Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February Secret Agent #39

TITLE: Fear Itself
GENRE: YA/Urban Fantasy

I lean against the bumper of the moving truck, shirt sticking to my back with sweat as I stare at the old Victorian house that just became my new home. The thing's rotting off its support beams, the windows are thick with grime and the paintjob looks like Godzilla used it as his scratching post during Tokyo-destroying offseason. My aunt - a tall, bony woman with a dozen rainbow scarves wrapped around her head - is staring at the house too and muttering to herself about killing every realtor she's ever known.

Welcome to my life.

"This has got to be the wrong address." Aunt Miranda shakes her head.

"We used the truck's GPS." I squint at the unrelenting sun, a headache beginning to drum against my skull. "You'd be surprised how often technology is right."

"I don't trust that truck or its VPS." She looks at the brass numbers beside the door. "Aha! See? It says 369. We're 399."

The numbers shift with a puff of wind into their proper places on the nails; 399. Miranda's face falls.

"Technology." I stress the word. "Do you have a key to get in? I need to piss."

"Urinate, Noa." Miranda corrects, striding towards me with a ring of keys in her hand. "It doesn't sound half as coarse."

My eyes take a few moments to adjust to the darkness inside. The place must have been empty for years; thick banks of dust lie on the floor.


  1. Oooh. There's some great imagery going on here that helps us envision the characters. I like the tone of their interchange. Excellent.

    Some thoughts/questions:
    1. Is Noa male? Unusually spelling if yes. Would be nice to know sex of protag up front.
    2. I'd read the piece out loud. You'll catch things like "moving truck" which made me think the truck was moving. You could say mover's truck instead. Paintjob could be wood siding. Banks of dust implies mounding, not a layer of dust.
    3. Unless magic is involved, wind would not turn the house number. Maybe have Noa walk up and turn it to prove to the aunt they have the right address.

  2. I can see the house from your descriptions here and I am creeped out. I would not live in that house at all! I like how you have this set up here- there's suspense and intrigue. However, I feel as if Noa is going to be an unlikable narrator. She's sarcastic and crass and I don't know why, yet. I mean it's okay to have a sarcastic and crass protag. but I guess I need more back story to feel like I want to read more about her. Also, the number being moved by the wind seems slightly unrealistic. Maybe the 9 could be a little crooked and the aunt tries to unlock the door then the 9 falls into place?

    This is a good start though!

  3. I agree the description is good. I think you could bust that hook out somewhere in the first paragraph. Something eluding to what's different about this house besides looking creepy. Probably the last sentence of that first para. But I see the scene clearly and had no problem sliding in.

  4. I enjoy the narrator's voice. I'd also like to know the narrator's gender, but I get the feeling from the tone and style that it is a female trying to sound tough but coming across as crass (which I find lovely!). This manages to be funny and creepy at the same time.

  5. I love a sassy pants character so I had no problems with Noa's remarks. I don't think he/she was being evil to his aunt anyway. He/she just sounded like a teenager. The description just crackles! I was drawn in right away. I wasn't that creeped out by the house, I kind of wanted to explore it along with the character (but I like old houses, they are intriguing). I understood that the numbers shifted with the wind. Nice visual. I like that there was a slim chance that wasn't the house and then reality hit. Good use of tension.

    VPS! Hah! Brilliant.

    Re gender: You could have the aunt say: "Urinate, my boy/my girl. It sounds less coarse." Then we would know. Of course, the reader would know if the MC is a girl or a boy based on the dust jacket and flap copy.

    Personally I wouldn't change much else. I'd love to read more.

  6. This is a good opening. I agree with the other comments that I'd like to know the sex of the main character. You've got some humorous lines that show us who the characters are. I'm not sure what you want the reader to think about the house, I thought it was run down, but not creepy. I would read more to see where this is going.

  7. I almost didn't get past the first sentence because I was too busy trying to work out how she could lean against a moving truck. Try 'removals truck'. Just me, but I'd take out 'Welcome to my life', I think it's a cliche. Apart from that I like it, I'm intrigued to know about the house.

  8. Great voice. And by the spelling of the name, I feel like it's a female MC. Great description of aunt. Yeah, I'd keep reading.

  9. Like this!! Some great descriptions. Love Godzilla's scratching post.

    I think you can trim a few words like "with sweat." Obvious from the sticky shirt. Also, I don't need the "Welcome to my life" line. I feel like that gets used a lot.

    I questioned the puff of wind shifting the numbers. Could they tap it or it slides as they knock on the door or step onto the porch, shaking the whole house? I can't picture wind affecting nailed-on brass that much.

    Still, you've got a character whom I want to know in an interesting setting. Nice work and good luck!!

  10. I like the opening and the pace. The words piss and urinate are not my favoirite:) It was still very interesting.

  11. Okay, I'm already hooked. Love the tone, voice and descriptions. You definitely are in your protagonist's head, and that's immediately evident.

    However, in the spirit of constructive criticism, or not even criticism but just something to think about...hmm, how to put this. Keep in mind this is a VERY weird nitpick, especially considering this is only the first 250 words of the book and the next several pages alone could prove me radically wrong, but just based on THIS sample, I had an immediate, gut, kneejerk reaction that you didn't know your Aunt Miranda character nearly as well as you know your main character. From the scarves to her dialogue...I don't know. It's hard to put my finger on, and so again, please take this as just something to think about rather than an actual criticism...but something about her dialogue just pops out as too easy, or obvious. It's funny, but its the kind of funny that we'd expect just from your description of her, and immediately makes me wary that she's a TYPE more than she is a character? Her few lines just kinda stuck out as generic compared to the very personal feel of your main character, and while that can be due to the shortness of the sample and the fact that we're not in the aunt's head, it can also be from going with the lines we'd expect from that kind of character rather than digging a little deeper for the lines best for THAT character, specifically.

    I guess I'm just saying if this is our first introduction to her character, I'd rather see her humor evidenced in something a little more unique to her personality than fussy older Miss Manners who distrusts technology? Highlight her originality versus character type.

    Again and this is such a minor and completely subjective nitpick, because you have a great entry!

  12. I like the voice but the opening is a bit bland. Nothing really "new" or "refreshing" here. It's really an ordinary setting with descriptions I feel like I've heard before. If the house is creepy, I'd bring it into the conversation, and what I mean by that is using parts of the home that are broken to spark dialogue. Make them interact with the home, which I'm sure they will, but I'd start it right from the get go. But like I said, you seem to have the voice down.

  13. So... I didn't like the first paragraph. Although the descriptions are great, it sounds like infodump to me.

    From that point on, however, I was hooked. Whether it's like or love would depend on the rest, but I think you're off to a great start.

    I do think the prose could be a bit tighter, and the characterization as well. For that matter, I agree with Kalen regarding Aunt Miranda. It's not quite 'there' yet.

    But close to. Great job!

  14. There are a few tiny tweaks to be done, but I like it - a lot. I'd be turning the page fer sure.

  15. Hooked. Great imagery. I can see the characters. Good job!

  16. Wow! Great imagery and a fun, spunky narrator. I liked this a lot. The godzilla off season line was perfect, and the VPS line made me laugh out loud.

    A few suggestions came to mind, though, that imo would tighten this up a bit. 'Shirt sticking to my back with sweat' seems a little wordy or perhaps backwards for what you're trying to say.

    I'd prefer 'The numbers shift with a puff of the wind to their proper places on the nails' to read 'With a puff of wind, the numbers shift to their proper placed on the nails'. Your call :) Also, the semicolon before 399 should actually be a colon.

    After the 'Urinate, Noa." line, the period should be a comma because what follows (Miranda corrects) is a dialogue tag. I'd just delete the 'Sounds half as coarse line' because that's obvious and it tightens up the dialogue, imo.

    Whew! Sorry, I got carried away there. Overall, I really enjoyed this and think it is one of the strongest in the bunch. Good luck! :)

  17. So this is a nit-picky thing but it completely threw me out of the story.

    So the house number is 399. Presumably something happened and knocked the middle 9 making it look like a 6. I get that. I'm with you. But the fact is a puff of wind would not be able to knock the 6 back to a 9. You see the reason why it works the other way is because the top of the 9 is heavier than the bottom, so its actually a little unstable. If a disturbance comes along, gravity takes over and pulls the heavy part down, giving you a six. That 6 position is actually going to be fairly stable. It would take a pretty big force (like a person putting it back) to overcome that. A puff of wind or any other small movement simply wouldn't do it.

    I always knew my engineering degree would come in use for something. :)

  18. Of course it's a moving van, (not truck) but even better is I lean against the ramp of the moving van. HIs shirt is sticking to his back, instead of a blouse. That's enough for me to presume the sex of the MC (Noa) is male.

    Great job, I'd read on.

  19. I got the sense the MC was female.

    You could say - I lean against the bumper of the U-Haul. And I agree you could lose 'with sweat' and 'welcome to my life.'

    I believe the 6 can turn back to the 9 on a puff of wind because this is fantasy, which means strange things will happen. I do think, though, either Noa or Aunty has to realize that no puff of wind would blow that 9 back into position, which would also create an eerie feel immediately. (If it really is the wind, it doesn't work,)

    Have one of them open the door before they are suddenly inside.

    It needs it's tweaks here and there, but I'd read more.

  20. Oh I really like this and I hope the MC is a boy because that's the feel I get off of it - word choice, internal thoughts. Someone mentioned that your voice "crackled" and that's the perfect description for what's happening here. Love it. I'd like to see a bit more conflict, other than moving into an old house, to hook into further reading, though.

  21. my comment might be late in the game...but I LOVE your title. I'm hooked.

    That said, I love your writing style and would, even though this is out of my genre comfort zone, read your book in a heart beat!

    I enjoy a literary feel to the written word.

  22. I loved this. The only criticism I can offer is the whole piss/urinate discussion. Although it was a spot-on way to draw the differences (and probably the coming conflict) between the two characters, it almost felt forced. But that could just be me, too, because I tried something similar to that two decades ago in an immature work. So take that for what it's worth. :)

  23. This was intriguing. For once I don't mind characters showing up at a door. This time I want to read on to see what is behind the door.

    I do think you need to establish the sex of the protag; I saw evidence of this being either a male or female.

    Good, solid voice and I'd definitely read on.

  24. I was hooked. You establish the eerie atmosphere well, and I loved the off-season Godzilla comment. Good job.

  25. I really liked this. The line about Godzilla was great, and you establish the aunt and Noa's personalities well. We find out a lot about them in only a page, and there's a conflict present already. I'm assuming it's not the main conflict but it's something to pull us in. Good job.