Wednesday, January 23, 2019

January Secret Agent #4

GENRE: Adult Historical

There is a moment of confusion upon waking when you do not know where or who you are. In such moments, far-off thoughts rise to consciousness like a river spiting up a Senet game piece from a set once loved but long lost and forgotten.
           The thought I have now is of Herodotus. He wrote that the ancient Egyptians loved their cats so much that if their homes were burning, the men would sacrifice themselves to save them. People say that Herodotus was the world’s first historian. I say he was a fool. Women do the sacrificing, not men.
            Yet, when I study my sister with her eyes outlined in a layer of kohl as thick as her black hair, oiled now and set loose down the length of her back, I think Hikmat aims to test the theory.   Would men rush into a burning fire to save her?
            If she carried an ankh, I might have mistaken her for Bast, the cat goddess. For the tiniest of instances in those confusing moments, I do.
            But then the room comes into focus behind her. The repulsive walls of poured cement, painted the shade of watery urine are chipped in spots and stained in others. The always-closed, ever-small window to the outside world is still there, still positioned much too far from my reach lest I somehow span the distance from my bed to it, unaided, and then proceed to fall out, a monstrous three cubits to the muddy ground below.


  1. I'm not fond of the opening 2 paragraphs, although I do love the line "Women do the sacrificing, not men." Is the river supposed to be SPITTING up or spiting up? If you meant spiting, it is likely to be interpreted as a typo which waters down your chance to make a good first impression, so I would find another verb. I would actually eliminate the first paragraph entirely - it's too vague - and start with "Herodotus wrote that the ancient Egyptians loved their cats..." It's more interesting, and gives us a clue as to context of the story, particularly as the given genre is historical fiction.

  2. I agree with the comment about starting with Herodotus wrote they loved their cats. That would be good, because the first sentence confuses me as to whether it's going to be second-person. However you do have a strong voice, here, and a rich way of language. I love it. <3

  3. The opening was too slow for me. Someone woke up and thought.

    If you keep what you have, I agree about starting with Herodotus and the cats. But if you're open to it, I'd suggest an entirely new opening where your MC is somewhere specific and doing something interesting.

    The writing is good. I just found myself saying "come on. Get to the point." I feel like she will now get up and we'll get several more pargs of her thoughts while she dresses.

    We're in ancient Egypt and you've brought up sacrifice. Both are interesting. Get her out of bed and get the story going. She can always philosophize in any of the following chapters.

    And did they have cement way back then? That jumped out at me.

  4. If she or he is looking at the sister, why not start there. Drop us in to what the MC sees and not what she's thinking. My sister's eyes are lined with Kohl as thick as her black hair.

  5. The classic "waking up" opening - it's nicely dressed up and beautifully written but I doubt this is the most exciting place to start your novel!

    It's all elegantly done but we only have your MC waking up and falling out of bed. I think their could be a stronger opening.

  6. I love the vision of the ankh, and the way the wall comes slowly into focus, and the stains on the wall which obviously give us some insights into the character's mental state. You've got me curious as to what's going to happen. I'd like a little more direct language on what exactly the conflict is to build on that.

    I did have the same question about the cement... even if they had something akin to cement I'm wondering if that's what they would have called it. Maybe... plaster?

    This feels dreamy and engaging, and yet angry. Love the bit about women sacrificing. Maybe give us a little more clarity in what the character wants upon awakening this way, instead just observing the surroundings--because I want to know more!

  7. I have to agree. The opening where it stands now isn't super strong. Starting with Herodotus and linking that comment to the MC's sister is more catching to the reader's eye. Everything else seems fairly strong.

    Now, on the cement part. The Romans did have cement, they actually knew how to use it underwater. Depending on when this is set, you may consider using this (taken from the Wiki page on cement): In Egypt stone blocks were cemented together with a mortar made of sand and roughly burnt gypsum (CaSO4·2H2O), which often contained calcium carbonate (CaCO3)

    Hope that helps!

  8. I’m getting a bit distracted wondering what a Senet game piece is. While I understand you’re trying to set the place with a very specific historic detail, I can’t help but wonder if anyone will be familiar with this, and I’d avoid anything that makes the reader say, “wait, huh?” in the very first sentence. For at least the first couple paragraphs, you never want your reader to have to reread several times to figure out what you’re talking about.

    It sounds like our MC is in bed, just waking up, telling us “you know how random thoughts pop into your head when you’re starting to wake up, well here’s a random thought, oh look there’s my sister.” So she shares a room with her sister? But why is her sister dressed and coiffed but she’s still in bed? Maybe sister is coming to wake her? It just takes us a hair too long to figure out what is happening, which isn’t really what you want for your very first page. I would caution you to avoid overwriting.

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