Wednesday, September 5, 2012

September Secret Agent #49

TITLE: Beyond The River Shadows
GENRE: Literary Fiction

Along the steep canyon walls trees swayed in unison like slow moving breakers. A wondrous expanse of green surrounded him, the sun anchored high above the ponderosa pines, the air laden with heat and the sweet fragrance of azaleas. Ten years had passed since Brad Lucas heard the sounds of a river; he had been away too long. He squatted down on his haunches and smiled at the McCloud River as it coursed by, shimmering with sunlight. His heart pounded in his fingertips.

“How much farther?” Brad’s voice cut the white noise of river and wind.

“It’s so damned pristine out here,” Dean Romans said, pausing in the middle of the trail, “I half-expect a unicorn to prance out of the woods.” His grin widened, exposing perfect white teeth that gleamed in contrast to his black eye.

Throughout the two hour hike, Dean had led the way like a four-star general. The fact that Dean insisted on leading didn’t surprise Brad—only Dean knew where they were going. What did come as a surprise to Brad, though, was Dean’s total lack of caution. Brad found it hard to keep up, and he hated that this irritated him. He had fully expected Dean to slow down in the woods. Even in the wilderness, Dean acted as if he owned the place.

Hands cupped, Brad splashed river water on his face and the nape of his neck. The cold snatched his breath away. For a moment, he felt reinvigorated. Only fleeting relief, he thought.


  1. I thought the first paragraph was a very effective and lyrical way to begin the story. I was instantly transported to the scene and it brought back memories for me because the description was vivid yet not over the top. I think this was a bit undercut by Dean's first line of it being "so damn pristine." First, I think it was unnecessary to say out loud what you have already established and, second, it did not sound like natural speech. I thought, also, that in the paragraph where you decribe Dean leading the way, there could have been the smallest hint at why they were out there or what the conflict/goal/quest might be - you don't have to hit me over the head with it but just a line or reference that piqued my interest would suffice. Overall, a good beginning and I would read more pages.

  2. Wonderful descriptions, really a good way to ground the scene. I'm curious about the relationship between these two - why is one leading the other, why does Brad not know where they're going. So I would read more to find out.

    I have only a few comments - perfect white teeth over his black eye. He only has one eye? Or is this a typo? A one-eyed guide is kind of compelling already.

    What kind of stopped me 'leading the way like a four-star general' - what is that like? And why should they be cautious in the wilderness? Why is Brad cautious? Are they somewhere dangerous? I mean what can happen?

    Something about that didn't match the initial paragraph that set this place up as so wonderful.

    All in all though, good writing. Good luck with it!

  3. Some really nice hints of things to come: where has Brad been? Why doesn't Dean answer his question, and why does he have a black eye? What's the hurry? Very evocative first paragraph; I can smell those azaleas and feel the river in the air.

    A few nitpicks, mostly minor: I pictured them initially up at the edge of the canyon looking down into it at the river below. This is probably just a perception thing on my part. Second, I think you can skip the 'down' in 'squatted down on his haunches'. Finally, the need for caution in the woods confuses me. I can see some enticing possibilities for this (looking for something, dangers, personality clash), and maybe it gets revealed as we go further, but I think you need a little more clarity in that section. Nice job!

  4. I love the first paragraph. It eases me into the story; it doesn't thrust me.

    One point: Too many "Dean's"--seven in all. Use a few well-placed pronouns instead.

    Good luck.

  5. Great beginning! After reading your passage I realized that I've been so caught up in living and breathing YA fiction, that I don't think I'll be much help with the Adult Fiction. I like where it's going though!

  6. I like the hints of a past something that will impinge on this trip--Dean's carelessness, shown by the black eye as well as by Brad's remarks, and Brad's fatigue (spiritual or physical?) shown in the last para.

    I don't care esp. for the opening, however. The first sentence is laden with adjectives. Maybe start with the second sentence and then work the description in.

  7. The description in your first paragraph is lovely, and you've definitely raised a lot of interesting question. Why hasn't Brad been out here in so long, how does he know Dean, what happened to Dean's eye, not to mention where they're actually going.

    That being said, there are one or two moments where I feel like you're missing words. In the first paragraph, I would say, "Had heard the sounds of the river."

    And in the second, it sounds like it should be, "Brad's voice cut THROUGH the white noise of river and wind."

    Otherwise, though, I didn't have a ton of critique for this. Nice work!

  8. You have brought us into a bucolic scene, good job.

    Nitpick-Brad smiling at the river is a little bit cheesy, and since "He" is the subject of that sentence, the "shimmering with sunlight" at the end refers to Brad, not the river. Which I don't think is what you meant.

    But I do wonder what is going to happen between these two characters!

  9. Your first paragraph is golden. A great setting told in a few well chosen lines, followed by a statement that seems benign on the surface but tells of a past we want to know more about.

    The second paragraph was a little wordy and I think with some clean-up of crutch words (that, had) and phrases (the fact that) it will flow better.

    Good stuff.

  10. I also really like that first paragraph. I can immediately tell by the choice of words Brad uses to tell his story that he has spent a lot of time on the water. I love subtle touches like that.
    The fourth paragraph was where my attention waned a bit. There were too many Brads and Deans. In some cases, pronouns would have caused subject confusion, but maybe a bit of restructuring so pronouns could be used some?

  11. This is lovely writing. You have a great voice, and I love the contrast between the beautiful setting and Dean's course talk. You have subtle hints of intrigue, and I definitely want to read more.

  12. I like the image in the opening line. It's unique to compare the tree movements to breakers. Stick with this uniqueness throughout. Don't lapse into cliches (shimmering sinlight, perfect white teeth, smiling at the river).

    Also, I love the line about his heart pounding in his fingertips. It adds another sensory element to that paragraph.

    I didn't like that Dean didn't answer Brad's question. Struck me as an unrealistic exchange.

    I was confused by "Brad found it hard to keep up, and he hated that this irritated him." Who does the him refer to?

    I thought at first that Dean only had one eye. It was only after reading the other comments that I realized you meant black eye as in a shiner. Silly me, but I was very intriguiged by this character with only one eye.

    Keep writing and good luck! :)

  13. I like this. It's a rather serene setting, but the page doesn't drag or feel conflict-less (is that a word?). That takes skill.

    I have only a few minor tweaks to suggest.

    Your second sentence runs on too long. Make the comma after "surrounded him" a period and leave everything else as-is.

    Since the rest of the paragraph is so evocative, "the sounds of a river" felt flat by comparison. Is there a more descriptive term you could use? Murmur, burble, rush, pounding, cascade? Different rivers have very different sounds.

    Is there a way to cut back on the occurrences of Dean's name in the penultimate (thank you, thank you for giving me an excuse to use that word!) paragraph? I think "The fact that Dean insisted on leading didn't surprise Brad" can become "This didn't surprise Brad," since you already established in the previous sentence that Dean insisted on leading. That would eliminate one occurrence, at least.

    I would cut "For a moment" from the last paragraph. The following sentence establishes that the reinvigoration is fleeting, so it feels a bit redundant.

    That's all I have. I would definitely read on!

  14. This is very well-written and I don't really have any problems with it. It didn't really hook me in, but neither did it switch me off. Sometimes easing the reader in slowly is best.

    Good work. :)

  15. Great voice here - I really like the opening line. It didn't draw me in, but it's not really my style - technically though it's very good. Well done :)

  16. You did a great job setting the scene here: I can visualize this lovely place. From a writing perspective, I would recommend being careful about using too many adjectives as opposed to imagery. The better imagery you can create with fewer adjectives, the stronger your writing will be.

    There were some intriguing hints dropped about what was to come. However, I thought it could have been even more intriguing. The dialogue felt wasted. It didn't really reveal anything. I can see this is categorized as literary fiction, so the story pace is expected to be a little slower, but I still think there was a lost opportunity to reveal more information.

    Good luck!

  17. The only thing that tripped me up was the phrase 'His heart pounded in his fingertips'. I know what you're trying to get at here, but the way the sentence is written, it sounds as though Dean has a heart in each of his fingertips. Maybe it's literary license but it took me out of the story so it might be worth at least considering re-writing this sentence.

  18. I like the writing, for the most part, and the setting appeals. The mention of Dean's black eye begs a question, and I appreciate that it isn't answered here.

    I'd read more.