Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May Secret Agent #38

TITLE: The Black Ankh
GENRE: YA Paranormal/Mystery

Rissa hurried across the terrace, squinting past candlelit tables and dancing couples, hunting for her little brother. The nearest resort guests stared at her. 'Normies' always stared. Even in Egypt, thousands of miles from home. She tugged her sleeves down, hiding scarred flesh.

Her sister hit a high note, and Rissa glanced back. Sophie hadn't even noticed her leaving. Beneath the stage lights, Sophie glowed, a golden-haired angel--if angels wore stilettos, mini-skirts, and showed huge cleavage.

Rissa stomped into the garden. The music faded, replaced by crickets chirping their own romantic ballads. Yeah, it was a night of love--for everyone except her.

Towering palms overhung the path. They shed ripe dates, which her boot heels smashed into the concrete. She turned at the Red Sea Divers sign and headed toward the restroom building. Andy, her eleven-year-old brother, was nowhere to be seen. How could one kid be so much trouble?

She knocked on the men's room door. "Andy? You okay? It's been fifteen minutes."

A high-pitched scream shattered the cricket concerto. She spun and searched the darkness. Sticks snapped as something blundered through the bushes opposite the bathrooms. She shrank back against the wall.

Andy burst through the hedges. "Rissa!" His eyes bulged in his pale face. He grabbed her hand, dragged her through the underbrush to a wooden shed, and pointed through the open door.

A white-haired man lay on the floor.

CPR training flashed through her mind. She rushed inside--then froze.

A long knife stuck out of the man's chest.


  1. This is a bit overwritten - we're deluged in images: the Egyptian resort guests, her scarred flesh, her bulging-bosomed sister, the towering palms and dates smashing underfoot (which I quite like), the eye-bulging, pale-faced young brother ... and then the Agatha Christie style long knife in the chest.

    With a bit of toning down, this could work quite well - but I think your writing has to be really good to overcome the cliched, aha! moment of finding a corpse on the floor with a knife sticking out of his chest. (Or consider making the body discovery not quite so melodramatic.)

  2. oooh! How exciting! I love this. You paint such a vivid picture of the night, I can almost smell it. And I've never even been to Egypt! I like Rissa's voice too. She seems very unimpressed by the things that impress me, which is perfect for a teenager. I want to know more about her, why she has scarred arms.

    I'd definitely read on.

  3. Exciting yes, but I felt there was way too much going on. Instead of action in the first few pages, I'd rather get myself oriented. Who is this girl? What is she facing?

  4. I was sucked into this right away. I felt like your description painted a picture as the story moved along, and gave me a great idea of setting without being all info-dumpy. I also liked being in Rissa's head. We get a great sense of the character right away, that she's different and resentful about that and other things, that she's intelligent and knowlegable.

    Fantastic start

  5. I like this though it's a bit confusing. Interesting setting, characters, and situation.

  6. I think the voice works well here. The opening sucked me in straight away too. We immediately face the conflict and want to discover where the story will lead. Though I think you could draw out what she sees to tease the reader and encourage them to turn that page!

    I was left wondering why it wasn't a night of love for Rissa. Perhaps it was because she was charged with babysitting her littler brother. Or maybe her scars scare the boys off? This point might be worth elaborating on.

  7. I really liked the voice here. Lines like "They shed ripe dates, which her boot heels smashed into the concrete" and "cricket concerto" stood out to me. I do agree that you could use a little toning down with the detail, though. That way you'll make moments like I mentioned above really shine. I'd like a little more background, actually, since I prefer a bit more setup as opposed to straight action. That way I can appreciate the action more. Still, I'd read on!

  8. I think the setting is great, interesting and I want to know what the main character and her family are doing there.

    I did have a hard time orienting myself. First I was seeing a exotic terrace setting, which was cool. But then I was taken out of the flow of the story as I tried to figure out if the stage was on the terrace or if she was just thinking about what her sister looked like at some other time.

    I think this could be good, but I think it needs to be focused on the setting and her search for her brother without quite so many other details.

  9. Straight in with action. You've got to love a good hook to draw the reader in. This worked well for me. I like the writing style. Clean, crisp and easy to read. Great job.

  10. I thought this was a bit overdone in the description department. There are so many, they blur the really good ones.

    I wondered why she was searching for her brother on the terrace when she knew he had gone to the men's room.

    But overall, I thought it worked. There's tension from the start, some nice scene setting, there's action and movement and a nice twist in the end, in that not only does she find her brother, she finds a body, too.

    I'm interested in learning where she got her scars and their connection to the plot, as well as who the Normies are and why they're called that. I'd read more.

  11. The paragraph about the older sister gave me pause. I had to stop and try to figure out if she was really glowing. Is she really an angel? And I'm guessing that what you really want us to focus on, is the MCs search for her little brother.

    I agree with Barbara's comment about description.

    Some interesting elements here and I'm a big fan of YA paranormal, so I would turn the page.

  12. There was something about this I couldn't quite put my finger on, but Sara, Allie and Barbara nailed it - a bit too much description. Specifically, that your excellent turns of phrase were a bit muted because there seemed to be so much going on. This could well be because you're trying to get the discovery of the body within the first 250 words though (I've been there!).

    I would cut one or two small details to make the piece really flow and to avoid telling. For example, I don't think you need to say that she's searching for her little brother in the first sentence. You make it clear she's looking for something, why not draw the mystery out for a few more sentences? I'd also cut "11-year-old brother". She mentions he's a kid soon after, and I think most people will assume if she's looking for a bothersome kid, he's her brother.

    I'd read on.

  13. Lots of great drama, but there's something off about the mood - maybe it just whipsawed too much. She's looking for her brother, then it's the crickets-of-love, then her sister, then her brother again, then the body...maybe slow it down a bit and give us less rapid fire and more tension. If that makes sense...But I like the dramatic open with the knife in the body - definitely interested in reading on.

  14. I liked the action and the hints about something being really different about the MC.

  15. What I liked: Lots at stake.

    What needed work: Far too much information packed into these first paragraph. We have the main character with scarred wrists, hurting for her young brother, being a “normie,” and in an exotic location. Then there’s the sister and obviously the man with the knife in his chest. I feared this sample was written with the intention of cramming as much into a first page as possible. I’d recommend slowing down so the reader can understand Rissa and want to know what’s going on with her.

    Would I keep reading based on this sample? No.

  16. Whew! A lot of action going on. I would have liked a little more description to get me situated. The setting in Egypt, the MC's voice, and the promise of an action-packed novel caught my attention. I would be interested to read on. Good job!