Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April Secret Agent #18

TITLE: Souls in the House of Tomorrow
GENRE: Literary Fiction

The blood red plains baked under the blistering Ethiopian sun, the air shimmering with heat and screams.

In a small mud hut, goats placidly resting outside, the owner of the screams writhed on a woven reed mat. Not more than fourteen or fifteen years old, her stomach swelled ominously as sweat created glistening rivers down her dust encrusted face. Her hair, once meticulously styled in an intricate, woven mass of braids, frizzed in a wiry halo. She clutched at her stomach with arms of sinew and bone. Large, dark eyes pleaded with those watching her, begging for them to do something.

Two elderly women squatted at the stone hearth in the centre of the hut and tended the fire. Boiling cloths in a large clay pot, darkened from years of use. Their placid faces told the stories of the many women they had watched struggle before; they had seen it all.

One of the women stood, pulling a cloth from the boiling water with a stick. She let it drip, steaming in the murky light, before taking it into her leathery hands. Walking over to the girl, she dripped water into her swollen, cracked lips. When the water stopped dripping she laid the still steaming cloth on the girl's stomach before returning to her position at the fire.

A tall gentleman, dressed in traditional hand-woven cotton pants and shirt, stepped into the hut. He moved slowly but without hesitation as he crossed the dark space of the hut towards the girl.


  1. I would read more. But I do have some reservations about the writing. I think more careful editing is needed. I like the first sentence--vivid description to set the scene, but I'm not sure that air can shimmer with "screams." Shimmer is visual; screams are aural. (The synesthesia doesn't quite work for me.) The details about the girl's appearance work well; her hair gives us a hint of her past. But the sentence beginning with "Not more than fourteen.." needs to be restructured. As it it is, it suggests that her stomach is not more than fourteen." And the second sentence in the third paragraph is a fragment that doesn't work well. But the scene has potential and there is a sense of urgency which is heightened in the final two sentences. We are left wondering who this man is and why he is there. So we want to learn more.

  2. Just to throw some subjectivity at you, I actually LOVE the image of the air shimmering with screams. That gives it a magical quality to me.

    I agree about the grammar tweak needed to the "not more than fourteen" sentence, and I spotted a couple of words like placid/placidly used twice in such a short passage, so you probably want to edit a bit for things like that.

    Overall though, I personally really liked the writing and was definitely intrigued by the setting. I would certainly read on!

  3. I really enjoyed this one. I would definately read more of this. The multi cultural aspect of this story really appeals.


  4. Apart from the minor corrections needed,(shimmering screams and 14 years old stomach)the overall scene and characters are well described. The stoic old women give the scene solidity and the tall "gentleman" injects the possibility of plot development. It merits reading further.

  5. I was taken out of the story by some of the odd written structures, as noted above. Good sense of atmosphere. Just enough mystery for us to want to read on.

  6. I would read more. I liked the mood and the tension of this opening scene. An editor could help with the minor issues mentioned by the other readers.

  7. I wasn't really pulled into this opening, but this also isn't typically my type of story. I did want to mention that you have a tendency to double up on the adjectives before nouns. That in and of itself isn't a problem, but when you continue to do it over and over the descriptions start to fall flat and feel bogged down. I think you could get my with less description, but if you think it's necessary then try to mix it up with one adjective, or a metaphor, or a simile

  8. Perhaps give more thought to what you’re writing and the words you’re using. Can the air ‘shimmer’ with screams? Arms of sinew and bones – aren’t everyone’s arms made of sinew and bones? A hearth is not a fire pit and would not be sitting in the middle of a mud hut. Would the old woman really drip boiling water into this girl’s mouth? And would they be boiling clothes inside a hut in Ethiopia. How hot and uncomfortable would that be?

    What you’re writing has to be believable, and even though it’s fiction, your facts should be accurate. It lends more credence to what you’re writing. Perhaps consider a revision.

  9. I have been to an Ethiopian village and the descriptions feel very authentic and accurate based on my first hand experience. I think this has captured a desperate young woman's moment beautifully and is very believeable. Needs a few grammar tweaks, but I would definitely read on.

  10. The overwriting in the opening paragraphs proved a bit too distracting for me. The choice of descriptors had me scratching me head a bit.