Wednesday, January 25, 2012

January Secret Agent #15

TITLE: Valley of Thracians
GENRE: Adult Literary

“Is this your first visit to Bulgaria?” asked the clerk at Sofia International Airport passport control.

“Yes,” he replied, staring at her through the smudged glass. The woman’s jet black hair was pulled back tightly behind a pale, gaunt face, secured with a thin red ribbon that failed to brighten her complexion. Her dark, somewhat slanted eyes, veterans of scrutinizing a thousand arrivals, regarded him impatiently and then returned to the document she was scanning. She stifled a yawn as she riffled through the pages, but whether it was out of exhaustion from long hours on the job or indifference to the arrivals passing by her booth he couldn’t tell.

“Yes,” he said again, making an effort to be polite.

He watched as she worked her way through the passport a second time, gazing up at him once more to compare the weary, gray-haired person standing in front of her with the much younger version that smiled reservedly from the faded photograph. Today he had little in common with that self-assured academic who had willingly traveled the world, giving lectures and attending international conferences. It was almost if they weren’t even related.

“Welcome,” she said, stamping his passport with Sofia Airport’s inky signature before handing it back under the glass.

He offered a weary grin in reply. He was exhausted, not only from the long, monotonous flight but also from preparing for the challenges that lay ahead. Dealing with his mission in a foreign country would not be easy.


  1. This is good, but for some reason or another, I'm not hooked yet. I am left curious as to what kind of mission he's working on that's landed him in Bulgaria. But so far I feel like I know more about the passport agent than I do the main character.

  2. I agree with Rebecca. Maybe making it more concise would help. For instance ending the sentence where she yawns at the comma. And omitting 'he watched' and 'he stared'. But it does seem like the beginning of an interesting read and with a few tweaks could be a very intriguing start.

  3. The writing chops are strong. You describe the scene and the people quite well. I like how you offer description of the man quickly and in a creative way (the passport photo) so we can try to visualize him.

    My suggestion would be to focus your writer's eye more. Is the ticket woman an important character or do we ever see her again? If all she does is serve as a tool for the setting and the passport photo, then we don't need so much information about her: eyes, yawn, indifferent. She gets a lot of proverbial ink in the 250 words. I am more interested in the man, who is the main character. If she turns out to be important, that might be different.

    Also, dialog. I'm wondering if there's a way to make better use of the conversation between them and have their words illustrate something about their personalities, instead of just "Yes ... yes... welcome."

    You write well. I get a vibe of an Indiana Jones meets Robert Langdon.

  4. The writing style here is very clean, and I like the hint of the exotic in the location--and the contrast between that exotic feeling and the main character's world-weary air.

    However, I agree with previous comments that we learn too much about the clerk (unless she proves important later on). I don't feel yet that I know enough about the main character to relate to him--only that he used to be an academic. I'd like some hint of what brought him to Bulgaria: travel, research, something more secretive.

  5. I agree with focus on the clerk vs the (we guess) mc. Is there a reason we don't know his name yet. That is even more reason that its hard to connect to him. I've seen people try to hard to bring and air of mystery by hiding the name and it doesn't work unless this is the bad guy and we aren't supposed to know who he is yet (for mysteries). And when that is the case, it is difficult to read when the book starts with a mystery character.

    Great descriptions otherwise, we just want to know that we're reading descriptions of things that matter!

  6. I just want to list some word choices in the first 250 words and then refer back to them in my comment:

    "stifled a yawn"
    "long hours on the job"
    "weary gray-haired person"
    "faded photograph"
    "weary grin"
    "long monotonous flight"

    The sum effect of all these in such close proximity is - I am sure - a wholly unintended result of making the reader feel tired, worn-out and ready for bed. I don't think it is a dynamic enough way to begin this story. I am completely unsure of where it is going. When I see the word "mission" at the end, I instantly think of a spy. But then I see the genre as literary and that doesn't seem to fit. I am sot sure how you save it - perhaps by moving the "Dealing with his mission in a foreign country would not be easy." to the first line. At least it grabs your attention because it makes you think - oh, what mission? The interaction between him and the passport agent needs to be something more than routine or it does not belong here. He twice repeats the word "yes" to her question and it adds nothing.If, however, there was some element of danger or deception in the interaction then it changes the tenor of everything. Perhaps he answers "yes" to the question of a prior visit to Bulgaria but this is a lie - a lie he hopes she does not discover. Whatever, there needs to be something more because the sum total of the opening is, frankly, I think to make the reader feel as beaten down as the narrator - which I am sure was not your goal. I am sorry I could not be more positive but those are my honest reactions. There needs to be some conflict, jeapordy, danger, impatience, anything to make me want to read more.

  7. You are an excellent writer! Your descriptions are vivid. I agree with the reader possibly feeling tired along with the characters. Possibly throw some shorter sentences in there, or a quick action. I'm definitely intrigued and want to know what his mission is and what he is! Good luck :)

  8. The mention of the mission at the end was the only thing that grabbed me, and since I didn't see him as a spy, I wondered why this mission would be any harder than any of the others (I took mission to be his lectures and conferences)

    You might consider naming him and saying what his mission is. If the mission is intriguing or hints at danger, that's your hook. As is, it's a tired man going through customs with no hint of conflict or tension. Find a way to include some.

  9. I agree with the others that this is keeping too much from the reader in a too obvious fashion ("the challenges that lay ahead," "Dealing with his mission...would not be easy.") The contrast between a passport photo and someone's present appearance is an excellent idea for an opening, but I think your long description of the clerk's face takes away from the focus on the protagonist's face later on...maybe cut that down so you can give us a bit more about what our hero's up to...