Wednesday, November 4, 2009

18 Secret Agent


The distressed cries from a flock of birds echoed through the forest as they clamored to escape the trees behind Scarlet. Her breath caught in her throat as she spun around. She scanned the edge of the clearing.

It was rare for her to encounter anything besides small animals on her daily herb gathering missions, but the recent reports of wolf attacks made her nervous. She wasn't sure wolves would travel deep enough into the heart of the forest to reach Aradia's hidden garden, but Zev, the woodcutter, might and Scarlet wanted to avoid him too.

Icy fingers of fear trailed down her spine but the only movement right now came from the ragged figures of scarecrows dancing in the fall breeze. Their waving arms must have startled the birds. Scarlet shivered and turned her back to the straw figures. She pulled the list of today's herbs from the pocket of her hooded red cloak.

"One arnica flower, one white poppy flower, one small garlic bulb, and one bloodroot rhizome," she read. And then she noticed a scrawl at the bottom, "Please return with these potion ingredients before sunset."

Why hadn't Grandmother Aradia said something instead of writing it on the slip of paper? She knew Scarlet loved to wander in the forest. Especially now when the trees gifted her with a canopy of vibrant color and a carpet of crunchy leaves to enjoy.


  1. I really like the suspense set up here, as well as the character. I see a shaft of depth in her. On an agent blog recently, she was saying that suspense is best built using short, choppy sentences. Maybe that's an idea for improvement. I see several areas of conflict, which leads to several different story lines, which is great! Especially the last line when she is seduced by the trees/leaves. I'd definitely read more.

  2. Your writing is good, sentences clear and vivid, and I love the detail about the woodcutter being someone she wants to avoid.
    However, I have some problems with your set-up. I WOULD expect to find wolves in the woods, and I’m surprised she doesn’t usually see larger animals. I’m also confused by why Grandmother puts her herb garden in the middle of the forest, and why she doesn’t even keep GARLIC, of all things, in the house. Things like this make me feel you don’t have your world thought out well enough.
    Also, when you put wolves, a forest, and a girl named Scarlett in the first paragraph, I get Little Red Riding Hood flashes.
    I’d read on, but just barely.

  3. I seem to recognize this from somewhere. If I remember right, you're going in a Little Red Riding Hood direction. Funny, but I remember liking the older version better. This is fine, but it doesn't have the freshness I remember. I liked the subtle cues that this was going to be a reinvented fairy tale, and I don't get a sense of that here.

    If I'm completely off and this has nothing to do with Little Red Riding Hood, feel free to completely dismiss my comments. As it is, I'm marginally hooked.

  4. I don't get why, if "icy fingers of fear" are traveling up her spine, in the next para she calmly pulls a list from her pocket and reads it. Other than that, I guess it works.

  5. I'm in the woods with Scarlet. Very good imagery.

    Why wouldn't she expect to find wolves deep in the woods? I thought that was were they hang out.

    In the third paragraph, you have "right now" and "today's" You in past tense. "right now" should be "then" or "that" and "today's" should be "that day's."

    Again, great imagery and love the title!

    Good luck

  6. Based on the final paragraph, this material feels almost middle grade instead of YA. I am curious what is the age of the protagonist. The character feels young...more of a tween than a teen. The age of the character is a pretty big factor for me when deciding to review or take on a new author, mostly because it is a big issue for editors in the mg/ya markets.

  7. Very nice intro. I'm waiting for something exciting to happen straight off.
    I'd watch out with the sentence "Icy fingers of fear trailed down her spine" because I feel like I've read/heard that sentence a million times.
    Also, when Scarlet reads the note, the "Please return with these potion ingredients before sunset" read really off to me.

  8. Sounds like a rendition of little red riding hood to me. I would be curious as to how it will differ.

  9. I've heard that herb-gathering is one of those over-used fantasy story beginnings. Just something to consider.

    The mention of the wolves and the woodcutter intrigued me, but based on the rest, I'm not sure I'd read on.

    However, now that I've read the comments and realized this might be a fairy-tale retelling, I am more interested. There is a Little Red Riding Hood YA called Sisters Red coming out next year that you may want to check out.

  10. Thanks for the comments, all. It is a Red Riding Hood retelling, and the character is almost 16. I'll have to see what I can do to make this sound more appropriate to her age. =)

    Witches often hid their herb gardens in the woods so I kind of built on this practice. Later in the chapter the reader discovers the garden is protected by spells (the scarecrows are part of the enchantment) so this is why it's not usual for her to see many animals/wolves around.

    Thanks again for your comments. =)

  11. Mission feels the wrong word to describe a girl gathering herbs. You could cut the word altogether: "...her daily herb gathering, but..."

    That's my only nitpick. I'm a big fan of fairy tale retellings, and like the voice and atmosphere so far. Hooked.