Wednesday, August 18, 2010

August Secret Agent #31

TITLE: The Color of Gothic
GENRE: Dark Fantasy

The snow along the trail was black as a raven. The burros' manes froze as they lugged ore carts up the hill. Gusts swirled through the valley building snowdrifts taller than most men. But the wind did not sting inside the earth. It was trepidation that pierced the heart of Dell Collins.

Even the seasoned miners feared the black tunnels of Gothic's Jollytime Mine. Dell watched them whisper and cower as if darkness crept from the coal through their bones and into their souls. Death and mining were no strangers. But the corpse found yesterday had no blood. Not a single drop splattered the rocks, tainted the body or even lingered on the wound. That's what Doc Parker called it, a wound.

In the heart of Colorado's Elk Mountains, sixty-five frightened miners toiled for coal with pickaxes, pry bars and shovels. Most of them were as jumpy as jack rabbits, especially those deep within the earth. Dell felt the anxiety, but managed to control his emotions. Though he wasn't taking any chances, keeping his sloppy cousin, Quinn, close. Two men in a fight were better than one. He also needed to focus Quinn's mind on the coal. Scared miners make mistakes, deadly mistakes.

"Rabid cougars have been known to act in strange ways," Dell said as he worked the rock.

"But no one saw a cougar or bear or even a mangy raccoon yesterday." Quinn's tone exposed his nervousness. "Those Hungarians are talking all kinds of crazy things."


  1. The storyline is fascinating and I am semi-hooked. The biggest problem I see is the short sentence structure. Break them up with complex sentences every now and then.

    Good intrigue. I liked the second sentence of the second paragraph, super suspense build-up.

    I would re-write ‘…Dell said as he worked the rock..’ to “Dell said. He slammed the pickaxe into the rock face again.” Or something similar, it gives the reader a picture of where he is, what he is doing.

    It is a fine line between giving the reader credit to figure stuff out and telling them too much, but I would edit ‘Quinn’s tone exposed his nervousness…” to giving the reader a picture of what you mean, a phrase or description of Quinn’s obvious tension.

    Good luck.

  2. I'd read on.

    I like the concept and can visualize the scene.

  3. Some really great writing and details here. But I was tripped up by several of the first sentences. I kept trying to picture that black snow, but it didn't make sense to me until later when I learned they were coal miners. This information also would have helped me understand "the wind did not sting inside the earth."

  4. Hooked. I liked the details in the first paragraph, especially the snow simile. (I got at once that it was dirty snow, but if you wanted to introduce the mining element a few sentences earlier, you could say, "The snow along the trail was black as coal.")

    I agree with Huntress that you could vary your sentence length a little more, but you set up the tension nicely.

    One tweak: In the second sentence of the second paragraph, I'd change "Dell watched them" to "They." Dell's our POV character, so we already assume everything we see, hear, or feel is something he's seeing, hearing, or feeling. Phrases like "Dell watched" add unnecessary distance between the characters and your readers.

    Good luck!

  5. The sentence about the burros makes me think the manes are lugging the ore carts. :) Sentences like that are tricky. Maybe reword?

  6. This one grabbed me with the corpse that had no blood and held me with the reference to 'the wound.'

    I was staked with 'Those Hungarians...'

    The descriptions here are rich and do a nice job of grounding us to a time and place. I have no trouble visualizing this setting.

    I definitely want to read more of what happens in these Colorado mountains.

  7. I agree with some of the others that you need to mention the coal mine before mentioning the black snow, which is a great image by the way. Can you find something else to compare the blackness to? Because "black as a raven" is an expected simile. Are there ravens in Colorado? Or do they have crows like we do in California? What else would a miner compare it to? What is his frame of reference?
    The fact that the inside and the outside of the mine looked much the same would be an interesting detail.
    The first paragraph threw me off a bit, possibly due to sentence structure. Though it seems as though that could be part of your MC's POV. A miner probably wouldn't be given to bursts of poetry and long-windedness ebcause he wouldn't want to breathe the coal dust. After a while he'd probably start to think in short bursts, too.
    I'm not too sure about the title or the name of the mine. Out of curiosity, is Gothic a real town in Colorado? It seems too trite and obvious for a Dark Fantasy. But then again, I hate writing titles, so who am I to judge.
    Intriguing idea, though, and I would keep reading.

  8. Tighter, tighter, tighter! I LOVE the title, so I read a bit, and you're almost there. Almost. Needs to be tighter:

    The snow along the trail was black (as raven). The burros' manes froze as they lugged ore carts up the hill. Gusts swirled through the valley building snowdrifts taller than most men. But the wind did not sting inside the earth. (And it was here that) trepidation pierced the heart of Dell Collins.

    Tightening doesn't mean a full rewrite. But it does mean taking out those one or two words that drown out the meaning. And don't forget transitions.

  9. Yes Gothic is a real ghost town/mining town in Colorado, near Crested Butte, which had a major coal mine.

  10. I remember this one. I liked it then and I like it now. But I can't help thinking what a stronger opening it would be if you started with them finding the body. Then we get to see everything you're telling us about.

    And that would be my only real compaint with this - that it's all told. Consider showing us more. Show us the miners jumping at every sound, show them clustered and whispering, cowering at the flap of a bird's wing. Think in pictures rather than words.

    And a suggestion for that first sentence. The snow along the trail was black with coal dust. It gets across the color of the snow and why it's that color, and it also sets up your setting.


    Ha! the wordver is raven!

  11. The snow along the trail was black as a raven...
    i can see that line either way. it either makes me want to know why, or it makes me think that doesn't make sense. it didn't really jar me ,so take that as you will.

    The burros' manes froze as they lugged ore carts up the hill...
    seems you're defining the manes and not the burros. this needs changed.

    i liked the setting and the idea.
    almost sounds paranormal vs fantasy.

    need a little more showing of emotion vs telling. other than that i would keep reading on.

  12. I liked this, and would read more. A cold, cruel setting, a dead bloodless body, and nervous speculating men. I’m in. I agree that you could futz with the first line. The image of black snow is so strong that I don’t think you even need a simile.