Wednesday, March 11, 2015

March Secret Agent #11

TITLE: Then Ted Ate Erica
GENRE: Mystery/noir

Late October, that sort of L.A. evening that claws at your throat: grit in the air, gritted smiles. Drivers caged in their cars to protect one from the other. Station attendants who would just as soon toss a lighted match in your tank as to fill it with gasoline.

"I'm calling for an ambulance." Soft-spoken, matter-of-fact, no trace of panic.

"Sir, what's the nature of your emergency?" I asked.

"I need an ambulance."


"Fourteen hundred Tipton Road."

"My crew's got to gear up. Can you describe your problem?"

"You get here soon. My name's Jiffy."

The line went dead. Even before being called to the phone, I had my first clue to the oncoming disaster: he rang up the admissions desk in the emergency room. In times of crisis, most folk dial 911. These exchanges are recorded and, in criminal cases, anything the speaker says can and does get used as evidence. The paranoid and the lawbreakers, all those who game the system, invent dodges around this, including contacting lines inside the hospital.

Beyond that, in an authentic cry for help, the first words uttered speak to the nature of the crisis. The urgency and drama of the incident, the distress and anguish and the fact the caller has connected to someone who can help—these merge in a shrill desperation: "I've been shot," or, "I'm having chest pains," or, "My kid is barfing blood." The suffering is conveyed even before places and names.

The clincher: I recognized this address.


  1. I love the choppy sentences and the connection between the weather and people's moods! And how smart the detective is! And the fact that this ends on a cliff hanger bang bang moment!

    I think you can get by as is, of course, because I would totally keep reading. However, you might consider buffing up characterization a bit--I'm not sure where I am during the conversation, whether or not it's a lady who's messing with her hair while she's on the phone or a chick taking scrupulous notes or some guy tapping his pen cuz he's bored and doesn't care--I just don't know who the speaker is. I know he or she is smart. But I wouldn't mind just a tiny, tiny sentence that says where I am (hospital desk) and who this person is, just transitioning from the LA description to the conversation. You could lit just insert a small tidbit right before the first dialogue--"I tapped my pen impatiently on the gleaming white hospital desk"--but of course in your own voice, with this great style you've got going here. I'd like to see where my protagonist is before being one hundred percent in her head.

  2. Intriguing, but I think I would add more description leading up to the dialogue.

  3. The voice is great here! It fits with the genre, and what a compelling title. Like the other commenter suggested, it might help to add just a bit more on who is telling this story. I think a subtle hand will not take away with the great voice already presented here.

  4. Thanks for the notes.

    For the second paragraph:

    Andy leaned against the meat wagon smoking a stub. I was summoned into the ER.

    (Not much more, trying to keep it lean and mean for now.)

  5. I really like the clipped tone. It sets up a noir-ish feel that really links your voice to the genre. I don't actually mind the lack of description in the dialogue; it flows quickly, and adds to the choppy tone you set up in the opening paragraph. I'd definitely read more!

  6. First of all, I love your title. I'd take a closer look at the novel just based on that title alone! I also don't think you need much description in the dialogue here- it's pretty self-explanatory. You can add more as the story progresses. My only question is the identity of the character answering the phone. A single line establishing identity might be helpful. Was this just the person working the admissions desk, or was he/she called to specifically to take the call. It can be hard because, as the author, we know exactly who the character is, but the reader needs a little push. Also love the last line!

  7. I love the tone here. It definitely fits the noir genre. And the title is great. I didn't necessarily mind the dialogue for now. As long as we learn fairly soon who the character is, I would keep reading, although as mentioned, one line telling us their identity might help. I like the thoughts on why the person didn't call 911, "barfing blood" adds just the right touch of dry humor, and the last sentence really makes me curious to keep reading. Well done!

  8. Someone in the business who I really respect always says, "Noir will break your heart." From a market perspective, noir is SO difficult to sell so know that you're waging a bit of an uphill battle on this one. That said, the people who love noir really love noir so you never know! I'd recommend looking this over again for typos because I noticed a handful as I was reading.

    It felt to me like you were talking around the punch line for a few paragraphs. I honestly think it would be worth just coming out and saying something a little more straightforward like, "I knew what I was in for before I even picked up the phone because..."

    Interesting opening, though!

  9. Thanks for the feedback. I'll start calling it thriller instead of noir. ;)