Wednesday, January 14, 2015

January Secret Agent #5

TITLE: Deadline For Murder
GENRE: New Adult Mystery

This story is not about my mother.

Admittedly, she is a major player. Okay, because of her, I returned to Ellwood City and nearly got killed. But it’s not really about her.

It’s my story even though, at 23, I don’t have that much to tell except I don’t know who my father is or was.

During one of many fights over this issue, Momma let it slip that he’d been murdered. That’s pretty critical information to spur any kid to want to know more. But Francesca Torino is tightlipped about who he was, how he looked, where he lived, how they got together, whether they married and, the biggie, how he died and why.

“You became a reporter to torture me with questions.”

“I have a right to know what happened.”

“You have a right to live. It’s too dangerous to know more. So, shut up.”

“After twenty-three years? And don’t tell me to shut up. Why are you always such a prima donna?”

“Because I am a prima donna, my darling.”

And so she is _ a feisty, skinny opera singer, barely five feet tall.

She was working in Chicago where my newspaper internship had ended. I decided, job or no job, it was time to explore Momma’s Ellwood secrets. Nona still lives there.

“Try the newspapers in New York or Rome. Your Italian is good enough.”

“I found a part-time job with the Lawrence County Beacon. Someone will help me with the questions you won’t answer.”


  1. I like the first line - seems to be a pattern here out of the entries I've looked at.

    Note that there's some height-ism in opera - at 5'0 and "skinny" her mother would be exceptionally small and this might have caused her problems in her career. Unfortunately, I can't remember what I was actually told about the discrimination (by somebody who washed out for being too TALL - a woman well over six feet tall). I might want to move the dialog up the page some, but otherwise it's looking pretty good. Not great - I'm not as intrigued by the murder as I'd like to be.

  2. The intro to this piece baffles me a bit. The first three paragraphs have the MC/narrator waffling back and forth between what the story isn't, but as a reader, I just want to jump right in to what the story *is*.

    The use of "kid" in the fourth paragraph threw me, as the age category is NA and the narrator is 23 - not a kid by most standards, and as a 24-year-old myself, not a kid by my age group's own standards. In the same paragraph, I'm not sure who Francesca Torino is. Is that the narrator's mom?

    The conversation that follows confuses me as well. This early in the story, dialogue tags are key until I can recognize a character's voice without one, and even then, the extra clarity goes a long way.

    I can't claim to be hooked because of these issues I had, but I do like the premise of an NA murder mystery with the victim being the protagonist's own father. It's a cool idea.

  3. I love to read murder mysteries but this felt out of sync. I agree this needs to be tighter. Instead of telling us what the story isn't about, show us what it is. Maybe start with why she took the internship in Chicago. You need dialogue tags-agreed. The premise sounds interesting. Good luck!

  4. I think you have an interesting character here but the beginning few lines kind of jar once the the dialogue starts. I would simplify. Just say that her mom is an opera singer and she doesn't know her dad. Alternatively you could talk about one of those and sprinkle in the other info as the story progresses. You have three big things here. She is a reporter, her mom is an opera singer, and she doesn't know her dad. That's a lot to pack into the beginning. I think this has potential but just polish up that beginning.

  5. I'm going to echo two previous commenters in saying there needs to be some dialogue tags. I read somewhere that a writer can get away with 3 untagged dialogue lines between two characters before the reader gets confused. I don't know if it's a solid rule, though.

    The hook for me (to get me reading past the first paragraph or so) was that the MC was almost killed. That's where I want to read on to find out how that happened (which leads to the mystery of her father's murder).

    I like the line "Because I am a prima donna, my darling." That gives me good insight on how difficult the mother can be.

  6. You have a lot going on here in the first 250 words! First, you may not want to start off by saying you don't have a lot to tell. I want to hear a good story! Not knowing the identity of her father isn't important yet because we as readers don't even know your character. Introduce her, and her current world, before going back in time to unknown parents and how she (MC) almost got killed. You follow with a lot of untagged dialogue about things the reader doesn't know about and can't yet find interesting.

    I said "her" though I actually don't see anything specifically stating that your MC is a woman. You have enough dialogue there that her name could easily be slipped in, or a tag that makes her gender clear.

    That's a lot of criticism from me, I know. But that doesn't mean your story doesn't have potential. A missing father, an snarky opera singer of a mother, a murder, a character returning to her home town and dealing all the people and places she left behind. That's all good stuff.

  7. I’m not sure this story starts in the right place, as this all feels like back-story before THE story can begin. Perhaps this is info that can be woven in somewhere else, that way we’re not starting the story with facts. I can tell that you’re trying to establish that this is NA-aged by mentioning the age twenty-three a couple of times, but the age can be woven in more naturally and should come across in how the character talks, thinks, etc. I’d like to feel more danger and suspense, especially for a mystery, and be really dying to know about Momma Ellwood’s secrets alongside the MC.

    1. Thanks for the constructive comments and good advice. I can easily start the story in a better place and weave the back-story elements more effectively as the action moves along. So great to have this feedback. Thanks again.