Wednesday, October 19, 2011

October Secret Agent #15

TITLE: Knights of Avalon
GENRE: YA Urban Fantasy

A fencing champion destined for the Olympics.

A martial arts prodigy.

An organizer for Habitat for Humanity.

Someone was murdering the brightest, most brilliant teens in New Jersey . Now in the middle of the night, the persistent ringing of my cell phone broke me out of my sleep.

I scrambled to get my bearings in the darkness. I was in my bedroom, the Bruce Lee posters on the walls told me that much. Through bleary eyes, I could see the alarm clock shining 3:11 back at me. I froze, shaking off the last remnants of sleep. Why would someone be calling at 3am ? I peered at the phone, trying to place the number. Then I took a deep breath and picked up. “Hello?”

“Hi, Justine. I’m sorry to be calling so late.” I immediately recognized the shaky voice on the other end of the line. It was my best friend’s Mom, Mrs. Martinez, but I had never heard her sound like this. “Gwen’s not with you, is she?”

My mouth dropped, the question a punch to the gut. Three in the morning on a school night. A murderer on the loose, cutting down the best kids in the state. And Gwen? She was the most incredible person I had ever met. She had an inner light, a compassion that shone like a beacon, and now she was missing.

“No,” I said, my mind racing with possibilities, each one more horrible than the last. “Why would she be?”


  1. You've got the right idea here--starting with something happening--but I think you might be starting in the wrong place.

    Interesting things are happening, but I don't feel invested in the characters enough to care what's happening. And the narration feels distant to me, almost like Justine is telling someone else's story instead of her own. Could just be me. :)

    Also, the fact that she can see her Bruce Lee posters in her supposedly dark bedroom threw me a little. Is there another detail you can use to show she knows it's her room?

    And I don't know the age of the protag, but for me, this line read a little old for a teen: She had an inner light, a compassion that shone like a beacon, and now she was missing.

    Overall, it sounds like an interesting story, just not quite hooked by this opening.

    Of course, only you know what's best for your story. This is only my opinion. :)

  2. I think you should cut the first four sentences. I see why you'd want to keep them, they're your premise. But it's backstory and you don't need it. You say the same thing later on. And that sentence about a murderer on the loose will have more punch if you don't give the secret away earlier.

    The rest is good. I understand the fear produced by the phone call. Nobody calls with good news at 3 a.m. (unless a baby's been born, and you know if you're waiting for that). In fact, it's so clear that you can probably cut the line, "Why would someone be calling at 3 am?"

    The last sentence tripped me a little. "Why would she be?" didn't seem like what she'd say. Maybe "Isn't she at home?" But that's a tiny adjustment and maybe just me. Overall, this is very good. I'd keep reading.

    Good luck.

  3. i'd definitely cut those first 3 sentences, as they throw you off from what's happening (unless you meant them as a logline?). the quicker the action starts, the better, and those sentences don't tell us anything about what's going on NOW. i like that bruce lee alarm clock--i think i want one.

  4. I'd definitely cut the first three sentences.
    I'd also cut: 'She was the most incredible person I had ever met. She had an inner light, a compassion that shone like a beacon,'. First, she's assuming instantly that Gwen is dead. Second, she sounds like she's giving a eulogy at the funeral.
    I'm not entirely sure why it's more horrific that the murdered teens are high achievers.
    At the moment it reads a little like a feature in a newspaper. Can you make her internal voice stronger? Then you are onto something.

  5. Like everybody else said, I'd cut the first three sentences, and also the one after it. While it's important, your narrator is giving us information while she's still asleep--as we can see when she wakes up in the next sentence--which doesn't work.

    In that same sentence, I'd cut the word "now", as well. To me, it only works well if you're writing in present tense, when used in this context, because "now" sets the reader up to thinking it's the present.

    The only other thing that threw me off was the sentence "My mouth dropped, the question a punch to the gut" because, well, I almost never see anybody's mouth just drop open; it's an overused descriptor (that's used any time somebody's surprised or shocked) that refers to something that almost never happens in real life. However, this is hardly a big deal, and if you like it, keep it!

    One quick grammar thing: in the third-to-last paragraph, in the sentence that has "my best friend's Mom" in it, "mom" should not be capitalized. (If you're just calling someone "Mom", then it is capitalized. That is the ONLY time. It's not "my Mom"; it's "my mom".)

    Besides those little things--this has an interesting premise, and you do a good job with keeping the tension and the reader's interest. I'd probably read it, especially since it's urban fantasy. =)

  6. I'd sugest starting with parg. 5, but perhaps preface it with the ringing phone. And from there you could tighten it a lot, as per abbe hoggans suggestions. You could also cut the whole - I immediately recognized senetence and just say it was Mrs. Martinez . . . It just seems overly wordy to me. But I did think you had a nice hook.

  7. I actually stopped reading after, "Someone was murdering the brightest, most brilliant teens in New Jersey." It just seemed like a query opener.

  8. I agree that this read like a query so I would also advise you to cut the first few sentences. Also, I thought the combination of the character "freezing" and then "shaking off sleep" was contradictory so you might consider changing it. "My mouth dropped" and "punch to the gut" are cliche phrases so you might want to use different actions to describe the character's shock. But I do like the concept. Good luck!

  9. Intriguing premise (expressed in first 3 lines)....but agree that they're not the place to express them. (They don't fit in the first person mode.)

    I understand that you need to set up the deaths so that your MC will be properly freaked when woken by the phone call, but I think you need to find a way to embed that in the conversation/thought-voice.

  10. I think the writing is great, but MC appears to be conscious until the cell phone rings. Can you make the opening words dreamlike, then have MC shake away nightmares about those kids who were killed, something like "tried to shake away the nightmare, but it wasn't just a dream, someone really had killed those kids--the best and the brightest--and no one knew why.

    I feel like it's a little too soon for the girl to be taken by the murderer, so I'm hoping this is a false alarm and she's fine the next day.

  11. At first I thought this was a query. After reading the whole passage, I think you can easily get rid of those first three sentences. It's confusing, because I don't know that someone's dream would include specific sentences. Images, yes. The voice of the main character strikes me as college/grad school aged, not YA. I think you have an interesting premise, though.

  12. Thanks, guys! I've taken out the first four lines and am figuring out how to incorporate them in a more natural way.

  13. I like the idea behind this. The tension of a 3AM call, the fear of having kids being killed, your friend possibly being one of them, it’s very emotionally resonant. How it’s presented, though, slows that resonance down. We get the information about teens getting killed before we have a reason our narrator would be thinking about it. The narrator jumps to that conclusion about her friend, but then we have to see the conversation with the mom to get to that same conclusion. The effect was stops-and-starts, which makes it hard to get drawn in.