Wednesday, January 14, 2015

January Secret Agent #37

GENRE: YA Magical Realism

Grandmother’s book lies open on her nightstand to a passage more familiar to me than the ragged heart thrashing in my chest. So scared I can barely breathe, I stare at the words through a film of tears, trying to ignore the drops of blood on the page.

Some, frozen by inertia or caged by fear, choose to remain in their brown-boxes of routine, even if their worlds are hell. Even if their dreams perish on the tips of their tongues, preferring this to the unimaginable “what might be.”

I snap the book shut. The knife I don’t recall picking up falls without a sound, silenced by the million brass bells ringing in my ears. I slide the book into my bag. My fingers come away bloody, but no matter how much I wipe them the red stains will not go.

This house is no longer a home, but a prison drowning in poisonous wounds.

I need to hurry up and get gone.

Without looking back, I walk out of my grandmother’s door and close it gently behind me. I think of Artimus Finch, the character in the book. How he left everything that he loved behind when magic opened a window—a window rimmed in white shimmer, its frame hung midair, leading to a world without fear.

My heart and feet thump as I run down the staircase avoiding the photographs on the walls. Instead, I focus on Nikolai, and leaving this hell behind.


  1. Such beautiful language. And that last line is killer. I don't have any comments beyond that, because this opening feels very strong.

  2. Great description. Very vivid imagery makes me be able to feel like i'm in the room. I want to know more about the book, I'm very intrigued.

  3. I love your lyrical language. And blood dripping on the page gave me chills. I wish I had something more constructive to say, but I honestly love this opening. I would definitely keep reading. Good luck!

  4. Hey there! Hopefully this is helpful!

    On one hand, this is extremely evocative. The imagery is great and the tension is high.

    That said, I'd really like more context. I'm a pretty literal reader, so this may come down to taste. (So take this with a grain of salt, especially since the other comments so far love this!) But I find it pretty disorienting when a passage introduces nothing but questions. I feel like this is getting to that point--She has a knife she didn't know she was holding. There's blood on the book and her hands, and we don't know where it came from or what it's primarily on. There's ringing in her ears, caused by something unknown. She's wiping her bloody hands on something, somewhere. The house is dangerous. She has to escape.

    I once started a story where, in the very first paragraph, a house was burning to the ground. It was suspenseful and very emotional, and... I got feedback that it didn't work. My readers didn't know the character, didn't know the significance of the home burning down, and didn't know the girl inside. It was *exciting*, but it was too much too early--because it happened before I established anything that would make anyone care about the characters.

    Obviously you'd have to look at the whole story (or at least this chapter) to know if this is a similar situation. This is all very exciting, but it's also gets its power by having terrible (and undescribed) things happen to someone we don't know. That *can* work if the point is to just tease the reader--Something happened! Something awful! (I'm obviously not a huge fan of that.) But that could very well be a matter of taste.

    Personally, I think that if you'd like the reader legitimately care about this individual in this exact moment, the story might have to start earlier--early enough that we know a little more before this happens.

  5. Great opening. I read more! Very visual and it got my heart racing. No critique of the words because they are beautiful. Good luck!

  6. Lovely, lovely language. I'd also like to know a little more about what's going on--where the blood is from, why the house is so dangerous now (was it always?). Obviously, some mystery is good, but as a reader I get frustrated if I have too many questions.

  7. You have a gift, my friend. Beautiful and emotive. I wondered if you should start with your second sentence, because the drops of blood grabs me more than Grandmother's book. Instead of saying she doesn't remember picking up the knife, show us it slipping from her grasp and her reaction to it. I'm confused by "the brass bells." Does she leave blood on the doorknob when she leaves? You talk about Artimus Finch--when magic opened a window--is what follows a quotation, her interpretation, or her own window opening? I love how she's focusing on Nikolai and leaving this prison behind. :)

  8. This is beautiful. Simply beautiful. Do you know what I pictured here? Lady Macbeth, dagger in hand, and spots of blood she couldn't unsee, couldn't get out. A startling and elegant, yet simple, beginning.

    And she's in her grandmother's bedroom. At first, we picture MC weeping over her grandmother's death. Then we see MC may have caused it. Just. wow.

    There's so much imagery with so few words. <3

  9. Your writing is beautiful, and you have great imagery. Grat job on that. I also find the intense thoughts of the book very interesting also, like it's taking up too much of her reality. Fascinating.

    Like a couple other commenters though, I felt tossed into this scene without any background. I think it might be good to begin a little earlier, to give us a chance to get to know the character a little bit before we experience this emotional and terrifying situation with her. Good luck on this!

  10. Oooh, this is a very cool opening. The writing is very pretty xD But more than that, I enjoy that you set up the character and what's going on very clearly. I would absolutely continue reading. Good luck!

  11. I really loved the title, and the opening. I think you have a very great start here and it seems genuinely interesting.

  12. Your opening makes us ask questions as readers and builds suspense—what’s going on? How did she get the knife? But maybe giving us a little bit more to go off of might prevent the mystery from bordering on confusion. I’m also on the fence about whether we really need the quote from the book, as it slows down the pace you had going. Also, if you’re going for a dark and dangerous direction, which it seems to be, I’m not sure that “Grandmother’s book” is the most chilling opening in comparison to the rest of the sample. The prison of poisonous wounds line is a great visual.

  13. Your writing is beautiful and you have many lovely images. This is a wonderful start to something special.

    I read the name Artimus Finch as Atticus Finch (from to Kill a Mockingbird) and I was really confused! If no one else was tripped up then I just need to get new glasses. After reading the paragraph a few times I realized my mistake and that you meant this was a character from the grandmother's book. But do keep in mind that a lot of YA's will have just read TKAM in school and might get mixed up too!

    I'd love to keep reading and find out who Nicolai is. Nice work!