Wednesday, March 18, 2009

1 Secret Agent


He blended into the cool October night dressed all in black. Puffs of his breath rose like smoke. He stood still, very still, in the shadow of an old, twisted Mesquite tree.

The tip of his cigarette glowed orange within his cupped hands. He held it carefully, drunk on the knowledge that a fire so small could flare up into a dragon within seconds. The dry brush underfoot would catch that spark. Within minutes, goaded by the wind, the fire would run wild. Every bit of dry grass, brittle branch, and dead leaf would smolder and burn.

Fire, the great purifier, the equalizer, turned everything in its path to ashes. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” he whispered into the dark. How poetic. How just. He rubbed the ring on his finger – the only inheritance his mother left him—and stared at the flame. The fire would avenge.

Every time he smelled the acrid smoke, felt the primal heat, his mind reeled at the possibilities. How hot would it blaze? Which direction would it lunge? How far would its sooty claws reach?

He eyed the stone cottage that stood dark and quiet, peacefully unaware. He’d scouted it earlier and noticed the woodpile by the backdoor, the wood railings on the porch, and the dead rose bush clinging to the walls. He could’ve easily started the fire there-- throw some accelerant on the wood, followed by a lighted match, and the dragon would rise again.

The woman who lived there was an artist herself. He imagined her screams.


  1. I definitely get the creepy feel of "killer/stalker/arsonist." I'd keep reading!

  2. Lots of potential here: a man possessed by an obsession to burn and with revenge as motivation. A couple of things tripped me up. A stone cottage might be really hard to burn down. Can it be made of something else? And for some reason, the reference to the woman being an artist was off-putting. But the final sentence was great.

  3. You've set a scene here that is intriguing. I'm wondering who the actual protagonist will be (someone to relate to?)but am creeped out by the arsonist/stalker.

  4. I have nothing else to say- I just liked this.

  5. Slight problem here for me - it seems like a lot of observation. Now, going by the genre, I'm guessing this is just setup (like a prologue). Something bad is going to happen, which leads into the real beginning of the story with the real main character.

    Probably should point out that when I read these kind of books, I skip over the setups to get to the real goods. ;)

  6. I agree that this felt like a prologue, but i'm a prologue reader :)

    I loved the descriptions, and you did a great job setting the tone/mood in this opening. I felt like I was inside the head of the character.

    I'd definitely keep reading to see who the protagonist ends up being. Good job and good luck!

  7. Great setup. I really like the descriptions, the way you drop the reader inside the man's head. The use of fire as a dragon is really a neat touch too; its completely understandable without being ordinary. Nice job.

  8. I thought this was pretty good. I'd read more. But there are a few things that made me think, "maybe this isn't for me." Here's my rundown:
    1) "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust" is not poetic in this context, it's cliché. I think you could substitute something better here.
    2)Feeling "primal heat" from a cigarette is a bit too dramatic for my taste, but...
    3) I really like the image I got from "how far would its sooty claws reach?"
    4) You tell us he could have started the fire at the cottage. Well, why didn't he? You've already told us he isn't sure in which direction the fire would "lunge." How is he sure it'll get to the cottage?

    I like books that start with evil afoot. So I like this based on that alone. Plus, you've cleverly included backstory in two sentences (the ring, the avenging fire) - and that's skillful.
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. I like this. I love the sort of visceral feel to his words and his excitement. Nicely done.

  10. Wonderful imagery. I also liked the metaphor of the dragon.

    I think this could be more powerful if within the second paragraph, he actually started the fire rather than just thinking about it. Movement is more compelling than just the thought of movement.

    You have great talent. Best of luck!

  11. Wow - this is amazing. The voice is great, really compelling. The character is twisted, and you've given us a few nice details. Great stuff. I'd read on.

  12. I'd keep reading too, but would have preferred some action ie. because he's 'unbalanced' I'm not sure it will lead to anything. There's no foreshadowing of any prior acts of arson to make me take him seriously this time. I like the way you write.

  13. This would keep me reading on.

    I agree with Lori, that this might work even better if he started the fire somewhere in the middle of this excerpt (if he's going to start it, that is). That would add more immediacy to your last line here.

  14. Good solid writing and I love the tone to this piece. Creepy. He's angry and about to avenge his mother from something. He's been brooding about this for a long time.

    I understand his careful planning but feet the pace needs to be a little quicker. I wanted something to happen and it never did.

    That said, I would definitely read on. I want to know who lives in the cottage, what he's avenging, if he actually starts the fire and after all that thought, if the fire burns in the direction he hopes it will. Good job!

  15. I really liked this. At first I thought, "oh no, not another stalker with a glowing cigarette butt" but then you surprised me with arson! Yay! I liked the way he described the fire for himself. I'd definitely read on.

  16. I really liked this.

    A couple of nits--I felt the first paragraph was a bit cliche, but I LOVED the following paragraphs! THen, after your sentence "How far would its sooty claws reach?" I wanted the pace to pick up. It slowed down too much, for me, when you started talking about the stone cottage and the artist. Seemed out of place.

    Good luck!!

  17. Not quite hooked, sorry. The (unnamed) MC here spends the entire opening contemplating things and going all philosophical on us about fire. But he/she’s not DOING anything. Rather than have your character contemplate things, actually have him/her *doing* them.

  18. I agree with Lori - have him start the fire instead of talk about it. I had a nit - sooty claws. I think they'd more likely be flickering red claws. Soot would be left behind. Otherwise, I was absolutely hooked. Nice tone and i felt like I was watching him.

  19. A nicely written start that hints at big things to come. This works for me.

    And I have and commented on them all. *falls over exhausted*

  20. I liked this. I would keep reading. I don't mind waiting a little longer for him to actually start the fire.

  21. Wonderfully creepy. Would read more, but as someone else mentioned, a stone cottage would be more difficult to burn...but then maybe that's the pyro's challenge.

  22. I'd have to pass on this one. Too dark, unless you're opening with the villian. Is that ever done? This person isn't likeable and I expect to like him even less shortly. But, this is just the first page. By page three the female artist will probably have him drinking hot choclate. Just have to read on. Still, don't think this character is going to enchant most readers. Sorry, but you know they want to reach as many as possible, so MC has to be someone reader can identify with.

  23. Hooked!

    Well written, very creepy. I see that he did start a fire in this scene, but you go right back to his internal thought so it gets kinda passed over.

    Perhaps a little more description of the live fire, rather than what he's witnessed in the past.

    Good job, though.

  24. Well, hooked. Welcome to the psychotic world of the antagonist I assume. Can't see any redemption via cocoa and cookies with the artist. Loved the allusion to a fellow artist. His art is drawn by flames.
    For pickies: I like PCB's analysis. Many said start the fire...what if he flicked his lighter or pointed his cig, thought about the fire, stopped, flicked,'d add just a couple sentences, keeping his creedy monologue. Good luck with it.

  25. I enjoyed the look into a arsonists brain. It made me shudder. I am hooked and would read on.

  26. (Also after being eaten)

    I was not completely convinced. A LOT of cliches here, all trying to set the mood. This could be even creepier if it were starker. Ashes to ashes doesn't work at all. The last paragraph was excellent. But so much unnecessary, overused verbiage--primal heat, mind reeled, puffs of breath rising like smoke, drunk on the knowledge...too much for me to think it's going to make it at this point. Sorry...