Friday, December 2, 2011

#14 Crime Fiction: Dying Is Not An Option

TITLE: Dying Is Not An Option
GENRE: Crime Fiction

Santa Barbara Police Officer Claire Hartman relies on control, courage and an unwavering will to survive to get through her shift—bonus points if she gets to draw on her sardonic wit instead of her sidearm. But when she becomes the target of a vengeful gang member, Claire wrestles with relinquishing control and learning whom to trust as she hunts the man who’s sworn to kill her.

Dying is not an option.

Claire silently repeated her mantra and let out a puff of breath that blew her bangs out of her eyes. Usually when she whispered the words she held a gun in her hands. It helped balance the odds.
Field Training Officers built their reputations on being unflappable, but Claire Hartman had to admit; shaking down an angry elephant seal wasn’t covered in the Police Academy playbook. Now, as Claire steered her patrol car next to the Dolphin Fountain, her headlights raked across a gigantic bull elephant seal trying to eat the bumper off a parked Harbor Patrol Truck.

“Holy s***,” Claire offered her official assessment.

State Street collided with Cabrillo Boulevard at the foot of Stearn’s Wharf by the Dolphin Fountain. During the day, tourists posed for photographs next to the Santa Barbara City landmark, capturing the waving palm trees that lined the bike path in the background. By night, lovers sat along the edge of the burbling water and whispered words of endearment to each other. At present, the venerable landmark looked like center ring in a circus gone terribly awry. The seal arched his back and roared, his fleshy proboscis rippling as the decibels screamed past it.

The conundrum; look like an idiot in front of her new trainee or admit that after six years on the Santa Barbara Police Department, some things still took her by surprise. Claire fingered the silver chevrons on her collar that signified her new position. Great.


  1. Great title! I felt like the logline on this one did a lot of telling about Claire, but the excerpt did an excellent job showing her wit.

    I like the voice on this one--Claire balancing the odds and offering her official assessment are great!

    I'm not sure if all the description of the Dolphin Fountain is necessary, but that could just be because it's a short excerpt and I wanted to know what was going to happen. I'd definitely read more!

  2. I like this beginning and would read on. There are a few things I think you could do to improve it though.

    Firstly, Clare mentions a new trainee at the end. Is the trainee with her from the start? If so, you need to mention this character earlier and give some sense of their presence.

    I also feel like you spoil the surprise with the elephant seal. I would cut the sentence where you first mention it and have us know about it for the first time when Clare's headlights capture it.

    I'd also swap the 'Holy shit' and the part about the official assessment: "Clare offered her official assessment. "Holy shit."
    I thought this was funny but that it would be more effective the other way around.

    There are four place names in the first sentence of the second-last paragraph. None of it means anything to me because I haven't been to Santa Barbara, and I suspect anyone from there will know the Dolphin Fountain and won't need the street names. To me, the most important part is that the fountain is at the end of the wharf, as it helps me picture the scene. You don't need the street names in my opinion.

    Lastly, I'd cut the last sentence from your logline, as it is the title of your story so doesn't need to be repeated.

    Good luck with the auction!

  3. I love the premise, and agree with much of what Bron wrote. Absolutely love the "Holy sh**" line and agree with the recommendation to invert with the official assessment.

    I can't wait for her to draw down on a witless twit...when her wit isn't enough. Good luck.

  4. I'd have to 'third' Bron's suggestions. Just some little tweeks to strengthen the writing.
    Overall, I'm liking the premise, and I especially got a sense of voice - I can see Claire's mental processes, especially important in her position as the senior officer.
    I like it!
    Best Wishes,

  5. Oh, I like this one a lot! Your writing style is fun to read. Plus, setting up a story that involves a seal trying to eat a car and having it seem plausible is quite an accomplishment. But your first line-- Claire's mantra--may be a bit out of place. I'm not sure why she's repeating "dying is not an option" upfront. After all, the seal doesn't have a gun and she does, right?

    As far as the nitty gritty goes, I'd suggest reviewing the rules for semicolon usage and watching your pronouns. I think you mean "its headlights" or "the headlights," for obvious reasons. ;-)

    I'd read more. Your writing allowed me to relate to your protagonist immediately. Only a few lines in, and I'm rooting for the gal.

    Best of luck!

  6. The voice really shines in this excerpt. I get an immediate sense of the MC's personality and humor. Liking the MC is a huge priority for me when choosing a book -- and this does it.

    I'm on the fence about the actual street names, etc. Does give a good sense of place but in a 250-word excerpt, it might slow down the action -- but in the full manuscript when the reader can keep going, it might just add character.

  7. Too many street names and we know the city is SB, so why repeat it when mentioning the name of the dept.? Funny thing is I'm from Santa Barbara, racking my brain to know which cop wrote this! Clearly an officer perspective. I do like the seal incident, definitely a SB exclusive.

  8. This is a really fresh way to begin a crime story--called in to subdue an elephant seal! I like the surreal feel to it. I don't know Santa Barbara but I gather it's wealthy so the contrast of the animal at a fancy fountain is quite enjoyable.

    You've put us inside the protagonist's head very well. I'd trim down the street details if they are not extremely relevant to what she is doing at this moment. And just be more ruthless about words. A story like this gets better and better if it's taut and lean. Example: "By night, lovers sat along the edge of the burbling water and whispered words of endearment to each other." Nick "to each other."

    Finally, I wouldn't make the first sentence the title of the book.

  9. Coming from a law enforcement background, I understand the thoroughness of the writer in providing the street names. It tells me that the writer knows the job very well and is applying that knowledge to the story.

    Never having been to SB, it gives me a good mental picture of the location. How it fits into the remainder of the story remains to be seen.

    I really enjoyed the wit that is evident in this short piece; a cop's way of dealing with the everyday stress. Regarding "Dying is not an option" it's a good mantra for a cop.

    The writer's style does grab you right away. I would definitely like to read more.

    Good luck!


  10. The character voice is so strong here, I instantly like Claire and sympathize with her unusual predicament. I like that her personality is injected into the logline as well, letting us know the tone of the story we're about to read.

    I would swap the dialogue tag to be in front of "Holy s***", and I would give "At present..." its own paragraph. The contrast with the description of the fountain in its normal state gets lost when it's all run together like that.

    I love the situation you've thrown her into. I've never been to Santa Barbara, so I like the quick, simple lay of the land, and I don't mind that you repeat the city's name. The first time is to ground the reader in the place, and the second time is to ground the character in the place; if she'd been any other kind of local law enforcement (or non-local law enforcement who has to deal with a situation while vacationing), the story would be different.

    A fun start! I'd read on.

  11. Great title. Fun, witty voice. I'm already a Claire fan and want to read more.

    Best of luck.