Wednesday, February 10, 2010

40 Secret Agent

GENRE: Historical Fiction

“Habakuck Prickett, not guilty.”

So there it was; I would not hang for the murder of Henry Hudson. The High Court of Admiralty had acquitted me.

But of course I was guilty. We all were. I was aboard the Discovery on the day the crew mutinied and set the master of our ship adrift with only the most meager of provisions. I had protested against the violence, but not strongly enough. In any case, I was just a passenger, not a member of the crew. My words carried only the ugly weight of self-interest.

Men had waited up all that evil night until a stingy white sunlight bled into the gray sky. When Hudson stepped out of his cabin on the morning of June 22, 1611, two of the crew grabbed the captain from behind. He was barefoot, still in his striped nightshirt. They pinned his arms behind him and dragged him towards our second boat. There had not been food for three days, and we were sure that Hudson was secreting away a hoard of his own.

“What are you doing?” bellowed Hudson.

“You’ll know soon enough,” muttered Henry Greene, oddly calm.

Hudson was flailing. “You’ll hang for this when you get back to England. You’ll hang. Think of your wife and children.”

Greene snorted a laugh. “Better to hang in England than to starve in this wilderness.” And he wrenched Hudson’s arm and heaved him into the boat, a small but sturdy shallop.


  1. This is really well written!

    The first few sentences hooked me, but then I felt it went into back story. It's hard to get excited about the scene when you know how it's going to turn out.

  2. I really like the first two paragraphs but I'd wait before flashing into backstory. Maybe expand the courtroom scene. Not guilty. Perhaps guy walks out while people make pointed comments like, "You should hang for what you did" or something-- to draw out the suspense for the reader. The very beginning, I was wondering, "What did he do???" And very intrigued. I think you should play on that a bit, and avoid answering it right away/interrupting the flow of the present scene.

  3. Great writing, and I'm curious to find out how he managed to get off with a not-guilty verdict for this type of crime. That was pretty rare for that time period, wasn't it? So there must be a story there, which is intriguing. But, I did feel this beginning could be stronger. It jumped around too much. I would cut out the third paragraph completely because it's all telling. I think you go on to show what happened very well. Perhaps we need more of a lead-up to the not guilty verdict? I personally don't mind waiting a little longer to find out what he did. It would make me turn the page.

    Anyway, hope this feedback makes sense and is helpful. Best of luck!

  4. The jump in time right at the beginning didn't throw me at all. A cleverer way of starting than with the "I was aboard the Discovery on the day the crew mutinied..." But, then again, I'm a sucker for good historical fiction.

    Some fantastic turns of phrase: "ugly weight of self-interest", "stingy white sunlight". Very neat writing.

    I would read on to see if we were going to stay with the mutiny or go back to the High Court of Admiralty. Nicely done!

  5. I liked this - would definitely read on. The opening line creates intrigue, and I'm curious to know how he got to that point. Writing is smooth too, and the dialogue feels real. Good job.

  6. Not sure. The writing was good. I read the comments above because I felt like the opening was stellar but didn't want to go into flash back so soon. I wanted more time with the MC first. Just my opinion though.

  7. Not hooked. Your writing's good, but the immediate jump to back story is dragging everything down. Or maybe it's the courtroom scene that's doing the dragging. Or maybe it's the fact that we have two beginnings here, and neither one is fully developed.

    What I'm trying to say is, pick a start and go with it. If you decide on the courtroom scene, I'd back up a bit, give us a view of the courtroom, a sense of how Habakuck's feeling. Is he feeling small in such a big room? Is he feeling guilty even though he's innocent? Innocent even though he's guilty? I'm not invested in Habakuck as a person yet, so I feel very little for him when the High Court of Admiralty reads off the acquittal - and then when Habakuck tries to convince us that he's guilty.

    If you decide on the mutiny, you could set the scene better there, too. I want to feel the men's hunger, their rising panic. I want to care if they live or die. Most of all, I want a better sense of Habakuck through showing rather than telling.

    Hope that helps. Habakuck Prickett's a great name, by the way (and I'm still trying to figure out what the departure from the biblical spelling tells me about him... :) ).

  8. I really enjoyed this. You had some clever descriptions, and I anticipate that although we know how the verdict is rendered, you will provide an exciting, well written adventure. I would read on, for sure--and not just because I like a nautical theme!

  9. I'm guessing that the first part may be a short prologue, and then it goes to chapter one. Love it all, except I found the sentence that begins with "Men..." a bit over done compared to the nice clean voice in the rest of the post.

    I'd read more.

  10. I think this could become a really interesting story if you didn't go into two very short flashbacks right at the beginning. For me, the first flashback is ok because it tells me very shortly what he had been charged with and that despite his acquittal he feels guilty. The second flashback (They had waited...) is too much. It takes me out of the courtroom scene into a different kind of story. You need to decide wich story you want to tell: the mutiny (then kill paras 1-3) or the story of what happened after Habakuck left the courtroom (then cut paras 4-8).
    Bay the way, did you deliberately give Hudson and Green the same first name? It's confusing and you should think about changing that. (Even if they are historical people you could find different names, maybe nicknames or second names. In my current WIP I have 5 (historical) women with the same first name but in my novel they are all called differently)

  11. This story sounds like it will be very interesting, but I'm not a fan of the double flashback. I think Krista V. described it best - it feels like both beginnings are truncated, and I would rather spend more time in one scene. I know a lot of agents seem to hate prologues, but I think the mutiny could be shown as a prologue, then the story starts with the courthouse scene. That would prolong the drama for the reader, wondering if Prickett will hang.

    Of course, it's your story and I've only seen a very short sample, so it may be that I've misjudged your piece entirely. But based on what I've seen, that's what I think. I did really like the writing and I could certainly read through an entire novel of it.

  12. I think it's best to avoid starting a story and then going right into an extended flashback -- either start your story with the mutiny or work the bits of information in during the narrative and action. Otherwise it feels too disconnected and the action stops and starts. Otherwise, I liked it.

  13. Although I tend to agree with the other comments about the flow of action, I also think this is very clean and readable writing, and an interesting topic.

  14. I loved the first three paragraphs, and they made me think I was going to hear the story of the mutiny and the events that led up to Prickett's trial and verdict.

    You do go there, but nothing is happening in the moment. It's all told. If that's where your story is going, consider doing more showing than telling. And as much as I liked the opening, it does give away your ending, if that is where you're going. (the mutiny and following events).

    You picked a great moment in history to write about. Show us the story and it'll be a lot stronger.

  15. I found this opening a little abrupt. This seems like an important moment, and yet since it leads with the verdict we have to be told the significance of the moment, which isn't as effective as experiencing it after some buildup. It's an interesting subject and setting, but I wonder if it would be better to lead with some description to establish the setting and to create some suspense/intrigue around the verdict.

  16. I'm curious how the MC knows this stuff about the mutiny. He seems to have a very clear understanding of what happened, and if he were there whilst it occurred, I'd shelve him more with mutineer than mere passenger. If he wasn't there during the actual mutiny, then this sounds like authorial intervention giving a character info they couldn't have.