Wednesday, March 10, 2010

49 Secret Agent

TITLE: Kwizera Means Hope

“All cockroaches step forward,” a voice barked the day the genocide arrived at my secondary school.

My heart dropped into my stomach. No one moved.

“Step forward!”

Still no one moved. We all knew what it meant. We had heard the news, on the radio and by word of mouth. We knew these boys in their torn and dirty clothing would kill any girl who stepped forward.

“You, Mzee,” the same boy said, jutting his chin toward our headmaster. “Make the filthy Batutsi show themselves.”

Another boy, in a shirt as red as the Rwandan soil, dragged the headmaster toward the line of us girls.

Would he do it? Would he denounce teenage girls who were guilty of nothing but an accident of birth? Girls he had taught and counseled for at least six months, if not almost six years.

Was my father, also a headmaster, faced with the same choice? Was my brother facing armed, angry men at university? Were my mother and younger siblings safe?

I felt sweat beading on my forehead and the back of my neck and under the waistband of my skirt. Please, God, let us escape this evil. Let me see my family again.

But I knew from the stories passed from village to village that little mercy was shown by the Hutu extremist militias known as the Interahamwe, “those who attack together”.


  1. You don't waste any time getting into the tension, but there were times when this felt too abrupt.

    I find starting with dialogue too disorienting. I don't know who is speaking, who the audience is, where they are, etc. So you're faced with having to cram it all in as explanation ("the day the genocide arrived at my secondary school"), which could be written more elegantly.

    Is it THE genocide? That presumes there's A genocide, etc. I've never seen it written with an article in front of it.

  2. I liked this. I've read biographies of people who survived the Rwandan genocide, and I find it fascinating yet horrifying. I'd see a lot of value in a work of fiction that exposes readers to the issues. Plus I suspect there will be even more suspense and excitement as the story progresses!

    Personally I like the approach of starting with dialogue. It gets things off to a quick start, and you can incorporate backstory without having to dedicate paragraph/s to trying to set the scene.

    I'd definitely read more.

  3. I'd definitely read more. This was very chilling. You get right to the action. Well done.

  4. Wow, this opens with a punch. I thought it was very well written and flowed nicely. I'd read more even though I fear I might be traumatized by possible images to come.
    Nice job!

  5. I really liked this. I'm torn between wanting to read more and not daring - which tells me I care about the character already.
    Well done.

  6. I normally dislike when stories start with dialogue...but all rules were meant to be broken. The phrase:

    a voice barked the day the genocide arrived at my secondary school. **this reads rather clunky to me...

  7. I liked this and I would keep reading.

    A few thoughts - "the boys in their torn and dirty clothing" - would it be true to substitute "bloodied" for one of the adjectives? If they had already killed others? That was the feeling I had about them.

    Also - were they carrying weapons? Machetes?

    Good stuff here.

    Good luck!

  8. Realistic and frightening. You immediately painted ordinary people under nightmarish pressure. I was holding my breath.

    I wish you well with this novel. This terrible story has truths about all of humanity and needs to be told again.

  9. I enjoyed your beginning, but I do agree that the first sentence with the tag and the bit about genocide seemed too much.

    The rest was good and I'd read more.

  10. I love it! I'm definitely caught up in the tension and worrying for the girls and I would read more.

  11. The opening seems very effective to me -- I'm hooked, and I tend to avoid tales that I know will upset.

    I didn't understand what you meant by "the genocide" at first, but it quickly became apparent. I've got mixed feelings about changing it -- on the one hand, I'm not the first reader who tripped over it, but on the other, it's immediate and in-your-face.

    Best of luck with this. I hope you find an agent.

  12. Hooked! Excellent development of the tension. I don't mind the dialogue opening. Nicely done.

  13. This is fantastic!!! I don't know what else to say. I'm hooked, love the title, and there is a great combination of thought, character development, dialogue, action, story...I wish to read more! this is superb!!! Fresh, new idea for a story too...

    GREAT JOB!!! :)

  14. Fast-paced, tension-filled, exciting, frightening -- you pack a lot of emotions and information about the character into your first page. Very well done. I would suggest splitting your first sentence up. I don't mind starting the command, but I would try the comment about the genocide arriving at her school to a new paragraph.

  15. This puts you right into the story, and hooks you with the character. The pacing is fabulous, and there is no way I could put down a book after an opening like this.

    BTW, I've read this story as a beta reader, and yes, folks, it does get even better. It's an amazing and moving story.

  16. This caught me right away. Like one other commenter, I'm torn by the use of "genocide" I like it, it pulls me in, but on the other hand, it feels like a bit much.

    The only other thing that stuck out for me was "toward the line of us girls." For some reason this just read awkwardly to me.

    I would definitely keep reading. The tension is great!

  17. Gail said...
    Great beginning! I'm hooked! Way to go with a great voice, tension, setting & action on the 1st pg. I want to read more. This should definitly catch an agent's eye.

  18. I loved this. Very intense from the beginning. Definitely hooked me.

  19. Ooooh, this is great. I loved the voice and the story has me hooded for sure.

  20. Right off I was confused. At first I thought it was about bugs! (cockroaches). I didn't feel the tension. I felt I was being forced into feeling it. ( Please, God, let us escape this evil.)I didn't feel connected to the MC so I wasn't interested in continuing to read.

    I would suggest taking time to ease into the story and building tension.

  21. Wow - you sure pulled me in. I'd read on for sure, although my heart would be pounding. Nicely done.

  22. This isn't a comment about your style or your ability to write. It's not about what you are writing, and the starting hook.

    But I must say, given the YA label, whether the voice is that of a young person or a very mature person.

    To me it doesn't read as a YA, too sophisticated.

  23. I think you have a great topic here, and that alone will pull in readers.

    I'd suggest letting the scene play itself out. Tell us in that first sentence who is speaking, rather than saying a 'a voice.' Show this person eyeing the girls, let us know what your main character is feeling.

    You have some powerful stuff here and letting the story happen, as opposed to telling it, could be the difference between a good book and a great one. Give it the time and effort the topic deserves.

  24. This opening scene is very powerful, although some of the narrative felt a little too formal and stilted, but not overly so. I would definitely keep reading on, but I'm not completely sucked into the narrative voice.