Wednesday, August 19, 2009

34 Secret Agent

TITLE: The Long Road to Heaven
GENRE: High-concept women's fiction

APRIL 6, 1975

The car rolled to a stop just inches from the curb where I stood. I lowered my head and peered through the passenger window. The driver was young. He didn't look like a freak or a murderer. Maybe I didn't care.

Dark hair swept his shoulder as he leaned across the bench seat and opened the door. "You look like you need a ride. Hop in." His invitation barely carried over the idling engine and the cadence of wind-driven sleet.

Without hesitating, I ducked inside and collapsed against the upholstery, wincing at the pressure against my back. The door slammed shut, and heat rushed at me from the dashboard vents, drying my nostrils. The rapid strokes of the windshield wipers framed the city in arcs that somehow diminished its threat.

"I'm Nick." He stretched out his hand

Slowly, I laid my fingers against his palm, his warmth seeping beneath my skin. Through chattering teeth, I muttered, "Heather."

"Are you okay, Heather?"

My throat tightened, restricting the wail that begged release from somewhere deep inside me. I nodded, but the bruises on my face exposed the truth. I wouldn't tell him what happened. I couldn't; the words outweighed me by tons.

Shrouding myself in silence, I trembled as we drove, as we entered his apartment, even as he draped a blanket around me.

"There's a phone in the kitchen. You should call your mom. At least let her know you're safe."


  1. I loved it. My only problem sentence was "Maybe I didn't care." It's clumsy because it's first person, and she'd know if she cared or not. Perhaps later in the manuscript, if she developed into a character who is extremely shadowed and unsure of herself you could pull off a sentence like this, but at the end of the first paragraph it was jarring. Good job!

  2. Can't say I was hooked. I assumed she didn't know him, but the last sentences made me think they somehow knew each other. Even in 1975, why would someone not take a person who'd been beat up (bruises on her face) to the emergency room or the cops? I know more will be revealed later, but I'm so confused that I don't think I would continue reading.

  3. I like this very much. I think your descriptions are engaging. I particularly like the windshield imagery, and “I couldn't; the words outweighed me by tons.”
    Yes, there are a lot of questions raised; I want to know what transpired between the time Nick picked Heather up and when they arrived at his apartment. I would definitely read on hoping to find the answers.

  4. I'm not sure.... I think I saw another version of this where she was already in the car or had just arrived at the apartment. In that case it worked for me, because we assume that he'd rescued her from something or they'd discussed police or hospitals. Here there is nothing. He just takes her home.

    Some of that mystery is really good, be I'd read on to see what she's hiding from him. But not asking her questions or anything seems unrealistic - especially if she has bruises on her face.

  5. Great... until they enter his apartment. I agree with the other posters. Most women wouldn't do this (I know I wouldn't). Where's the conversation about the cops and the ER, and why she won't go there?

    I loved the description of the arcs on the windshield.

  6. I love the writing. The rhythm of the words is very engaging. I especially like "the cadence of wind-driven sleet" and "framed the city in arcs that somehow diminished its threat."

    I'm intrigued by the set-up, too. A stranger picks up a battered hitchhiker -- very fitting for the era in which this is set.

    I think you've done your homework on the culture of the time -- considering the popularity of hitching a ride back then.

    This reads kind of like a prologue. I'm intrigued.

    I want to know what happened to her and what will happen to her.

    Am I hooked? Without a doubt.

    Good job.

  7. I really like the way you describe things (as others have already said)
    You have a distinctive style and I'd definitely want to read more!

  8. not hooked: she went home with a stranger? There's a disconnect here that needs further development. I understand the hitch-hiking and needing to get away from whoever gave her the bruises, but why did he go to his apartment? Also I feel that the sleet could be exploited more. I didn't know if she had been standing in it for a while, or under a shelter.

  9. I'm disturbed Heather would go with a stranger. It might work if we didn't know he was a stranger right away - not sure.

    I think it's well-written but battered woman stories really have to stand out to grab a reader these days because there are so many "get away from abuse" tales out there. I'd like to know right on the first page what makes this different.

    Good luck.

  10. I'm hooked. I remember reading an earlier version of this and it stood out then too.

    You probably should provide a little more motivation for why she'd go to his apartment, but the story is intriguing enough and the writing is smooth enough that I'd keep going. Good job.

  11. Outstanding! I really want to know what happened to Heather before she got into the car - and what will happen to her in Nick's apartment and beyond.You are a talented writer.

  12. I liked it! And it read very well.

    Only twice, I paused in the reading. Both minor and maybe personal but here they are:

    1. the wincing about the back- I thought this person had a bad back, like she was middle aged. Maybe because I'm middle age (though I don't have a bad back). But anyway, that's what I thought since I didn't get until later that she was beat up.

    2. the nostril line. I went-what? Everything was such a smooth,cresendo and that just seemed to hit an off note. I started thinking about a nostril not being dry and I don't know- yuck. I think I figured it out (she had a runny nose from the cold) but I don't know that the story needed that one detail.

  13. Although I admit having a problem with Heather getting in a stranger's car, what really threw me out of the story was the writing itself. Too many -ing verbs or just plain overwriting? Not sure, but something about it distracted me. So personally I'm not hooked and would not continue reading.

  14. Hooked. The only part that threw me off a little bit was what he said to her at the end of the page and the fact that he took her home. From the sound of it, he was a stranger and it seems odd that a woman (especially one who was beaten) would just go home with him. But the writing was great and I definitely want to read more!

  15. Hi everyone. Thanks for your comments. I really appreciate them.

    One of you mentioned the number of "running from abuse" novels out there and wanting to know what makes this one different from page one.

    The title is sort of an indicator of the difference. The story isn't about running from abuse. It's about turning into the one thing you hate the most.

    Its basic premise is this:

    No matter how many times someone stumbles, they can (and often do) learn to walk a straight and narrow line. And just as quickly, those who already walk the straight and narrow can be tripped up by loose stones on the road of life. So, be careful of the stones you throw because someday you might be the one to trip over them.

    There's a neat little tagline that wraps this up into one little package, but I can't share it here.

    Also, this particular scene -- the prologue -- is only about 500 words long and the hospital is mentioned.

  16. The 1970's were a different time where people didn't give much thought to hitching a ride or picking up a hitcher. I was hooked right away by quality of writing.

  17. I loved the writing. I was definitely hooked. My only problem, was after the careful description of getting in the car, we skipped pretty quickly to this guy taking her to his apartment. I was immediately questioning why he'd take her home and why she'd agree to go. You could dramatize the whole exchange, but at the very least maybe a sentence explaining that transition would help, I think.

    Really lovely writing, though.

  18. To me this read like material that had been overworked by the author. When you labor over the writing, changing adjectives to their synonyms, you risk getting lost in the trees and forgetting to paint the bigger picture, the forest. This felt like a heavy read, with some overwriting and overly decadent, purplish details. I might keep reading for a little while, depending on the query letter, and to see if things shaped up, but overall this didn't feel like a promising opening.

  19. I actually liked this, which surprised me, because I don't normally go for this sort of thing. I love how she won't tell him what happened because the words outweigh her. Great line.

    I agree with some of the other commenters that some of this feels overwritten, particularly the paragraph when she first gets into the car. It's not over the top, though, especially if time has slowed down for her and she's noticing all the little details.

    Overall, I think the writing is strong (although I'm sure you'll probably side with the Secret Agent's opinion over mine). Which just goes to show that there's no accounting for taste.

  20. Krista -- You've actually hit the nail right on the head with your assessment. Heather is in shock, and time has slowed down.

    The problem with the 250 word limit (which I completely understand, so. . .) is that there wasn't time to establish why Heather did what she did. In such a brief spot, it's difficult to convey her state of mind.

    But when the scene ends 250 words later with Heather saying, "I think my baby's dead," it becomes clear that she's out of her mind.

    Regardless, I value the Secret Agent's feedback, as well as that left by everyone else.


  21. I liked it!

    Re: The Secret Agent's comments...there were a few spots where less would be more.

    For example: My throat tightened, restricting the wail that begged release from somewhere deep inside me.

    Could be better as: My throat tightened.

    Especially if she's in shock (as you imply)...would her internal narrative be simpler? Would she be thinking about the feel of the wail, or would she be just aware of her throat constriction?

    This is ridiculously nitpicky, though, because I truly did like it.