Wednesday, July 28, 2010

First 750 #4

TITLE: The Ledger Domain
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy/Spy

Fifteen years ago…

The Keaton Motel was a rat-infested hellhole of a place, but it was home. Besides, the owners gave Anna free room and board in exchange for maid service and they didn't check her papers, so she really shouldn't complain. Not that she was an illegal. Or even Hispanic, despite what the owners thought. Her real name was Anna Cate Milano, and she was third-generation Italian American. She was also 17 and on the run from her overbearing Catholic parents, so, her dark complexion--combined with the prejudices of the ignorant-damned hicks that ran the place--was pretty freaking convenient.

Still, she hated Thursdays. Thursdays were the days that she cleaned the chronically abandoned rooms at the end of building, and those empty rooms gave her the creeps. Even though the Keaton Motel was the cheapest place in all of Nacogdoches, people still broke in rather than paying the small hourly rate. The worst hoodlums the tiny East Texas town could scrounge up flocked to the place, and all sorts of crap happened in those rooms, she'd heard. Bodies had been found in there before. That's bodies plural. And this has happened more than once. Not to mention other things... the other maid refused to go over there, and said Anna shouldn't either. "No woman should go there," she insisted.

If only it were that easy. Given Anna's arrangement with the boss, she didn't have a lot of room to be saying no. She suppressed the temptation to run as she headed down the row to room 112. Despite the fondness for beer, short skirts, and sex that caused her to leave her parents and their ridiculous religious rules, she crossed herself before she reached for the door.

Scratch, scratch.

Anna's head snapped to the room next door. She knew that sound. Rats. Anna hated rats. Absolutely hated them. It was the worst thing about this place, especially Thursdays. The rats congregated in the abandoned rooms, chewing on the mattresses. On two different occasions, she'd opened a drawer to find one of the scrawny critters glaring up at her. Anna contemplated the room, then decided she'd save it for last.

So, it was two and a half hours later before she finally made it back to 113. Anna's hand hovered over the doorknob as she listened.

Scratch, scratch. Scratch, scratch.

She could still hear a scuffling from inside. With a suppressed shudder, she went to put the key in the lock. Then, she noticed it. There were scrapings on the keyhole.

Old. Surely, they were old.

She pressed the door and it swung wide, revealing the absolute worst messy room she'd ever seen. Pillows were strewn everywhere. Lamps on the floor, broken. TV shattered. Kicked in? The curtains were hanging half-off the rod, torn at the fasteners. What had happened in here?

She began searching the floor for blood, hoping not to find any. Her heart started racing when she saw a brown stain on the carpet. Then, she realized the bloodstain was an old one that had stubbornly refused to come out. She let out a breath. It was ok. Someone had broken in and partied a little hard in here. It sucked for her, but it was ok. Just another mess to clean. No big deal.

Scratch, scratch.

Anna wheeled around, her head full of the sound of her grandmother screaming in Italian. She sort of felt like screaming herself. Gran would tell her to leave this place right now, that it was cursed, that there were demons in here to get her. She listened, on the edge of running.

Scratch, scratch. Scratch, scratch. Scratch.

It was coming from the tiny thing the motel called a waiting closet. She inched closer to it, grabbing the fallen lamp on her way. Every inch of her body shaking, she opened the crappy sliding door with a snap.

There was nothing there but a pile of woman's clothes. Where had these come from? Somewhere between nervousness and relief, Anna started to reach down and pick up what was actually a very cute top when the pile moved. Anna froze, hand almost touching the shirt. Then, the pile moved again.

Anna flew back against the wall, terrified. Whatever the animal was, it was bigger than a rat. The pile began moving more violently, and the animal began making an odd noise, almost like a child's cry.

Then, she realized it was a child's cry.


  1. Your submission needs CPR. IMHO, you are holding a pillow over the story and slowly smothering it by too much back-story, too much explaining, and repeating (rats, don’t like rats, hate rats, saw one once and didn’t like it)).

    You could start with ‘she hated Thursdays.’ That works better than ‘fifteen years ago’ because you are asking the reader to care about a person who may not be on the next page. That is not a hook.

    The protag is asking many questions. That tends to kick a reader out of the story. Maybe you are asking yourself the question when you are writing. If so, don’t make the reader answer.

    The ‘scratch, scratch’ made a nice buildup to the discovery of the child. I liked that. The picture you painted with your words was excellent.

    I believe this story has promise but it is covered. Try to build the suspense with a little dialogue. The protag could express her distaste for rats and the cleaning with a resident.

    Good luck.

  2. I thought you had an interesting characater in Anna, but unfortunately, you didn't let Anna loose. You told us all about her and her current situation instead of letting Anna live it. It's all straight narrative. In 750 words, Anna doesn't speak once.

    Think about it. What is more interesting/exciting? Being there with Anna and watching this all unfold before your eyes, or sitting at a table and listening to me tell you about Anna? You have your audience sitting at the table listening to you talk.

    Forget about all the explanations and show us what Anna did. Show what Anna feels. Let us hear what Anna thinks and says. Start this with her on her way to the abandoned rooms and have her go right in. Nothing happens when she skips it, so there's no need for her to skip it.

    And speaking of abandoned rooms --you might also want to think about logic. She's cleaning chronically abandoned rooms. If they are abandoned, she would clean them once and they'd remain cleaned. But they're obviously not abandoned, because you go on to tell us all the horrible things that happen in them.

    She hears scratching coming from room 112, skips it, comes back later to clean it, only now it is room 113.

    The worst thing about Thursdays was the rats, and yet she never mentions the rats until she hears the scratching. If the rats were that awful, they would have been the first thing she thought about as she made her way to the 'not abandoned' rooms.

    And then there are several tense changes in the piece also.

    You have an interesting character and an interesting story, but it does need revision. Good luck with it!

  3. I agree with the above comments. It does feel stifled and telling.

    However, I do really like it and am intrigued. If it's a prologue, maybe you can insert it in later on in the book, have the baby (now 15 I'm guessing?) ask Anna how she found him/her, or have him/her remember the story on their own. Putting it later in the book, at a time when it's okay to slow down the action a little, I think this would work best, especially after a little work on showing the story.

    Also, if the scratching is a baby wrapped in cloth in a closet in a room, would she be able to hear it so clearly from the hall?

  4. Mostly interesting writing, good voice, tense situation, but I think you can get to the point much sooner; you don't need an intro like that. It definitely helps us get a feel for her situation and character, which is helpful so early on, but I think you can intersperse it throughout the first chapter and have it work much better.

    You can probably do a bit of line editing to tighten things up, as well. Instead of "she knew that sound" or "Anna hated rats", why not show this? "A shudder ran down her spine at the familiar sound" or something that, er, is better than that. *g*

    Try to avoid filtering - instead of "she could still hear a scuffling", say something like, "Scuffling still sounded", or "the rats still scuffled", or something like that. It makes the action much more direct and vivid. Same with "when she saw", "then, she realized", etc. Similar ways to make the writing more active is to use stronger verbs than 'was' - "pillows were strewn", "the curtains were hanging", "there was nothing", etc. could all be much stronger if you wanted them to be. It's also generally a good idea to avoid words like "began" and "started". Just say that she searched the room and that her heart raced.

    The writing distances us from her PoV a little, which could be intentional. If it's not, though, maybe rephrase sentences like "then decided she'd save it for last"? It's so distant, when you could be right inside her head - "Okay. Definitely saving this one for last."

    I'm a big proponent of close PoVs, though, so you should ignore me entirely if it's not what you're going for. :D

    Lastly, I think you might be overusing 'then' a little - five times in this bit alone, all in a similar sentence structure.

    Although I think this could make your writing a lot stronger, I really enjoyed this opening - it flows wonderfully - and you have some very nice details! I'd want to read more, for sure. Very curious what's going on in the room.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Perhaps I shouldn't be totally giving myself away, but a cursory google for "The Ledger Domain" would quickly link you to me, so why not admit myself.

    Anyway, thanks everyone for the comments! After reviewing the very, very good points here (and after a bit of discussion with Ms. Marshall), I think I'm going to cut this intro, actually. It is a prolog and as Anna appears no where else in the entire story, I don't think we need it. If anyone is wanting to read the rest, feel free to go to my post at WriteOnCon (you'll need to be registered and signed in to view).

    You can find more info about my book at

  7. I agree with a lot of what was said above. I felt the story was filtered (She knew, Anna contemplated) in places. I would like to be in Anna's head a bit more.

    The back story was interesting but I don't think this is the best time for it. I'm also assuming this is a prolougue. Could this be incorperated into the main story? As a memory, perhaps?

    I also agree about the scratching. Would Anna be able to hear that from outside the room? I don't think she would.

    I'm not a fan of 'began' and 'started'. It's stronger if you just say what happens.
    'She began searching...' becomes 'She searched...'

    All that being said, I enjoyed the story and was intrigued. I would read on. Good luck!

  8. If you are opening with "fifteen years ago" then we can safely assume that this is all back-story, which should almost never be the first thing we read upon opening a book.

    Having said that, I think you could really improve this with editing--cut out the repetetives and focus on the action. We don't need to know, up front, that the MC is a runaway third generation Itallian-American with abusive parents that were psychotic extremists in their religion, or whatever. All of that can come out later, as we get to know the MC, as we begin to care who she is and why.