Week 3 Finalist

TITLE: The Chosen One
AUTHOR: L.A. Mitchell
CATEGORY: Mainstream w/Romantic Elements

Late summer on the Atlantic Seaboard is many things: wind-whipped from the shifting tides of sea and air, heavy from the notion of good things ending, blanched from the sun’s relentless watch. Late summer is all these things, but for Zacharius Ward it meant the long-anticipated final turn of the Ferris wheel at Prospect Pier.

Zac eased the clown-nose lever to its base and squinted up. The buckets stopped and swayed, rebellious in the unruly gusts.

The wheel had stood witness to an entire century of people looking for thrills. Early on, he supposed, riders marveled at the zero-gravity rush just over the crest, vistas rare men laid claim to. Now skate punks fought the gravity of their dates’ hands, exploring vistas not of sea, but of hills, smaller and more heavily guarded than the private dunes down the beach.

“Hey carny, what’s the hold-up?”

Zac’s throat cinched. Nicknames had meant one thing back in the pen: ownership. Ownership of loyalty, status. Ownership by some guy with three names who wanted his pipe greased. For ten years, he had evaded it all. He’d be damned if his first salty taste of freedom would be owned by a ham-and-egger with a rampant goiter.

Instead, he focused on the top car’s sway. Forty, fifty degrees. A foot emerged beneath the safety gate. A ponytail swatted the brass number plate. Too far away to hear, but he knew.

Some fifteen year old just discovered zero gravity.

“Yo, carny. I paid twenty bucks for an all-ride pass. I can’t get my money’s worth if I wait in line all night.”

“Let’s go, Carl.” A woman coaxed, her sand-blasted voice a note shy of mortified.

“Nah. You wanted to ride. We’re gonna ride. Carny’s gonna get us on now, ain’t you, Carny?”

Zac turned. Technicolor bulbs stained his retinas. The carousel’s tune launched down the midway and through his ears like a misfired skee ball.

“As much as I’d like to see that hairpiece of yours whip around in fifty knot winds, revealing your true inadequacies, Carl, I can’t do it. Wouldn’t be safe for the lady.”

The woman’s expression, parched from too much UVA, too much Carl, lifted into a half-smile. Diner waitress. He’d have bet a pack of smokes on it.

Carl scowled.

“Ride’s closed for the season,” Zac hollered.

A dozen or so in line mounted protests with the aplomb of a dud sparkler and scattered as if the wind weren’t in control.

“The hell it is,” said Carl. “Get us on the wheel.”

Zac glanced at the walkie on his attendant’s stand, car twenty-four, the woman. Her eyes pleaded for something far more than a sleepy ride to end the season. More like a quicksand rescue. He knew quicksand.

He off-loaded the baseline car—a father and teenaged son—and unlatched the iron entry gate.

“’Bout damned time,” grunted Carl.

“Mind your balance up there, Carl. We wouldn’t want to challenge weight capacity.”

Carl’s nostrils bloomed large as if he were deciding whether his pear-shaped mass had been insulted or properly cautioned. Diner woman skulked into car twelve behind him and swept an approving glance Zac’s direction.

Zac gunned the red lever.

Carl clenched the rail like a bitch.

He’d waited all summer for this, the last turn. Winter meant quiet, isolation. Time to think and plan while he occupied the shell his body had become with greasing gears and re-laying track. It meant finding his brother; and, after, if his shell hadn’t filled with the sludge of truth, finding her.

Car fourteen swooped down. Pre-teen giggles prickled his tired brain like a shower of Barbie heels. One girl, pale and motionless, failed to join in.

A blond with too much makeup announced, “She thinks you’re cute,” indicating a red-haired, wiry girl, followed by a chorus of shhhhs! and I-do-nots.

The pale girl hovered near the bucket’s side.

Zac reached out his hand. “Are you all right?”

“She’s about to puke,” the blond piped up.

Fantastic.

No sooner had the thought materialized than she did. The Zac stitched to the breast of his jumpsuit became ac. Stomach acid and a dozen half-digested carnival foods steamed from his uniform. Above the gaggle of freaked-out girls, he heard shouts. Not down the midway, but overhead.

Zac snagged Carl’s glance. His beefy hand pointed up.

Above fourteen’s hard-shelled canopy, more arms extended, more fingers pointed, all in the same direction: twelve o’clock. Zero-gravity boy.

A dark shape eclipsed three or so bulbs Zac had meticulously checked at close last night, a body part—a leg?—trapped between the wheel’s structural girders and the bucket.

He handed the sick girl to her friends and took in the teenager’s position, his grip, other passengers shouting to hang on, his girlfriend’s scream erupting over the boardwalk like a hurricane siren. The kid had a good, solid grip on the inside of the car, but he couldn’t scramble up until his leg was free. Forward motion would wrench it worse, pull him free of the bucket.

Reverse.

Something he’d never done before, never had reason to do. Something Sal had always cautioned against because of the engine’s age.

Zac popped the panel off the attendant’s stand and crouched aside. Ten thousand bulbs illuminated the ride’s bowels. A crank—what the hell was that for? It wouldn’t budge. Wouldn’t make sense anyway. Two, three, four pairs of belts. Christ.

A woman screamed.

Zac glanced at the kid. Ten bulbs now, black.

His stomach felt like the strike plate for the Mighty Man Anvil Challenge. He jerked an unassuming gray lever near the gear shaft and inched the accelerator.

RACHELLE SAYS:

L.A., I love all that you’ve managed to convey in this short snippet — setting, action, suspense, intrigue, and most importantly, the introduction of a complicated character, Zac. I feel Zac’s world-weariness, tinged with hope. I feel that, regardless of whatever it is that landed him in prison, he’s a good guy — he has a code of ethics and fights for what he feels is right (even if it’s to protect himself) and he cares about others (like the diner waitress, the teenager). I’m cheering for him to find his brother and “her” — and I can’t wait to be there with him when he does.

You do a wonderful job with the setting, too, and the male POV. I feel like I’m right there with him, at Prospect Pier, feeling the wind, hearing the carousel tune, and seeing everything through his eyes.

Lastly, you’ve done a great job moving the story forward,  as we see Zac’s situation get worse and worse — starting with the rude customer, Carl, then to the sick girl, then with the teenager in danger and Zac’s tough decision. And it ends on a mini-black moment: If Zac makes the wrong move, his hard-earned future may be at stake.

Only two small things gave me pause: (1) I didn’t quite understand where the teenager was stuck and the significance of the bulbs and (2) even though I know Zac is tough and has endured a lot in prison and he discovers the problem with the teenager immediately afterward, I’d like a few words of reaction  when he looks down at the … uh … throw-up on his shirt.

But these were minor and definitely would not have prevented me from reading on. Can’t wait to see Zac get his life — and his girl — back! Great job!

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34 responses

27 01 2010
Debbie K.

You conveyed a lot in this short excerpt! I would definitely keep reading. I, too was confused about where the teenager was stuck, but that is a minor thing in an otherwise great opening.

27 01 2010
L.A. Mitchell

Rachelle and Leigh,
Thank you so much for this opportunity! I can see how the bulbs in relation to the teenager’s foot might not be clear. Funny, it was so clear in my mind when I wrote it 😉 I see, also, that his missing reaction to the puke might be a lost opportunity to learn more about his character.

Debbie, thanks for your input 🙂

27 01 2010
melanieatkins

Wow, L.A. Love this. Seriously! Your attention to detail, clever insertion of character, and intense descriptions nail this piece in the first few paragraphs. I’m so impressed. Awesome!

27 01 2010
Mary K

Great job building tension. I like the way you introduced Zac–mysterious, tortured, ex-con but I get the sense he was wrongly accused.
When you mentioned finding his brother and her it was so subtle I almost missed it. If that’s what you’re going for good. But if you’re going to mention them, make it work for you. What great conflict!
I didn’t have a sense of what happened to the boy. Your words are beautiful, just be sure it doesn’t get in the way of the action.
I love the way you use the senses to take us to your setting. Your descriptions are beautiful and your metaphors are brilliant. I love the way you describe the teen exploring “hills smaller and more heavily guarded…” I can’t wait to read more. Great Job! Congrats!

27 01 2010
June

You blew me away with the first paragraph alone. I learned so much in just a few lines. Rachelle is right–you enabled us to more or less become Zac. I loved that! Only one thing bothered me and that was the casual mention of his missing brother and “her”. However, since we’re only reading a snippet of the beginning, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. After all, Zac could hardly continue thinking about them while some teenager was puking on him. 🙂 This is a great beginning to what I’m sure is a compelling story!

27 01 2010
Leigh Michaels

Love all the details here, and how you use them so naturally that the story flows, without calling attention to how many details there are and how much research must have been involved in getting them just right. The character is wonderful, too — multi-dimensional and someone I’d definitely read on to find out more about.

You’re not the only one who re-reads and remembers what we were thinking as we wrote, and misses the fact that not all of it actually got onto the page. First readers are very valuable here!

27 01 2010
Pamela Cayne

If I were an agent or editor, I’d be on the phone demanding the full immediately–I’m that hooked, and was with this sentence: “Late summer is all these things, but for Zacharius Ward it meant the long-anticipated final turn of the Ferris wheel at Prospect Pier.”

27 01 2010
Robin

You’ve painted such a vivid picture for me, L.A.! Great opening with a character I’m dying to learn more about!

27 01 2010
Christine

Okay, I was struck by a couple things in this one. First, I love the consistency of Zac’s character. It’s like, at every point you asked yourself, “What would Zac feel (say, think, do) here?” And in your answers, you found the roots to craft a deep and compelling picture of him for us, the reader. For example, Zac would “bet a pack of smokes” that the girl is a diner waitress. I was reading this from a critiquing perspective, I was thinking “She nailed it. That is EXACTLY what Zac would be thinking. Everything is in terms of trade for him still.” (as if I know him, lol!). Then, “Carl clenched the rail like a bitch.” Spot on! Zac has not been out of prison long enough to smooth the rough edges. Rather than say “Zac has rough edges” you show that with all of these spectacular little nuances. I have read it several times over and I like it more each time. Also, I was struck by the words themselves. . .the meticulous choosing of each word on the page is evident. I know it can be labor intensive to really agonize like that over what sometimes can be viewed as picking nits, (“what’s a better, more perfect synonym for “exultant?””) but it gives us, or me at least, the motivation to put in the time because it really pays off for you here.

One small thing, I will throw my hat in with a previous poster and say that, while the imagery is really top notch, I think (in order for it to have proper impact when you want it to) you need to watch that you don’t overdo. I am not sure I can explain it any better, but there does come a point where it can overwhelm the story/action and become a bit of a distraction. I do not necessarily think you crossed the line in this bit, but it was a close call for me and it may be something that you want to keep an eye on in the rest of the novel. Just my .02!

That said, close to perfect in my opinion and I would buy it in a heartbeat. Congrats! I only wish I had chosen a different week to send mine in!!!!!

27 01 2010
Christine

Oh, and one more quick thing (because apparently my above long winded post wasn’t enough!) I think I did get the foot thing. I took it that he was blocking out the light and as less lights were visible it was a sign he was slipping. Was that the case?
Also, I liked his lack of reaction to the puke. I felt like, he was concerned for the girl. And, moreover, before he could react, the seriousness of boys situation diverted his attention. I felt that his LACK of reaction DID give us insight into his character. He is mature and caring. Someone’s life was in danger, so what’s a little puke in the scheme of things? It made me like him MORE!

27 01 2010
Jeannie Lin

Such rich detail! Every moment had me riveted and Rachelle made a great point — the scene keeps on building and building with each paragraph. Not a sentence wasted.

27 01 2010
Cynthia Justlin

Great excerpt! I’m definitely hooked. You’ve captured Zac’s POV so well. I really felt the tension in him throughout and the building suspense.

27 01 2010
L.A. Mitchell

Huge thanks to everyone for the feedback. I LOVE it, especially the parts that make you say, “Hmm…”

Mary, I think it was a conscious choice to make that line subtle since it’s for the mainstream market, though that is his story goal in a nutshell. I have to ensure the reader gets on board at that sentence and establishes a rooting interest. Thanks for your comment 🙂

Christine, you’re right about the lights. I wanted the reader to *see* the boy slipping instead of just telling. I’m also laughing about the puke and thinking it can’t be the worst thing compared to what he must have seen in prison, right? lol.

27 01 2010
Marilyn Brant

L.A.~what a pleasure to read this piece! You’re wonderful at creating atmosphere and vivid images. I was right there at the Ferris wheel with Zac. Good luck with this!

Rachelle and Leigh~*waving* Hi, ladies!! 🙂

28 01 2010
Dee S

Loved your opening scene. i’m there. And our description of the ferris. The way you’ve weaved in Zaz’s back story makes me want to know more about him. What did he do to end up in Jail? Makes me wonder if he’s always been so cynical or if circumstances made him that way. And who’s the woman? And his brother? I certainly want to find out more about this wounded man. Great descriptions for Carl and the girlfriend.
You should, however, have more reaction from Zac when his uniform is all gunked up and a little more detail on the trapped person.
Overall, I loved it! Want to read more.

28 01 2010
Jennifer North

Wow! I loved this, and not just because I’m partial to the setting (there’s something sooo intriguing about amusement parks and the rides and the people who work them), but also because of the way the writing truly evokes the setting and, in turn, serves us up with a terrific backdrop and introduction to the hero. All the grit, spectacle and slice-of-stuff is here. Great job!!!

31 01 2010
Grace

Amazing use of language. Very tight but still evocative. Crossed fingers that you sell it!

1 02 2010
Sally

Wow! Great job on “painting” Zac! I feel like I already have a grasp on what kind of guy he is and he’s definitely a hero I’d root for. 🙂 I was a little confused about what was going on with the gears and whatnot toward the end, but no doubt…Zac seems like the kind of guy to get it all under control.

Hurry up and get this story published, so we can read more! 😀

1 02 2010
Tessa

Boy, are you going to be a strong contender when all of the finalists are picked. Excellent details here and it put me right into the story. It’s one of those openings that if you didn’t have the time to read, you’d try to find time so you could find out what was next. When I read I always look for the details and how the writer uses it.

I also love character development. I thought how you describe Zac was outstanding. I got to know him and like him very easily.

The only part that confused me a little was the same as what others have said. Super job and the best of luck to you.

1 02 2010
L.A. Mitchell

@Marilyn-I’m so glad you liked it. Thank you!

@Dee-I like that it raised the cynical question in your mind. Guess you’ll have to read more to find out 😉

@Jennifer-The setting actually came before character with this one, which is unusual. The Ferris wheel, in reverse, becomes a means for him to *go back*.

@Grace-Thanks so much for taking the time to read it 🙂

@Sally-I like my heroes a little rough around the edges. Glad you do, too 😉 Thanks for the well-wishes.

@Tessa-It’s good to have an almost-consensus when I go back to edit. Thanks for your comment.

2 02 2010
Christine

I second what Tessa said. I have read all the finalist from the past three years and although I will continue to submit each week for the experience, I think you have really set the bar with this LA! Just my .02

24 02 2010
Gwen

Hi, L.A. – I second everything Rachelle said. Your writing is top-notch and the characterization and suspense sucked me right in. Well done!

2 03 2010
L.A. Mitchell

@Christine…how sweet of you to say 🙂 Thank you!

@Gwen…I really loved your opening, too. Very gripping and visceral. Awesome!

3 03 2010
Marsha R. West

Boy, I’m impressed, Laura. The details are great, and I agree with the person above who said Zac’s ignoring the puke spoke volumes about his maturity. Good writing, left me wanting to know what’s next. Marsha

4 03 2010
TWM

Liked it even better the second time through kiddo!

9 03 2010
Christine Witthohn, Agent

REALLY liked this and wanted to keep reading.
This is a tough genre to navigate and it’s even more difficult to make yourself stand out.

Having said that, if you continue the level of rich writing throughout the story and your plot and character remain interesting, I think you’ll have a real winner on your hands.

Nicely done 🙂

11 03 2010
Laura Bradford

I think your writing is rock solid and you really made your sample quite rich with detail. Zac comes through as a fully realized character and I feel like in a few short paragraphs, I have a good grasp of who he is. I was kind of confused about several items…why did he say the ride was closed for the season when there was a line full of people? I hadn’t gotten the sense that it was the end of the night and it was time to close down so saying that seemed odd and arbitrary. Also he said that it wouldn’t be safe to ride, then he lets Carl and friend on anyway. Or had you meant it wouldn’t be safe for them to ride together? This is a nit pick but wouldn’t the slipping kid be discovering gravity, not zero gravity? Despite my confusion about a couple of elements, overall I think it is an example of strong writing. Nicely done!

12 03 2010
Theresa Stevens

This is topnotch writing. I not only understood the characters and setting, but I got hints of what was to come and the ways this character might seek redemption. Very deftly done.

There are one or two small quibbles, but they’re very nitpicky. I didn’t understand the Barbie heels line, and I think some of the other commenters mentioned a few places where clarity was elusive, such as the bulbs. It’s hard to know when readers won’t be able to visualize things as you intend them to, but this is where trusted beta readers can help. Make sure everything is perfectly clear to your test readers, and you’ll have a winner.

This line caught my attention–
wind-whipped from the shifting tides of sea and air, heavy from the notion of good things ending, blanched from the sun’s relentless watch

If you notice, you have two images related to change (shifting and ending), and then you have the final blanched sun image which is static. Is there any way to tweak that final image to keep that sense of change? Maybe a different verb in place of watch? …the sun’s relentless circling/arcing/some other dynamic motion verb that ties us back to the cycles of the natural worlds. Small detail, I know, but fixing this will really solidify the impact of that opening line.

All in all, a very good piece. Great job.

13 03 2010
elizabeth Pomada

Hello Kylie, I really do like the setting here–reminded me of my growing up in Long Branch, New Jersey. But I’m taken aback by this hard, older, hero. And the pace, the suspense, is super! But the word choices really need attention. Many just don’t fit. And a reader would be hard-pressed to see this as the beginning of a romance–especially since the heroine isn’t even in the crowd surrounding this accident-in-the-making, admiring the hero’s actions. But don’t give up! It’s an intriguing idea.
Cheers,
Elizabeth Pomada

13 03 2010
L.A. Mitchell

@Marsha, @TWM-Thanks for reading it 🙂

@Christine Witthohn-Thank you so much for your time and your kind words.

@Laura Bradford-I really appreciate the feedback and questions you raised. I guess in my mind, he sent the line away because of the wind, because it was almost closing of the night and the season, because he was just *done*. The reason he let Carl on was because he wanted to spare Carl’s friend any more grief than he knew she already endured. What would one more turn hurt? He had to offload the passengers anyway. I think he identified with her in that moment and that made him accessable to the reader. I’ll look at ways to convey this more clearly. And the zero-gravity thing…you’re absolutely right. How to take him from a zero gravity home-run with his girlfriend to fully embracing gravity in a fall is a wonderful juxtaposition I should be able to change and capitalize on. Many thanks 🙂

@Theresa Stevens-I’ve looked at that Barbie heels line, too. I think that’s a similie that may have missed its mark. And, what a great catch on that line you pulled out. The parallelism just isn’t there in the last portion. Since it’s in the opening paragraph, it has to be there. Thanks so much for the feedback!

@Elizabeth Pomada-I’m so glad it captured the setting I was shooting for…it’s a million miles away from where I am now, so it resides firmly in my imagination. You’re right, the heroine is not present to see his heroics, but because it’s a mainstream w/RE, she plays a vital, non-typical romance heroine role. Your comments are so appreciated 🙂

16 03 2010
Esi Sogah

Hi L.A.–interesting stuff. I like the idea that Zac is clearly a man with history. I especially like that we’re not immediately told why he was in jail, or that he was framed. It makes him complicated, and those are the characters that I like the best. I did get a good feel for the atmosphere, but I think sometimes the descriptions and similes/metaphors got in the way of the plot coming through. I wasn’t always clear on what was and wasn’t happening, or who was where. Zac clearly has a vivid mind, so make sure you draw the distinction between his impression of things, and what is actually happening.

Happy Writing!

16 03 2010
Brenda Chin

The writing in this excerpt is top notch, however, I’m afraid I had trouble getting into it. While the characterization of the hero is very well done, he’s not the type of character I’d identify with, nor is the abuse he takes something easily understand. As well, the situation itself isn’t much of a hook – we have no idea where the story will go from here. It’s just a moment in time…but we have no idea what it means in the grand scheme of things.

I’m sorry I wasn’t as crazy about this story as the others were. However, I do wish you the best of luck in finding a home for it.

17 03 2010
Deb Werksman

This one was a winner for me. Very, very strong POV and you tell just enough to have the reader intrigued. I wanted to read more. Where is this going? How is our hero going to survive? It’s clear the odds are stacked against him–can he overcome? I’m really rooting for him already.

24 03 2010
Vicki Bendau

Dear L.A.

What a top notch job you’ve done showing us Zac and his world. Your writing is absolutely captivating. It had me riveted. I love it whenever someone’s voice and style brings me out of my chair. That’s when I am really able to understand how writing works. It gives me a sense of possibility to see how others do it. Your piece did that for me.

Thanks.
Vicki




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