Saturday, December 4, 2010

#4 Thriller: The Cacao Conspiracy (BAKER'S DOZEN AGENT AUCTION)

TITLE: The Cacao Conspiracy
GENRE: Thriller

Workaholic Peta takes an innocuous job on a documentary about chocolate and discovers the dark side of the sweet industry after witnessing two murders. With the killers' influence extending to the highest reaches of office and further deaths hushed up, Peta must expose the murderers before she is next.

Peta Blackman strode across the jungle clearing, lugging a blue icebox towards an Ivorian boy. She placed it on the ground before him and wiped the sweat from her forehead, then removed the lid.

Little Wilfried Eboue leant forward and peered into the icebox. His eyes widened as he saw the bar of chocolate inside. Peta grinned. At eight years old, Wilfried was about to get his first taste of chocolate. Peta, and the film crew of which she was part, were capturing the moment so they could one day broadcast it worldwide as part of a documentary on chocolate.

Peta surveyed the clearing. Wilfried's father, a cacao farmer, hovered nearby while a gaggle of older brothers lolled against trees. The crew members bent over their equipment, readying themselves for the first take.

A movement in the trees caught Peta's eye. The hairs on the back of her neck rose. She scanned the foliage, but saw nothing except the crops. There were cacao trees, with colourful pods ripe on the trunks, but banana and mango trees also abounded, all growing in a riotous tangle - apparently the cacao trees did better if mixed in among other crops. As a location scout, it offended Peta's sense of what a plantation should look like, but she had been ordered to find a typical cacao farm in Ivory Coast and she had delivered.

The trees rustled again. Peta just had time to register a glint of metal before gunshots rang out.


  1. I love how you get right into the action and the tension. The only thing that seemed a tad out of place was when you mentioned the boy by full name. This is only the third line of the book and naming him this way makes it sound like he is really important but it sounds like he is just some random boy. If he is really important, the name might be okay, but if he is not, I'd leave him as "the boy".

  2. I like the idea of chocolate and murder. Not sure how you play it out but I would read more to find out. Great start.

  3. This is a solid start. You do a good job of showing us where she is and why. However, it seemed strange that the hairs on the back of her neck should rise at some movement in the trees. Is she expecting danger? If she is, we don't know it yet. If not, a rustling in the woods would probably be something she ignores. Thanks for posting and good luck!

  4. This is a solid start with an interesting premise. And it drops us right in the action too- nice!

    I almost wanted some dialogue here to break it up. The second paragraph felt a smidge awkward, I think because of the mention of the boy's full name and then the last line of backstory. Peta could have a line of dialogue that could accomplish essentially the same thing. That's just a suggestion- feel free to ignore!

    I'd read on!

  5. I love chocolate, and I love (fictional) murder. For some reason, I really liked the detail about the other trees on the plantation, and how it offends Peta's sense of what a plantation should look like. That told me a lot about her.

    I agree with the other comments about the boy's name, though. The other thing I'll mention is the second sentence. We switch the focus from the icebox to her forehead and back to the icebox. The focus moves around too much; talk about the icebox first, and then mention wiping her forehead, especially this early in the story so as not to distract readers.

  6. Definitely a good beginning and very intriguing combination of chocolate and murder. :)

    I also wondered why the hair stood up on the back of her neck just because something rustled in the trees.

    Peeta's discomfort with the disarray of the plantation was a good detail to let us know a bit of what she's like. I would like to know a tad more about her to make me care that this thing happens to her before the shots ring out.

    Very strong start!

  7. Love the idea. I think it's fresh and interesting. The setting is great and writing is strong.

    I did feel a bit distanced from the scene because the view point narrows down on the boy and then fans out to show the scene and then narrows down on the glint of metal.

    I'm wondering if the pov might be made stronger by putting paragraph 3 first. In other words, show the setting and the people at a distance, then bring the pov in by have her spot the boy, go over to him and open the box. I'd also have liked a hint of how the pov feels the moment she opens the cooler lid. This would have made me even more connected with the main character and the boy before the gunfire starts.

  8. Logline:
    "Dark side of sweet industry" made me LOL :) It is a very clever line--but does it fit with the tone of the novel (which seems a bit darker?)

    Line comments:
    -"Leaned" instead of "leant"
    -Great job at grounding us right into the story with the description of the boy's reaction being caught on film (although agree about the name thing)
    -The note about Peta being a location scout added personality to the description in a strong way
    -Great last line!

    This opening snapped my attention into focus! Very strong overall.

  9. I don't think you can really stride while you're lugging something. And as someone mentioned, why is she scared of rustling in the trees?
    But you bring the scene to life nicely and succinctly.

  10. Logline - Very nice logline. The only comment I'd make is that 'the highest reaches of office' left me wondering 'what office?'. I'm just wondering if that can be clarified (briefly) somehow. You want your logline to be crystal clear so that the reader isn't left wondering about anything except where to go to read more.

    Excerpt - The setting: I wonder if a short tag line describing where they are would help. When we're dropped right into the middle of the jungle, I found myself wondering right away where we were. The clue is in 'Ivorian' but the Ivory Coast might not be so well known that it would pinpoint for some readers exactly where you main character is. You do spell it out but that's several paragraphs in. It could literally be one single line before the opening of the story.

    You give us a nice descriptive passage that help to paint some vivide imagery. This is a very lush area, so you use that to your advantage.

    I also like that the action starts so quickly. We've barely started the story and already your main character is in peril. It definitely makes me want to read on.

    Good luck!

  11. Log line - It works for me, but you might want to clarify 'the highest reaches of office' which most people would immediately take for the President (or the leader of their country, if not from the US) We don't know from the log line that this takes place in Ivory Coast, so you may want to get that in. (Plus, strange and exotic locations can often help sell a book.)

    Excerpt - Parg 1 - perhaps change striding because if she's 'lugging' something, she's probably not striding. And does she 'place' it, or drop it or let it slide to the ground. Seems if it was heavy, it wouldn't be 'placed.'

    You might show parg three instead of telling it to us. Get in some dialogue. Have her say something to the boy, have him say something back. Then let her hear the rustle from the trees as opposed to "peta surveyed the clearing." Let her see the glint of metal in the last parg instead of telling us she saw it. Showing this and making it active will bump it up a notch or two.

  12. I really like this premise, but I think there's room for improvement. For one, you full-out state this is the jungle, so I'm assuming there's a whole lot more going on than just trees rustling. Have you ever been in the jungle? It's never quiet or still. So, I don't get why movement sets her on edge; I don't think you've set that up well enough. Also, while I like the description of the plantation and how it offends Peta's sensibilities, I'm much more interested in how a cacao farmer has never tasted chocolate. I'm assuming it has to do with his poverty, or because of the state of this area in the Ivory Coast; perhaps that would do a better job of setting up the necessary tension leading to gunfire. After all, if this area is impoverished to the point that Wilfried can't taste the fruit of his labor, and in danger to the point of guns being a real and constant risk, I'd better understand why movement in the jungle may be suspicious. In the second paragraph, you use the word "chocolate" several times, and that was jarring to me. Rewording/trimming could improve the flow while still communicating all of the information. Other than that, this premise is interesting!

  13. I like this premise, too, but I'm having a little trouble picturing this because I can't see the icebox. She's striding and lugging, as someone already said, and I can't tell if she's sweating because the box is heavy or just because it's a hot jungle. Then it turns out the box contains "the" bar of chocolate. So now I'm imagining a big ice cooler with a single chocolate bar inside.

    I once got heat stroke in the Amazon jungle just carrying a camera around. I think it would be even more difficult to lug an icebox. And where's the film crew that should be helping her?

    If you can clear this up and include some of the smells of the jungle, you've got a very interesting premise.

  14. Who can resist falling in with Cacoa? I like the way you play with dark chocolate and dark deeds. I think your location will take people to a place they have never been. The plot is an original twist on high up murderers. When you do your book store talks, you may have to bring chocolate. Marketing this one would be fun. (Can cacao powder be infused on an early page? Yum.)
    Great job.


  16. I'm somewhat hooked. I like the voice and the way you jump right into the action. I'm not sure how a chocolate conspiracy can feel anything but comical to me, though, so it's good that you're using "cacao" instead of "chocolate"! I questioned whether an 8-year-old boy on a cacao plantation wouldn't have ever tasted chocolate before--surely he must have!--but I'd probably have read a few more pages because of the sense of tension you've created, and hoped to get a little more worldbuilding (a fantasy term, but apropos here in a world that's unfamiliar to most American readers) that would explain why the boy had never had chocolate--while at the same time, of course, moving the plot forward.