Friday, December 2, 2011

#25 Suspense: Side Effects

TITLE: Side Effects
GENRE: Suspense

All ex-army anesthetist, Rae MacKenzie, wants is peace from secondary PTSD and takes a low stress job in a small Texas hospital only to be plunged into the middle of the murder of her best friend, a series of menacing calls and messages, and an encounter with a former lover, D. A. Josh Hunter, who has trust issues. Can they let down their guard and uncover the truth before Rae becomes the next victim?

The first time Rae Mackenzie saw blood seeping up through fat, she felt sick to her stomach. She got accustomed to seeing blood but she avoided watching surgeons make the initial incisions in the skin. Instead, she used her skills with anesthetics to keep patients unconscious or numb. After the past year in Afghanistan, she longed for peace and she’d found a measure of it in Donkey Shoe Springs.

She punched in Patrick’s number before heading to his place. Three calls had gone unanswered. Odd. A cell phone was always glued to his belt. ESP was a funny thing.—that sense of fear and trouble raising its ugly head—speeding her pulse, quickening her breath. She knocked on his front door. Receiving no answer, she walked around the porch.

The French door to the den was covered in flies, their somnolent buzzing filling the air. Rae nudged the cracked door,and it opened easily on silent hinges. The heavy rank air hit full force and she struggled against the desire to run and never look back.

She forced herself to step into the darkened room,clamping a hand over her face to stifle the overpowering odor. It didn’t help. Flies swarmed and she slapped them away from her face. When her eyes adjusted to the dimmer light, the acidic taste of vomit rose in her throat at what she saw. “Oh, my God, Patrick.”

Light from the open door illuminated the scene. Dried brain matter and blood spattered on the wall. Rivulets of fluid snaked across the floor and puddled. Maggots squirmed in and out of his half gone face,his protruding tongue and sunken eyes.Staggering outside, she sat down on the steps, leaned over and threw up in the flower bed. The constant sound of the humming flies and the whining of Patrick’s dog magnified. The roaring began in her ears. Control. She needed to get some control. Breathe in two, three, four; hold two, three, four; out, two, three, four…

“Suck it up. Don’t panic. Do the job,” she repeated the mantra as she ran shaky fingers through her hair. With trembling fingers Rae punched in 9-1-1


  1. I love what I've read so far. Good premise. Great start.
    Thorne Anderson

  2. Excellent opening to catch the reader's attention. You've done a great job in the details of the dramatic, gory scene. I love your description of her first initial reaction to the scene, using all her senses. And then switching over to her training. Very well done. Vivid.

  3. The showing here is amazing. The flies. The look of blood oozing through fat (which totally grossed me out by the way!), the dried brain matter, the maggots. Instead of just saying he was shot (I'm assuming), and that he's been dead for awhile, you really showed the reader. Awesome job. I'd read on.:)

  4. I'm intrigued! Now I want to know what happened to Patrick and what caused her to escape to this town in the first place.

  5. This is like an accident scene! You're utterly disgusted but you can't stop reading, ha ha. Great opening and descriptions. Definitely hooked.

  6. It drew me right in and holds my attention -still. I can't wait to read the rest. You did a great job!

  7. Wow - what a great start! I'm completely drawn in to why she is finding a dead body. I'd read on!

  8. I got a little confused with your intro. What so you mean by "secondary" PTSD? Post-traumatic stress disorder can be the result of witnessing a traumatic event or (in some instances) being in fear even without directly witnessing a traumatic event. Is that what you mean by "secondary" PTSD? I regularly deal with this sort of terminology, and I've never heard of "secondary" PTSD. You may want to check that phrase.

    Best of luck!

  9. This is not my usual cup of tea, but I found the writing compelling. The gory details were well done. The MC's voice is very clear to me.

    Well done.

    Best wishes,

  10. I really enjoyed this, and I, too am dying to know what happens next!

  11. It's not a bad start. I think it would have a more immediate impact if you got rid of the first paragraph and jumped straight to the MC trying to phone Patrick.

    There's a lot of the 'she' word in there which I find a bit distracting.

    The next to last paragraph - you start with a description of Patrick's body. The first part of the paragraph reads a bit choppily; almost like a shopping list of what the MC is seeing. If there's anyway you can make that flow a bit better, it'll work well.

    Apart from Rae's (quite natural) desire to throw up, what other physical reactions is she having while she walks through the house: shaking? chills? What can she smell? I think there's a real opportunity here to engage more senses.

    I hope you don't think I'm being too nit-picky. I think this is a great beginning and I think it could be made even better!

  12. A good proportioned mix of forward and backstory. Lots of tight dialogue. A good read especially for aspiring novelists. A true winner. George.

  13. I agree that you don't need the first graph. Jump into the action. It's frightening and disgusting--very grabby! It would be helpful if we knew what Patrick meant to her before she finds the body so that her loss were vested with more feeling, but this is such a visceral opening, go with it.

    The language gets a little muddled in the logline, and the excerpt has some overly familiar terms.

    Logline: She's plunged INTO THE MIDDLE OF a murder, a series of calls and message and an encounter with a former lover... this is a bit hard to follow and I don't know if she's exactly in the middle of all of these things. In the last sentence of the logline who is "they"?

    These are phrases in the entry that are a little bit overused: "raising its ugly head," "to run and never look back." At the end, she's running her hands through her hair and punching 911 at same time? These are small things, easy to fix.

  14. The sentences in the logline are overly complicated. I read the opening of that and I see "All anesthetist, All the time!" instead of seeing "All Rae wants is..." That's easily fixed.

    I don't feel I'm shown how using her anesthetist's skills is a buffer against the gore of surgery. Maybe it could be made clearer what part of the job she enjoys and finds fulfillment in -- is it the monitoring of the instruments, the precision of the mix of chemicals, or the knowledge that she's keeping patients out of discomfort, for instance? This will help humanize her character and make her more relatable; it's an easy peek into how she ticks.

    I like the first paragraph, but maybe save it for once she actually sees blood. It may be stronger there. Then it can segue from the gore of the crime scene to the remembrance of the war zone and PTSD triggers.

  15. theodorerork@yahoo.comDecember 6, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    It reads like the beginning of a 50s murder thriller story, whichs always makes good reading.