taking place in the 1960s, but I think calling it a "YA Gothic Mystery" evokes a different feeling. So you may want to consider if the genre belies the era at all. But the 1960's is a fun era, and it would be neat to see glimpses of the 60s in the entry.

    There's a bit of telling overall that I think you can easily lose without missing a beat, as you seem to have a good knack for language. For instance, I'd love to see what the danger lurking in the man's eyes looks like, rather than reading that the eyes are also dark and brooding.

    It's already an interesting premise and I think you have a great start here!

  10. I definitely get the Gothic vibe here, with the rocky coast and dark gray sky and of course the turrets and spires. I actually think it would be stronger with less description, fewer adjectives, and more about the main character. I have no sense of the her (?), except what's in the first paragraph.

    However, the first para. sounds more like a hook in a synopsis than the beginning of the story. I agree you should start with stepping off the train and work in the information about finding the birth parents.

    The "cold gray day" does help set the mood, but starting with weather can feel cliché.

    I wondered how she knew where the mansion is and how to get there, but I'm intrigued by the brochure and why the character is there. (Orphanage where they might keep records? Eccentric Addams family-like birth parents?)

  11. I really enjoyed how descriptive your story is. It really paints a vivid picture. I agree with everyone else, your story would probably be more mysterious with the first sentence cut out, and maybe adding hints such as why my birth parents hadn't rushed to meet me or my foster parents were sad to see me go but I had to find some things out for myself.

  12. Like others I think your subsequent paragraphs are stronger than the first. There is a nice specificity to your writing that is missing in that first section.

  13. The first paragraph is all telling and, like those above, I don't think it is necessary.

    I only have two small nit-picks. The first is when I pull the hood of my raincoat over my hair "and headed toward the gloomy mansion high atop a nearby cliff" The rest of your writing evokes great images - you could give me an indication of trudging or lugging luggage so I can imagine how she's moving.

    The second is I saw that danger lurked in the dark brooding eyes" This is really cliche and how does one "see" danger in eyes?

    Okay, so three nit-picks - I would have expected more reaction to her falling over. Currently there is none. Did she put a ladder in her stockings, graze her hands, swear, curse, groan?

  14. I really enjoyed the description in the second through fourth paragraphs. It has an appropriately eerie, gothic feel.

    I'll add to the chorus saying your second paragraph makes a better starting point than the first.

    While I understand the sensitivity to "real parents," if that is how the MC thinks of them, then I think that's the term you should use. Perhaps the problem is having it in the first paragraph. If we knew more about your MC, it might not seem so offensive. I'm also granting some latitude because the story is set in the '60s, and I don't think people were as sensitive to the term then.

  15. I agree with other comments that you can just drop the first paragraph. I also think you could reword the part about seeing danger in his brooding eyes. You won't see it, you might feel uneasy around someone though. Show us the feeling she gets when she looks at the stranger instead.

    You set a creepy, mysterious tone here so I would read more to find out where this is heading.

    Good luck!

  16. She seems to have already arrived in the first parg., while she's just getting there in he second. As others have suggested, you might start at parg two.

    The rest is told. Perhaps show us the fog and rain. Show us a gloomy mansion. Show her foot getting stuck, and her falling. Let her react to the fall, to the rain and fog, the sight of the mansion. You lose a lot with all the telling.

    I wondered why she needed someone to meet her, when she not only knows where she is going, but can also see the way?

    You also start a lot of sentences with prepositional phrases.

    On a cold, gray day
    When the fog rolled in
    When raindrops spattered
    When I tried to yank it
    When I slid my foot out

    Try dropping the 'when's' and you'll eliminate both telling and passive writing.

    The fog rolled in and I . . .

  17. I think this is a strong beginning! I like how the setting plays such a big role in these pages. Also, clear goal/conflict and I immediately want to know more. Nice job!

  18. The first paragraph explicitly sets your main character up for a journey, but it would be helpful to get a sense of what brought her to this point. It’s unclear what her motivation is here – if she likes her family, what prompts her to search for her birth parents? Why would she leave what seems like a comfortable life, and did her parents let her leave or did she run away?

    I was thrown off a bit by the setting of 1967, which seems tough to adapt to the gothic mystery genre. Rather than telling us the year, you might consider letting the time period explain itself through other signifiers. The gothic elements which feature heavily in your opening can set the tone for the book.

  19. I agree with sumbee. Try "biological parents" (that's what my kids refer to when talking about theirs).

    Great descriptions and lovely introduction to a creepy scenery. I'd read more.