Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May Secret Agent #45

GENRE: Adult Literary Fiction

A low hum and occasional footsteps echoed through Building 6 of Drake Chemical India. Hari Walangkar, the last remaining nighttime sweeper, pushed his broom down the concrete corridor, adding a swishing sound to the uncomfortable quiet. He missed the hustle-bustle of six months ago, when 500 men rushed about during the night, operating the machines, watching the dials, and climbing ladders to adjust the knobs or polish them. Now he guessed he was one man out of 100, and attributed his good fortune to Ganesh, Hindu lord of success and remover of obstacles.

Hari backtracked to retrieve his three-wheeled supply cart and dragged it deeper into the building that housed the giant tanks. He looked up into the tangle of steel pipes, extended the pole of his duster as far as it would go, and gently brushed a thin layer of dirt down onto the floor. Two peacock feathers escaped from the stick and fluttered toward his feet, a clear sign that these treasures were his for the taking. Smiling, he placed them in the cloth sack slung across his chest, happy to have come upon them honestly. Tomorrow morning he would give the feathers to his young sons who were accomplished tradesmen in the warrens of Chola Colony.

Suddenly a loud bang shook the building. Hari grabbed his cart, chained it to a nearby pillar, and rushed down the passageway looking for trouble. A worker wearing a full-face mask darted along the wall while a couple Muslims hurried toward their prayer room.


  1. The opening line doesn't hook me, even though you've got some interesting ideas brewing. Perhaps you could start with the peacock feathers, and go from there. There's too much information crammed in about the main character, and not enough tension to draw me forward. But I have a feeling there is a great story inside - set it free.

  2. I like how much you show about your character in the little things he does and thinks about. While it's not a gripping first line, I'm okay with that. This is literary, and literary novels weave their words around the reader pulling us along a deeply rich story. Your first page suggests that's exactly what you're doing. I would love to curl up with your novel and a hot cup of coffee.

  3. I agree with Lanette. The sensory details and little bits of culture really drew me in. I have a feeling this will be a richly-textured story.

    You might look at rearranging your first two sentences. I think the hook could be stronger if you start with "Hari Walangkar, the last remaining nighttime sweeper..." That's such a melancholy phrase in itself. The sounds you described augment it beautifully.

  4. I agree with Rebecca. This is a really original and haunting scene set and the cultural richness it promises would entice me to read more. I like what I learn about the character via superstitions, and the sadness and feeling of luck felt by being spared. It's a really compelling opening.

  5. There's some nice mood setting and strong characterization going on. I would urge you, however, to find a different way to start the third paragraph. "Suddenly, a loud bang shook the building" feels too cliche, too at odds with what you've built through the first two paragraphs. Yeah, the mood changes as we switch into 'action mode,' but I think you can (and should) do it more gracefully.

  6. I liked the slow interesting beginning. But the last two lines just felt off. Yes, the bang can happen, but how does your character feel it? Ears, soles of his feet, cart vibrating under his hand? Then, we can see the masked worker and the the Muslim co-workers. (Though, that threw me off, because I thought he was alone in the plant or that it was much less occupied because of...whatever happened before at the plant.)

  7. I love the way you use sound here. That's a sense that doesn't get enough attention from writers. The description of the quiet is a great set up for the bang at the end. That said, Rebecca has a point that you might want to switch your first sentences around so we can start with the character.

    At some points, your language got a tad stiff:

    "attributed his good fortune to Ganesh, Hindu lord of success and remover of obstacles"--I think "attributed" is a tad awkward here, would he just "thank Ganesh"? Also, I don't think we need to know the god's exact role on the first page.

    "backtracked to retrieve" Perhaps just "retrieved"

    "loud bang" is redundant, "loud" is in the nature of "bang" (I do this all the time, I did a find and replace for "loud" in my manuscript to catch it, ha)

    Why would he chain his cart? Is that super important?

    "Darted along the wall" or along the "hall"?

    "A couple Muslims"--are they also workers or just Muslims hanging out in the building? Are they going to pray because of the bang or is it a normal prayer time? If they're going to pray because of the bang that would make me think there's some sort of expected danger they knew could be coming.

    I do love that we get an action and a mystery to follow! I'd turn the page.

  8. I really liked all of the little details and cultural references. Multicultural books are my favorite. I don't think it's slow at all- I liked getting a peek into Hari's mind before the explosion went off. Great job!

  9. It was a good opening, and I would have liked to read more.

    However, the last paragraph puzzled me. The bang was enough to throw the conscientious Hari away from his duties. But he went 'looking for trouble' which colloquially sounds like he was wanting to stir-up trouble (which may not have the same meaning in India). It also explains his motives. When the writer explains somebody's motives, it's telling rather than showing and takes the reader out of the scene. The line was not needed. If you hear a loud bang in a factory, you try to see what's happening and decide whether you can deal with it - or if need to run. Fast.

    Then you introduce a few other people (when we had been told he was alone) I assumed the others were running because of the bang and were seeking exits, but the Muslims went for the prayer room. Unless he saw them actually entering it, how could he be certain of their goal, particularly in the panic and confusion following an explosion?

    Nevertheless, it made me wonder - what did they know about the explosion that Hari didn't?

  10. I will admit that I don't read Literary Fiction, but one comment to help improve:

    "Suddenly a loud bang shook the building" can be tightened up to "A bang shook the building." The bang is loud because it shook the building. "Suddenly" isn't required--though it's a tempting, tempting word to use.

    Take a look at all your words and see if you can remove some of the extraneous ones. The prose flows fine, but sparsity of words is always a good goal.

  11. I'd recommend that you take some more time to introduce us to Hari and his world before his situation is changed by (what I assume is) the explosion. You can establish a stronger sense of place and character before the plot really needs to take off, particularly if this is literary fiction.