Wednesday, August 17, 2011

August Secret Agent Contest #22

TITLE: Undertow
GENRE: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Bennet Callaghan Shepherd closed her eyes and breathed, pulling the heavy air into her lungs until her chest felt ready to burst. She'd been in the jungles of Belize for almost a month now, but she still wasn't used to the repressive heat, like a thick soup always swilling around her and clogging her nose and mouth.

Bea tried to blink away the heat, ignoring the bead of sweat trailing down the side of her face. She turned back to her notebook, determined to finish the entry:

August 15 -- Now one month into the dig, the children of the nearby village come less. Nim Li Punit is nothing new to them and the excitement of seeing us foreigners marvel at the Mayan ruin in their own backyard seems to have worn off, although Guillermo still comes by frequently to chat with Dad.

Like Isku, Guillermo has proven to be our best link to the locals, he even supplied Toby with materials to work on his language translations. Although he keeps turning down Mom when she tries to interview him for her next ethnography commissioned by Anthro Today, he's been invaluable to Dad in finding local help for the dig.

Bea tapped her pen on the page of her open notebook and rolled her shoulders. She knew there was more to record, she just didn't feel like it.


  1. I'm on the fence on your journal entry thing here. It sort of works, but yet, it feels kind of contrived. I'm struggling to determine if I like it or not.

    My main question would be age. Is this the MC? If she's a teen, then she's pretty educated. The voice here just feels mature to me. Not entirely sure why.

    Other than that, I'd just work on adding some tension. This feels a little flat to me, the more I reread and think about it.

  2. Some nice description, but...

    Don't think a YA would be doing ethnography or a dig.

  3. The journaling does come across as a "device" to info dump. I'd do something a bit more descriptive, placing Bea in the jungle. Does she have a pony tail? What type of shoes is she wearing and does she slip on a damp log? I'd like unique specifics. Humidity and oppressive heat are often described as thick soup.

    Then, let me know the stakes. Is it dangerous there? Or safe because of their local 'friends.' What's her role? Does she want to be on this dig or did her family drag her there?

    Voice does sound adult instead of YA but then again, I don't mind mature teen narrators.

    I'd read to see why she was in this jungle and what the conflict turns out to be.

  4. Seven people mentioned here. That' an awful lot for an opening page. Could you maybe drop some in later?

  5. Perhaps this isn't the place to start. She's writing in a journal, but she's not interested enough to keep writing, so she quits. If she's not interested in what she's doing, will the reader be?

    You have her in a foreign country, in a jungle, on an archeological dig, all of which seems interesting to me. There has to be a better, more exciting/intriguing/mysterious/dangerous place to start this. Find it and start there.

    And don't worry about setting the story up. Backstory has a tendency to come out on its own exactly where it's needed. Pick a place to start and tell us the story from that point on.

  6. Everyone in this seems engaged with the geography and dig except for the narrator, who only seems to be made hot by it. Maybe we learn Bennet's stake in all this in the next few lines after the excerpt, but my fear is that she's been set up as the observer of this story instead of an active and major participant in it. Also problematic: the stakes for the other characters -- Mom, Dad, Guillermo -- are not that compelling (yet). The fantasy element of this story hasn't surfaced (yet), either. That's a whole lot to put off for later. Even a little hint, a tone change, a dialogue snippet could mean the difference between and pass and a go here...

  7. i live in belize......and all that was just plain redundent..