This last month, The Kill Zone, a blog of best-selling thriller authors, invited a limited number of novice writers to send in the first page of their works in progress to be critiqued.
I submitted the introduction to a novella titled Skin-Deep Motives, a stand-alone hard-boiled thriller to introduce my grunge operatives, Matt Grudge and Leslie Crow.
Jordan Dane posted the critique. You can read the sample of my original intro and her enlightening comments here. She provided me with stronger input for my prose than I’ve ever received in a rejection letter. I hope the generous authors over at The Kill Zone do this again next year.
Truthfully, their commentary and opinions stung a little. My writer’s pride felt like it was being removed from a cage match on a stretcher. However, my craft was honed from the experience. It’s put me closer to the summit of releasing a tight suspense story that will benefit the brand I want to establish and entertain readers.
When you’re done soaking up Jordan’s comments, please click back here and read the revised and complete introduction to Skin-Deep Motives. Comments are welcome.
* * *
Regaining consciousness, I felt a burning throb in my biceps and shoulders.
I took stock of my condition. The inside of my lacerated mouth tasted of copper. My handcuffed wrists were chafed and raw. A sharp pain burst in my chest with every breath, as my lungs pressed against broken ribs.
The bright light from a florescent beam struck me in the face and lingered, pulling me out of my fog. Working my jaw, a warm mouthful of blood and saliva dribbled down my chin. I opened my left eye slowly, painfully, my right too swollen to operate.
A cloud of flies buzzing around my naked, sweaty body tipped me off to the overwhelming stench of manure and rotting flesh. It told me the makeshift torture hostel where I was suspended could've been inside a barn or a slaughterhouse. The tattoo artist whose murder I'd been investigating owned a horse ranch in Carver.
Dark shadows materialized in the light. The chemicals I’d been slipped back at the nightclub still had such a distorting effect on my sight, my abductors morphed between being one person, sometimes three. The knockout drug also screwed with my hearing, making it difficult to comprehend what they were saying.
Until my attention fixed on another threat.
“. . . that Pocahontas bitch you run with can't save you, or herself, now. We know she's close to mounting a rescue. Assassins at the convention will shred her to pieces."
I tried to stall them. I moaned a verse of “Come As You Are", the last song I remembered hearing before I couldn't defend myself in the ambush.
"This cat thinks he's got lives left," one of my attackers laughed.
“You dumb son of a bitch," an accomplice said. "I told you not to give him too strong a dose.”
“Would you both shut your mouths and relax,” a feminine, whiskey-soaked voice with a Dutch accent said. “He’s just pretending to be a vegetable to bide time. Zap him.”
My head snapped back and I screamed into wooden rafters, as a charge of electricity at my navel coursed through my muscles and nerve endings. After the brief jolt was cut off, my body swung back and forth like a metronome.
“Good,” the throaty-sounding goddess approved. “Next time he doesn’t answer correctly, hit him for a full minute. Matthew, can you hear me?”
I lifted my head up long enough to nod, then grinned.
"I've had tattoos hurt worse than anything you can do to me," I said, spitting blood.
“Charmer. Apart from Leslie, who else knows about my operation? By the way, you missed.”
“Operation?” I gurgled, a stream of snot oozing from my nostril. “Human trafficking pipeline you mean.”
“If political correctness makes your pain justified, yes," she admitted in a soothing voice, like she was reading a faery tale to a child before bedtime. "Human trafficking pipeline. Give me the names of the individuals whom you’ve told.”
“Yeah,” interrupted a brute voice. “So we can pick a construction site with a foundation big enough to sink you all in.”
“Quiet. Whether someone lives or dies is my decision."
I mulled over my response for a minute.
“Well? I’m waiting, Matthew.”
“You put out a hit on a client of mine,” I said. “An artist I've sworn to protect. Suck. My. Tattooed. Dick.”
I screamed some more as the electrodes were held against my genitals this time for a full minute. One of the fillings in my mouth snapped off and somehow I swallowed it.
“Gross,” the lackey complained. “He pissed on my suit. May I be excused so I can clean up?”
“Yes, but come right back.”
I heard the flick of a lighter, then smelled the rich tobacco scent of a cigarette that couldn’t be domestic.
“There are infinite ways I can make you suffer,” the bitch said. “I can cut you a thousand times, but the last thing I want is to mutilate the artwork on your body. Maybe I'll rip the piercing out of your face and nipples. You have until I finish this smoke to furnish the names, then I’m going to plug the juice in until your eyeballs pop.”