Wednesday, March 7, 2018

March Secret Agent Contest #44

GENRE: YA Fantasy gaslamp

Hilda stood behind the impossibly heavy red velvet curtain, waiting for it to open or, perhaps, fall from the coiled mechanism holding it up and crush her. She didn’t particularly want to be crushed, but at least it would be something different. An adventure of sorts. Something other than performing over and over without an end in sight. Well—she swallowed the too-painful thought away—there was an end, but not one she cared to think about. 

“Miss Hollow, a moment!”

Hilda turned toward the unnecessarily loud voice, her silk ruffle overlay flapping against the smooth velvet of her skirt like a smothered scream.

One of the sound operators raced up to her. He held out a silver micro-trumpet then quickly pulled it back against his chest before she could remind him, again, that chanters of illusion didn’t need amplification. 

She clenched her fists. This was only her fifteenth time singing here on her three-year tour of opera houses and grand hotels. However…he was merely trying to do his job. Besides, perhaps he was new. She took a moment to really look at him. Thoughtful eyes. Sweaty brow. Disheveled jacket collar. Yes, definitely new. She relaxed her hands but didn’t answer. He wouldn’t have heard her anyway, not with the silencers—large brass discs—over his ears. Tiny cranks in the center of the circles could be turned and tightened to stamp out sound. The opera house required all employees to wear them. The proprietors said it was because they didn’t want the workers to be drawn into an illusion.


  1. I’d love some more world-building here. The demands on YA fantasy are really high these days and editors are looking for projects that really stand out and while I get the sense that we’re in for a slow-burn of a beginning that will reveal a really cool world full of magic and illusions and (I’m guessing) a trapped heroine, right now it feels like we’re getting a bored girl. I would have loved to get a better sense of why and how she feels alone, which can be as simple as her trying to catch the new operator’s eye only to be ignored, or contemplating if she could crush herself with the curtain. I’d love to see more about her surroundings and costume and if these were luxuries or commonplace for her. I found myself wondering if this was a historical due to dresses and opera houses, so it would be great to get a sense of when and where we are earlier.

  2. I get a great sense of tension here and I am intrigued! I'm so curious about how she got into this position and what kind of world she lives in. One sentence on this first page will probably give me enough of a hint. Thanks!

  3. I'm definitely intrigued to learn more about Hilda Hollow's world, but I'm okay you're just teasing it, assuming more info comes soon.
    This is one of my bugaboo's but I am often bumped by "impossibly" as a modifier. The "impossibly heavy red velvet curtain" in this case did bump me a little. Not everyone will agree, I suspect.
    That said the next line regarding not wanting to be crushed, was charming.
    The final paragraph (that we get) reads a little meandering. I understand it's a train of thought, but so early in the story, I'd encourage keeping it as tight and clean as maintaining the voice will allow.

  4. The first paragraph is fantastic! The "smothered scream" feels a bit purple to me, and I'd cut everything after "...the silencers [trim] over his ears" as it kind of goes off into the weeds. Stay with Hilda, she's engaging and she's what you want us to care about!

  5. I also am intrigued by Hilda and her world. I wonder if a small suggestion about the type of performance Hilda does ‘over and over without an end in sight’, and her opinion of either what she does or why she is seemingly conscripted to unending performances, might give us some clues to her world. Something to lead into, or out of, her thinking that the crush of a huge velvet curtain (ouch!) would be an adventure.