Friday, December 2, 2011

#22 SF Romance: Girl Under Glass

TITLE: Girl Under Glass
GENRE: SF Romance

To protect her young daughter from a madman and a tyrant, Rachel Pryne must trust an enemy – the alien warrior who conquered Earth.

Behind me, the dogs rumbled. I glanced to where both sat beside the fireplace with their heads lifted and ears pricked. “Jack, Audie, hush. It’s probably just a deer.” Turning back to the stove, I plucked the scalpel from the boiling water with tongs, placed it in the sterile box then blinked steam from my eyes as I chased the needle around the pot. “Dang. C’mon.”

Then the dogs lunged at the door, and I abandoned the task.

Pearl sat straight and stiff at the table, her doll’s clothes forgotten. Wide-eyed and watching me, my daughter knew better than to make a sound as Jack and Audie growled and paced between her and the door.

I wiped my hands on a towel then grabbed the shotgun from the wall mount in the kitchen. I crossed to the door, pulled up the peephole rag, and scanned the yard. The grey downpour didn’t help, but movement just inside our gate directed my attention.

A man stood in our yard, a dark man.

“Christ. There’s a Stranger inside the gate. Stay here. Stay quiet.”

Pearl nodded. She scrambled into the kitchen and retrieved the scalpel.

I chambered a round and said, “Heel, dogs,” as I opened the door. They flanked me, all hackles and teeth and threats, as I crossed the porch and strode through the rain and mud, the shotgun up and wedged against my shoulder.

He wore the grey-and-green fatigues of an Ohnenrai field tech.

“Don’t you move.”


  1. Of all the loglines and first pages that were chosen for Bakers, this is the only one I would ask for more pages.

    I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. I hope to see more of this ms someday.

  2. I remember being intrigued by this one when it was posted before. I've nothing constructive to say, just that I liked it then and I still do, so good luck.

  3. I felt a bit disoriented mid-way through this. You describe how the dogs lunged for the door and state that your character "abandoned the task." But, you then discuss the daughter before returning to a description of the abandoning ("I wiped my hands on a towel . . . ."). Basically, you start with a "tell," introduce and new character, and then continue with the "show." I'm not entirely sure what effect this placement is meant to have.

    There are also a lot of word pairs, such as: "straight and stiff," "wide-eyed and watching," "growled and paced," "all hackles and teeth and threats," "the rain and mud," "up and wedged," and "grey-and-green." I don't think there is anything necessarily incorrect about your choices, but it seems to slow the writing down. When you've got a mother stalking into the yard with a gun, I don't think you need to slow down. But I'm hardly an expert, so I'll point you to a much better resource: "The First Five Pages" by Noah Lukeman (in particular, Chapter 2).

    Best of luck!

  4. The title caught my attention!

    As for the excerpt:

    - Behind me, the dogs rumbled.

    I'm not sure your starting point works for me; I had to overcome a sense of contemporary mundanity: dogs sense a stranger at door. I was more interested in the sterilized scalpel, which speaks of a gritty practicality and potential future surgery.

    - "Jack, Audie, hush. It's probably just a deer."

    On my reread, this struck me as strange. This woman seems the type to train her dogs well, and to then trust their warnings.

    - Pearl sat straight and stiff at the table, her doll's clothes forgotten.

    Maybe just "her doll"? Not sure why only the doll's clothes were of concern previously.

    - Wide-eyed and watching me

    I'd prefer "Wide-eyed as she watched me."

    - my daughter knew better than to make a sound

    I found this curious; the dogs are making noise and the narrator doesn't seem to have a problem with speaking aloud. There's emphasis later as well on Pearl keeping quiet, which makes me wonder about the role of girls in this society.

    - A man stood in our yard, a dark man.

    I'm not sure what the alternative would be to "a dark man" when there's a downpour involved...?

    - She scrambled into the kitchen and retrieved the scalpel.

    Loved this. This was the only thing that made Pearl stand out and not seem a doll herself, but you couldn't have picked a better action.

    - I chambered a round and said, “Heel, dogs,” as I opened the door.

    I've never owned dogs, but wondered why she used their names earlier but not here.

    - They flanked me, all hackles and teeth and threats

    Oh, I loved this: "all hackles and teeth and threats."

    - as I crossed the porch

    Earlier, she "crossed to the door"; I'd suggest a different verb.

    - He wore the grey-and-green fatigues of an Ohnenrai field tech.

    Not the most distinctive colors in the rain; but the field tech bit really made me sit up. That's when I first got a real hint of the sf setting I was promised.

    - "Don't you move."

    You may very well have more to this paragraph that got cut off by the shortness of this excerpt, but as it stands I wasn't 100% sure of who was talking. (90% sure it was the mother, though.), I wish there were more. Yes, I would read on. There's a wonderful sense of grim competence around Rachel, an almost frontier aura to the setting that's then belied by the presence of a field tech. Very nifty.

  5. I would love to see this start with the plucking of the scalpel from the boiling water. I think starting with the scalpel followed by the rumble of the dogs gives it a more portentous feeling to it. But rather than have all of the action with the scalpel delivered in one sentence would break the action by interjecting the rumbling of the dogs and her glance at them.

    What I'm missing in the statement to the dogs about the deer is the motivation. Is she saying that for Pearl's benefit? Or is she trying to convince herself? Or is their rumbling a common enough occurrence to prompt those words. I do like the mention of the deer because it immediately frames the location as rural, isolated.

    I love how in just a few words in the opening paragraph you convey Rachel's voice. I can "hear" her clearly. And along with that voice is the sense of who the character is.

    This may be nit-picky, but the Then prior to the dogs lunged at the door pulled me out of the story a tiny bit. By the use of Then, it feels like you are telling the reader the sequence instead of simply allowing the action to take place.

    I like the forgotten doll clothes. It conjures up the image of a little girl fussing with changing the doll's outfit and maybe trying first one thing, and then another,

    Wide-eyed and watching me caused me to stumble a bit. But I like how you worked in that Pearl already knew not to make a sound. It speaks volumes of the type of stress they are living with, and hints at a secret of some sort.

    I absolutely adore the peephole rag. A great visual.

    I got caught on movement just inside our gate directed my attention. and the culprit is directed. Directed has a feeling of coming either from within or behind, and movement seen from a distance is difficult for me to see as directing attention. Attracted my attention would be more natural because the movement is drawing the attention to it.

    I felt the phrasing of the dark man in the yard to be a tad repetitious, especially when combined with Stranger in the next line. Man, man, & stranger.

    Pearl grabbing the scalpel is excellent. She's ready to fight -- and it again tells us there is a need.

    I think Rachel would issue a one word command of Heel to the dogs, and not say dogs. At that moment she's on high alert and going out to face danger, to protect her daughter and commands when issued are one word.

    I just realized when I read all hackles and teeth and threats my mind "read" it as all hackles, teeth, and threat, so I thought I'd mention it.

    Overall I think it has good pacing, and you have brought so much in to the story in the few words in the excerpt. The setting, Rachel's personality, her fear, and the hint of something to do with Pearl which must be kept secret.

    Well done. And I'd definitely turn the page.

  6. I've read this sample in an earlier SA contest and it seems to run more smoothly so well done on improving it. I still have a few issues, the first being that I'm imagining Rachel on her own with the dogs. I'd prefer you to work Pearl in to the first paragraph somehow.

    Secondly, as PCB pointed out, you say Rachel has abandoned the task, but then you go to Pearl, then back to Rachel still in the midst of abandoning the task. I think you should cut the second paragraph so it ends at 'door', then go to the next paragraph about Pearl. Rachel wiping her hands on a towel shows us that she's abandoning her task.

    Overall though, I very much liked this. We get a sense of the SF without being overwhelmed with confusing details, and you've managed to convey the threat very effectively in a short space. I would read on.

    Good luck for the auction.

  7. I really like the mc boiling her instruments. I think this both characterizes her and lets us know that she anticipates needing to use the medical equipment soon. But she doesn't seem to worry about abandoning her task so I'm wondering if she really is getting ready to use the scalpel and needle. Could you hint at her purpose for sterilizing them?

    Also Pearl was a surprise since I thought she was alone. I worried about Pearl grabbing the scalpel if she's the age to be playing with dolls. Still, I liked the hint that Peal knew what to do and was ready to protect herself.

    When this is tightened up a bit, I think you'll have a terrific opening.

  8. Thanks to everyone for your generous comments. And good luck to all the auction participants!

  9. I really like this. It's got strangeness--what are these instruments being boiled???--and tension. Real danger. A mother trying to defend her child and her own life from The Stranger.

    I also like the taut, clear logline.

    Nitpicks: the dogs are lunging/instant later they are pacing. Should the daughter be wide-eyed AND watching her?

    But this entry successfully conveys to an agent your tone, your style, your command of your genre. Nice work.

  10. Loved this--both the logline and the first words really grabbed me.

    I'd go with "growled" for the dogs.

    I love your imagery of the scalpel and chasing the needle--made me really interested what she was about to do that she dropped. I love how you don't tell us right away. I love the rack on the peephole, gave me a great sense of this kind of rustic situation, though presumably in the future.

    I wasn't sure why you included the detail of the doll's clothes, instead of just the doll. It made me think you'd mentioned something earlier about the dolls clothes that I'd missed. I'd just leave it at "her doll forgotten."

    great job. I'd definitely read more.

  11. "Dang. C'mon" suggests urgency at using the sterile equipment, but there's nothing going on inside the house to suggest such urgency. No one's bleeding, the daughter is playing at the table. And it's not so urgent it can't be it's a disorienting start. If this is something she's done before, does she have a better way than chasing a needle with tongs? If she hasn't done this before, more fumbling would set more atmosphere. I'd also like an earlier mention of Pearl just to set the scene and let us know from the start that Rachel isn't alone with the dogs. Mentioning Pearl seems almost like an afterthought, when at the first warning, showing us that there is/isn't concern for her daughter will tell us a lot.

    That's a disconnect for me, and then there's also a disconnect between the rustic start and the genre tag of SF (though I realize it's still very early, readers start to piece together setting from blank cloth from the first line, so giving a hint that, for instance, more advanced tech exists, even if she doesn't have it available here, would set that stage).

    I like the ambiance and the rain, but maybe the noise of the rain can be employed, too, hindering her from hearing what the dogs hear?