Wednesday, July 23, 2014

July Secret Agent #23

TITLE: Tales of Sand and Stars
GENRE: YA Fantasy

The Sultan’s coins are stamped on one side with an image of his smiling, benevolent face. Stamped on the opposite side is an image of the palace executioner’s platform. Two conflicting images, one coin. I try to find the balance of these dualities in the tales I tell, tales of camels, sandcats, scorpion dragons, falcons. Really, they are tales of truth, tales of people.

Tonight, the tribe is under my spell before I even begin, their eyes on me, on my forearms swallowed by bracelets, my fingers layered in rings, my neck weighed down by chains of gold and silver.

Only one tribesmember is not focused on me. Six-year-old Chuka torments a scorpion hatchling with a palm leaf, until my friend Ilya steps to the side and squashes the scorpion under her sandal.

“Apologies, Nima Storyteller,” she says, using my formal name. It makes me sound like an old crone, not a girl of seventeen. “You may not like the death, but we know the young, harmless scorpions grow to become dangerous.”

I nod. Imperiously, maybe, because my stance on the platform, and the shadows and light dancing on a sea of faces around this fire, the jewelry, the discs of metal embroidered into my skirt—all of these things demand imperiousness.

The stone platform cools beneath my feet, which are bare as ritual dictates. I breathe in the collective hush of my tribe, holding it in my lungs like a prayer waiting for the stars’ acknowledgement. Then I begin.


  1. This one immediately caught my attention. It's different, and I love stories about storytellers. By the end of the clip, I was hunkered down with the rest of the tribe waiting to hear the story.

    My one suggestion is to swap paragraphs one and two. The first line of the second paragraph is a real attention grabber probably because it starts with a character rather than a coin.

    Good job.

  2. I love the opening line about the coin — what a great way to establish setting!

    You do a great job establishing mood and place here. I think you actually do such a great job that you don't need as many details as you give us — you really did a ton of work with that one coin, for instance. You'll still get your "deep intake of breath" feeling if you cut a bunch of words to move us along quicker.

    For instance, you totally don't need "Two conflicting images, one coin." That's already there. And you layer on a lot of lists (things in tales, jewelry, etc), which I think is fine once, but if you keep doing it, it slows us down a bit too much. There are other places you could tighten, too, without losing the rich sense of setting.

    Also, if the characters established in the bit with the scorpion are important, then keep them — but if they're random kids who don't show up again, I think you could lose that exchange entirely. Hard to know with just the first 250, though.

    Such a wonderful setting, and some lovely language! Good luck!

  3. I like the tension imminent in the description of the coins. I do want to see the action of the storyteller maybe flipping one back and forth so it's not implied, if she's even doing so in that moment.

    The world sounds very interesting, and I like the setting. Very nice description that doesn't weigh down the first 250.

    Good luck!

  4. I liked this, but I did seem like a lot of description. Especially with all the bracelets, rings, and necklaces. I think one would be enough to show this person is adorned richly.

    The one line of dialogue seemed very formal. Perhaps that is the nature of this person. But even the way the narrator speaks seems formal. If the rest of the story is that way, I would have a hard time getting through it, but that's just my preference.

  5. Wow, I LOVE this! I don't really have anything to say other than your writing is fantastic, and I wouldn't change a word. Your story is different, fresh, and lovely. I can't wait to read more of it when you succeed in getting it into the world.

    Awesome job.

  6. The whole feel of this makes me want to sit down and listen to a story. I feel transported to another time and place.

    The "imperious" paragraph stopped me a little, but really, this whole excerpt just made me want to read on.

  7. I was most drawn to the description of Nima – her fingers layered in rings, arms swallowed by bracelets. I loved having the visual of her, and that she knows that she’s got everyone under her spell. I’d love to get into the scene more quickly – the opening paragraph starts telling us about the world too soon, for instance; I want to know this character first. The sooner we see Nima actually telling her story, the sooner we’ll connect to her.