Wednesday, February 10, 2010

41 Secret Agent

TITLE: Story for a Shipwright
GENRE: Literary fiction

We had our last frost several weeks ago. Overnight, it had solidified all those muddy ruts in our dooryard and I could see my breath. A faint odor of diesel hung in the fog as coffee from my mug mingled with salty morning air. It’s a quick jaunt from our bed-and-breakfast to the boatshed, but I was in a hurry, as usual. Although one misstep ruptured a skin of ice, splashing water up into my boot, I made it to the shop without getting more than damp from the misting drizzle. The air smelled like spring, heavy, like mud. In the shop it seemed to suspend everything—fine dust and particles, even time. When I’m working, I tend to lose track that way and I can’t say for sure how long I had been running my sander—it could have been hours or perhaps only minutes—when I noticed an intruder. At first, I thought it was my hired guy, but the skirt was definitely not his style. I doubt I would have noticed her at all except she managed to plant herself right there, in that spot where at high noon the sun shoots through the hole in the roof which won’t get fixed for a month. No one had seen the sun for two weeks, but in that moment, it split the clouds, thrust a shard through that narrow fissure, and reflected off every hovering dust particle surrounding her.


  1. This is beautiful and has great imagery, but it doesn't really plant me anywhere. I feel like I'm on the Eastern seaboard, but not sure.

    The skirt on the guy threw me off- I really had to wonder where and when this was, especially with them mention of the sander.

  2. You have a lovely writing style and I actually thought the skirt comment was funny. It didn't confuse me. Is this romantic literary fiction, by any chance? I don't know how I feel about the weather playing such a big role in this opening paragraph. I've heard that weather descriptions in openings are no-nos, but I love the writing. I don't know if I'm hooked, but I would read on to find out who the mysterious intruder is.

  3. Beautiful! I loved all of the sensory details grounding me in the setting. I suspect that the weather and the setting are going to play a large role in this novel, given the title and the genre, so I didn't mind the attention given to both in this opening.

    My only nit with this is that I would've liked more paragraph breaks. A large paragraph like this, especially at the beginning, is daunting to me.

    But hooked, immersed, etc. Good luck!

  4. The writing is beautiful and full of imagery, but even for literary fiction, I'm not getting much of a sense of the POV character here. Too much of a sense of confusion, and not enough happenstance.

  5. I love all your imagery, but I think by being more selective you might solve the grounding problems mentioned above. Eg. Diesel, fog, salty morning air are too much for one sentence (even though it made me inhale all three). Find a unifying image and use it throughout rather than including all your best ones in the first paragraph. But I'm hooked, if only because I love boats, shipwrights, and salty morning air!

  6. I love the imagery and I'd totally read more! I have to tell you, I love both Alaska and Maine, and this brought up memories of mornings spent in both places. :)

    The line 'A faint odor of diesel hung in the fog as coffee from my mug mingled with salty morning air.' seems a little jumbled to me. I don't think you should cut out anything, just rearrange the sentence a little. 'And' instead of 'as' maybe. I'll stew and come back with a better suggestion.

    I love it though.

  7. I liked it but was daunted by the big block of text. I almost didn't read on because of it. Nice imagery. I might get to the action a bit sooner.

  8. I had a few issues with this paragraph: (1)As others have mentioned, all 250 of your words are in one block. This stands out especially in this contest where so many others are broken up. (2) The balance of imagery with storyline doesn't feel right. You jump into the story without giving a real sense of location, and because of the very descriptive nature of your writing, at first I thought the girl is only another piece of imagery. For your writing style, it would make more sense to me to lengthen the description in the beginning (although that wouldn't work in this contest, obviously). (3) I will preface this comment and say I'm not a fan of description in general. However, your description seems to me to exist for description's sake, and not to really build a scene or extend the story forward. The concentration on dust particles doesn't really give us a sense of the setting or the mindspace of the MC.

  9. I thought you had some nice imagery, although, like others have said, you described many things, but I never got a good sense of where this was taking place or what exactly he was doing. He was in a hurry, but was he late for work? Does he own the B&B? It sounds like he works alone in the shop.

    I think not only can you break up the text here, into several shorter paragraphs, I think you can actually cut quite a bit out of the beginning.

    To me, your story starts here:
    "I can’t say for sure how long I had been running my sander—it could have been hours or perhaps only minutes—when I noticed an intruder."

    Everything before that is sort of meandering and doesn't add as much to the feeling of place as the moment he sees the woman standing in the shaft of light does.

    Also, I feel like your hook is the appearance of this woman, but I don't know enough about the MC to know what her appearance means to him. I don't even have a real sense of how he feels about seeing her, only that she's unexpected. It's that info about him (is he married? sworn off women? etc.) that I need in order to be hooked enough to keep reading.

  10. I don't read a lot of literary fiction, but I'm betting you can do more with this.

    For instance, your opening line, "We had our last frost several weeks ago." Is that intrinsically significant to the story? Is it a metaphor for something else? When I make it several chapters deeper into the book, will I go back and look at this line, smile, and say to myself, "That's perfect"? If not, you might want to use this opening line to do one of those things.

    Also, as several others have mentioned, I just don't feel very grounded in this story yet. I'm not sure why that is, because you have some nice imagery here, and an easy-on-the-ears voice. Maybe it's the character (as several others have mentioned). I've been reading Donald Maass's THE FIRE IN FICTION lately, and that's something he's always coming back to: It's the characters, the characters, THE CHARACTERS. They're why we read books. So maybe we need a better sense of our narrator.

  11. Very nice images continue to run through my head. I am sure it's not one big paragraph, but was processed that way through the internet.

  12. In fact, I did completely botch my formatting in the process of eimailing--was supposed to be 3 paragraphs, not one...

    (from the author)

  13. I really liked the "ruptured a skin of ice" line.

    One criticism: "in the shop it seemed to suspend everything." What was the it? the air? it wasn't clear, and i sort of lost the narrative for a moment.

  14. I thought the skirt comment was funny. A lack of humor and too much imagery is why I tend to shy away from literary fiction, so the humor was welcome to me - it provided a nice break from all the description. You have a gift for painting the visual scene - I could see the dust motes and the light filtering through.

    I don't get how coffee mingles with the salty morning air unless you spill it. Maybe it would be clearer to say " the steam from my coffee mingled..."

    Also, wouldn't a hole in the roof mess up work on the ship - tough to sand when it's raining on you. For some reason, saying it won't get fixed for a month bothers me (this could just be me). It would flow better to me if I know it's been there for a month, not that whatever drama is coming will be resolved enough in a month to fix the roof.

  15. Nice writing and feel to the piece but there is nothing here to keep me reading. A woman shows up in his workshop. That isn't enough to hook me despite the nice writing.

  16. As others have said, I don't get a sense of where or when this is taking place, and I thought the story started when he noticed the woman.

    I think the description doesn't work because it's just there. It doesn't connect to anything. How do the things you describe affect him or the story? When he goes out in the rain, is he thinking - damn, it's gonna be coming through the hole in the roof, or is he thinking, spring is on it's way? The different thoughts say different things about your character, and it also makes the weather have relevance. Just something to consider.

  17. This is almost entirely description, and yet I didn't always find the description very evocative because the it's a bit imprecise (coffee from a mug mingling with the air - the actual coffee or just the smell? Why mention the mug?; how is a spring smell heavy like mud?) and repetitive (just the smells: diesel, coffee, spring, heavy like mud. )