Wednesday, September 23, 2015

September Secret Agent #43

Genre: YA Dark Fantasy

It was so hot outside the air smelled like charcoal. Just thinking of frozen yogurt had Kess salivating and he pedaled past Bosque Bello Cemetery trying not to pant. A rumbling sound drew his eyes to the sky. It wasn’t supposed to rain until late afternoon, but those dark clouds were heavy and low. By the time he arrived, he was soaked.

A blast of air tossed chill bumps across his skin when he pushed opened the door at the yogurt place. Yet, the scowl on everyone’s face was icier. He looked down at his dripping t-shirt and shorts and backed out onto the sidewalk.

They thought he was a weirdo—a half-born—claiming he had one foot in the world, the other in the grave. Nothing more than a walking bad luck charm, so they feared him. By third grade the kids had nicknamed him Casper. Kess pinched his skin. He was flesh and blood like the rest of them.

He stood underneath the awning and leaned against his bike, trying to wring some of the excess water from his clothes. Rain hammered the street, thunder vibrated the shop window, and lightning flared.

The storm seemed intent on drenching Fernandina Beach or more specifically, downtown. Kess squinted. In the distance, a smudge moved behind the rain that looked like smoke and an acrid scent billowed on the breeze. He debated for a moment then jumped back on his bike. He was already wet—might as well see what was going on.


  1. Hello!

    This seems like a set-up for something gorgeous. I like the concept (what I can read of it) and writing. I like it opening with Kess cycling, although I'm wondering about the setting. Is it sort of contemporary fantasy, or is this a modern constructed world? It's the name that makes me wonder.

    Only really a few nitpicks to bring up.

    1) I'd like more 'showing' or more action. Not a fight, but things like Kess opening the door, and seeing the scowls, and then reflecting on how everyone nicknames him Casper. I'd like this to have been an actual scene, so I could see for myself how he was treated. This would help me build a stronger bond with him as a character, especially because his possible magical nature is fascinating.

    2) Is he not more worried about the thunder? Extreme rain (and especially storms), tends to make even people who love them a little cautious. Also, he must be getting VERY cold, where before he was really warm. That's a quick change of fortunes. More emotion around that would be great.

    Anyway: I really enjoyed this and it's an interesting concept. Good luck!

  2. Thank you for the feedback, Vicorva! I'll keep you suggestions in mind during the revision. Yes, the setting is contemporary. I forgot to add that to the genre line.
    Oh and just an FYI for your suggestion in 2--Florida summer rain doesn't really get cold, but great observation. Thanks.

  3. "Casper" threw me a little. I know the term and the show, but I'm 45. I dunno if teens today are going to register that name.

    I like the mood and the setup but was disappointed that the boy left the yogurt shop. When it rains people get wet. No reason not to go about your business. Get that yogurt, son! Plus, there's loads of drama and tension in the yogurt shop. Dive into it, I say.

    I doubt that Kess would pinch his skin unless his "condition" is recent.

    So, small things, but overall I like the tone and would want to know about this curious half-born and his struggles.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Scribble Ninja!
      Good catch on the skin pinching. I will consider your suggestions.

  4. The first paragraph really give me a feel for the setting. I can see him on the bike and really place myself in the story. The reference to frozen yogurt seems a bit out of place, maybe flip the sentence.

    The initial 250 words made me want to read on and I you introduced the concept of him being unusual in an attention-grabbing way. It made me want to read on to find out more about him.

    I agree with the other comments about the yogurt shop scene. Maybe leave out the part where he noticed his dripping clothes and focus more on the fact they are hostile because of who he is.

    Good luck!

    1. Thank you for your comments, Kristin!
      I will take them into consideration during revision.

  5. I like where this story is going. However, the opening feels a little rushed. The piece also needs some emotional reactions from Kess.

    The first line had me puzzling over the smell of charcoal. Burnt charcoal, burning charcoal? The line doesn't seem to tie to Kess thinking about frozen yogurt very well. Try swapping the sense of smell for a sense of being hot and sweaty.

    Consider cutting the second sentence into two. "Just thinking of frozen yogurt had Kess salivating. He pedaled past Bosque Bello Cemetery trying not to pant." In the last sentence of that paragraph, you need to say where Kess is going before you say he arrived. Thinking about frozen yogurt doesn't imply he's going to the yogurt store.

    Similar issue with 'he was soaked'. I read that and assumed he was soaked with sweat from the heat and humidity. Easily fixed by saying something like, 'By the time he arrived, the rain was pouring down and he was soaked.'

    The third paragraph is all telling. The prior paragraph makes it sound like he backs out of the store because he's soaking wet. Yet he drops into this background info about being considered a weirdo because of his looks. If he's used to being called a weirdo, wouldn't he just march into the store and buy his yogurt? Consider re-structuring this paragraph into a little scene inside the store. Let him go in and let the jibes of the other patrons feed us this info. Internal dialogue or his emotional reaction will help the reader understand his plight.

    In the final paragraph there's a sentence that reads awkwardly. 'In the distance, a smudge moved behind the rain that looked like smoke and an acrid scent billowed on the breeze.' It says the rain looked like smoke. I think you mean the smudge looked like smoke. I'd also cut the sentence into two and let the 'acrid scent' be a sentence on its own.

  6. I’m getting a lot of telling from these opening pages and not a lot of showing here. He should go into the shop and there you can have people whispering about him being half-born and have someone call him Casper so we see just how bullied he is for being a half-born. I had a bit of trouble with the nickname, not because I don’t know the Casper reference, but with the way it’s written now, it sounds like they called him Casper because he’s a bad luck charm and not because he’s a half-born with one foot in the grave like a ghost. (To that end, he wouldn’t pinch himself, especially since he knows he is flesh and blood).

    The smudge moving behind the rain isn’t quite the right wording here (beyond maybe?). And as there is one other entry that has mention of acrid smoke in the opening 250, make sure your something burning does stand out in a crowd.

    My suggestion (as I worry having a whole scene in the parlor right now may slow down your opening) would be to keep the first sentence and, when he arrives at the shop soaking wet… decides investigating is more enticing than frozen yogurt on a hot day. Good luck!

  7. An interesting premise, and I loved the line – He had one foot in the world and the other in the grave.

    My suggestion would be to work on the writing. There’s a lot here that doesn’t work solely because of the writing. For instance, the yogurt line. It seems your intent is that the MC is so hot, he thinks about getting a frozen yogurt and rides off to the yogurt store to get some. But the writing doesn’t actually present it that way. And when he gets there, he’s soaked, but you never showed it rain. You showed us it ‘might’ rain, but you never actually let it happen.

    There’s a lot of this type of thing in the excerpt. Work on making the words say exactly what you mean.