Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Agented Author #8

TITLE: Insignia

If there was one thing Tom Raines liked more than stomping people in VR sims, it was messing with Fernando the Fake Native American.

He found Fernando standing in the hot clouds of sand swirling in front of the Dusty Squanto Casino, wearing a feathered headdress and holding a case of bottles. Tom knew what was in them: dollar store perfume diluted with vinegar and tap water. Tourists bought them because Fernando hawked them as 'holistic Native American tonics'.

Tom hopped up onto the back of a nearby bench, the sun-baked wood searing him through his jeans. He pressed his sweaty hand over his mouth to hide his grin as Fernando's roving gaze settled on him. The Mexican guy's bored expression shifted into a speculative one. He fixed his features into his best 'Honest Native American Chief' look and drew in for the kill.

"How white man!" Fernando greeted Tom.

Tom almost tumbled off the back of the bench, choking on his laughter. He faked a coughing fit to hide it.

"In my teepee last night," Fernando told him, "the spirits of my ancestors came to tell me of your coming."

Tom widened his eyes, playing along. "They did? Why?"

"My ancestors said I must speak today to a young white man about curing his skin problem."

"How could the spirits of your ancestors possibly know about my skin problem?" Tom exclaimed in mock wonder, because come on, it was really kind of obvious his skin was messed up. He didn't have a patch of skin on his face free of acne.

"My ancestors have great wisdom. They knew this skin problem would be on your face."

"Great! So where on my face is it?"

Fernando blinked, caught off guard. Tom was practically disfigured, after all. "My ancestors told me it would be right there." He twirled his finger in a circle before Tom's eyes, indicating his entire face.

"So you're saying this skin problem thing is really on my face? I mean, are you sure these ancestors are telling you the truth? Because maybe they don't know what they're talking about. Maybe the spirits of your ancestors were passing around the spirit of the peace pipe, and I don't have a skin problem at all."

"Of course you have a skin problem, kid," Fernando said, slipping out of character. "You have the worst acne I've ever seen. Haven't you looked in a mirror lately?"

"No. I don't believe you!"

Fernando stared at him. Tom stared back, the picture of confusion, knowing he really looked like a perplexed fourteen-year-old who had somehow gone all these years without noticing how ugly he was. He was good at playing innocent. Even a con artist like Fernando couldn't crack him.


  1. This doesn't read like Sci Fi. It seems very contemporary. I found this a very good way of introducing Tom's appearance, but I'm not sure the whole Fake-Native-American description is P.C.

    Also--it would be "How, white man."

  2. Agree about this not seeming sci-fi. And the idea of a Mexican man playing a Fake Native American and it being presented in a mocking tone just rubs me the wrong way. I'm not sure what's going here as I found their exchange confusing.

  3. I am not hooked. Right now all you've given me is a kid with zits, so that's not really pulling me in yet.

    Just because your MC's smart and witty doesn't mean I like him... give me something else, something that makes me feel for him as a character--if he has a skin condition, then does he have feelings about it, or is he totally indifferent?

  4. This scene might work if there was a better lead in, maybe more info on who these two people are. It seems Fernando doesn't know Tom, but obviously Tom knows him because of the first paragarph.

    If this scene doesn't lead us into the main story line (in the next few paragraphs) I think readers will be upset.

  5. If I'm meant to dislike your MC, if you're setting him up as a jerk so that there's character growth later, then great job.

    I wonder how this is a VR sim, though. The way that you're describing the world, you make it very real. That's good, but there should be another layer of non-reality that the reader is made aware of.

  6. I like the wittiness of your character, though I am kind of failing to see how this is Sci-Fi! But the wittiness is a DEFINITE plus! :)

  7. Love it and want to read on! It's a great beginning and I love the Mexican "Native American" con man. (As for "P.C." question- if the con were a white man, it wouldn't even be an issue. There are cons in every color and claiming to be a N.A. to make money is an oldie but goodie. Heck, my first job as a teen was making turquoise jewelry, which the store owner sold as made by "Authentic Indians", and there wasn't a drop of Indian blood in any of us!)

    True, we don't have a spaceship yet, but that doesn't mean it's not sci-fi. 500 words is just a teaser, and in many best sellers you don't find out anything about the plot in 500 words (I've been counting). You may just have an interesting intro to get you started.

    And this is interesting, and I want to keep reading!

  8. Wow. From the first sentence, I expected to dislike Tom. But I love his sense of humor and wit, and I felt sorry for him because he believes he's deformed and ugly.

    You might clarify Fernando's age sooner. I thought he was a kid too until he called Tom "kid."


  9. I found the exchange to be hilarious...especially the non-P.C. satire of it all. I am just hoping some essence of plot will be revealed soon.

  10. I guess I'm wondering what your goal here is. Why choose this scene to launch your book? Is there a special significance to showing him out-con a con man or mentioning he's into SIMs?

    Not knowing the storyline of the book, it's hard to say whether you've met your goals or not, so I'm just posing these questions for you to consider and weigh. I agree with others, that if the goal is to show an unlikable protag, this works in that sense, but the scene seems a bit...random almost? Perhaps if we understood what the deep down beef is between Tom and Ferd, it would help. The opening line sets up that Tom knows him, yet Ferd seems not to know Tom. Detail on that would help.

    Too, it seemed odd for Ferd to hawk tonics. It's such an old-fashioned practice. Anyway, perhaps in the world you've built this is totally makes sense, but I have to say right now the setting has a contempoary feel, which makes the tonic thing seem unlikely enough that it pulls me out of the story a bit.

    I think the PC factor mentioned might be lessened if you showed more about how Ferd's a faker. I don't mean by what he does (you show that) but both how Tom identifies he's Mexican immediately, not NA, and by the fraud cost is to others. Does Tom hear Ferd sell old ladies on a tonic, promising something that takes advantage of them in a terrible way or is so rediculious in nature that only someone half-sinile would fall for it?

    Show us he's a faker first, and then when you call him a faker, you can better get away with it.

    I do like Ferd's dialogue as a NA, and also love when he breaks character and addresses Tom as 'Kid.' That was well done.

    Still, the writing sample leaves me wondering what the goal here was to show about Tom during this exchange, and what you want the reader to feel. I'd work on that a bit so it feels like this exchange has a higher purpose. Ask yourself why this is the right scene to show the reader X about Tom and launch your novel. Then work to make those aspects pop out a bit more.

    Thanks for sharing this, and all the best. :)

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  11. This had me laughing out loud at one point. So what it'f it's not PC? Lots of things aren't. Write the story that speaks to you.

    I liked how Tom played into Fernando's trap, and then turned it on him. It shows me a lot about both characters, and I'd be curious to read on and see where this headed.

    That said, there isn't a lot of plot and conflict presented here. It's only 500 words, so I'd keep reading based on Tom alone, but I'd need to see something else happen really quickly.

    The little SF didn't bother me here. Not all SF has space ships. But I'd like to start seeing more of that in the worldbuilding very soon, too. (I did, at first, think the scene was taking place in a VR.Then I changed my mind after rereading the first sentence.)

  12. First of all, the opening sentence was LOL. But, it also made me think these two had a history and their conversation didn't come off that way. At least not to me.

    I also wondered where the SF angle was, although I could wait a few pages for it.

    I do think both of these characters could be very likable, but I wondered how many people would find Fernando's dialogue offensive.

  13. Some definite humor here, the non-PC thing doesn't bother me, but I agree with Angela--wondering what the purpose of this exchange is in terms of the story. Without reading further, seems like banter?

  14. I'm in. I like the banter and Tom's ability to joke about his acne. However, I figured Fernando was talking smack all along, since Tom had messed with him before.

    Like others said, I'll be needing some plot. Throw us a bone, please.

  15. I love it!! Love the satire and find nothing offensive.

  16. Thanks to everyone who commented! You guys definitely pointed out a couple things for me to tweak. And Rifferaff, it's certainly not meant to be offensive, so sorry if it came across that way. Tom and Fernando are old friends-- Tom's just grown a lot, so Fernando doesn't recognize him yet. And this scene definitely leads into the main plot.

    Thanks everyone!

  17. I liked this concept a lot. The Sci-Fi genre threw me off a little--I was expecting to discover Fernando was an inept alien trying to impersonate an Indian Chief. Instead, I guess he's a Mexican? It just seems a little unclear.

    The first paragraph suggests the two have a long-running relationship, yet this scene doesn't make clear it goes back to the first time they met.

    From your comments, maybe the first line should say "it was messing with Fernando in his latest incarnation as the Fake Native American." Something to hit that Fernando's disguise didn't fool Tom at all, or whatever your point is.