Friday, July 1, 2016

Friday Feedback, Summer 2016: Giving the "F" You to Fear, False Starts and Fatigue (with links to prior years' semi-inspiring blogposts so as not to repeat myself ad nauseam)

Well, well, well,

Look at YOU, hot stuff.

You're here.

Which means you're writing.

Which means you found a way to tiptoe (or blaze) past the wall of fear, false starts and fatigue and start (or, keep going).

Which means you are ready and willing (or continuing) to put yourself out there and be brave.

Which means you are awesome. I say so.

So, take a moment to soak that in.

No, really.

Maybe stand up and look in the mirror and wave and say "hi" to that new (or continuing) shiny you.

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit cheeky or something -- hey, it's SUMMER! -- but I mean it.

I do.

It takes a LOT to be here.

It takes commitment.

It takes putting aside the excuses.

And, yes,

It takes being brave. 

Even if you're here but you're lurking. Even if you're not ready to share.

So, congrats. It's a little something miraculous and good.


In fact, every year when I gear up for Teachers Write, we all talk about this: HOW HARD IT IS TO JUST FUCKING WRITE. To put words to the page, try to hone and perfect them, and then, OMG, share them with the world. For critique. For criticism. For rejection. With the small, humble hope they connect.

And, every year (month, week) I meet aspiring writers who "would write" except for the two things that separate them from the rest of us:

They don't have the time. 

They're afraid.

Oh, right, yeah. Get in line. Take a ticket. Welcome to The Club.


That's a famous quote, I think. I wish I could remember who said it. In the meantime, attribute it to me.

Because here's the thing. We've got news for you: None of us have time (at least when we started out). We MAKE it. 

And, hell, yeah, we're all CONSTANTLY afraid.

I am afraid:

Every time I sit down to write a new story.
Every time I pass a rough manuscript on to a BETA reader.
Every time I pass one off to my agent (which I have just done. *pours wine)
Every time I wait on my editor (this is next and absolutely terrifying. . .).
Every time I wait on a critical review (these are coming in now on THE MEMORY OF THINGS).
Every time I wait to see how readers feel (see above. *switches to vodka)

Here's the truth, my lovely campers: 

Writing is a veritable sea of fear of rejection

On a small scale, and a grand scale. 


So, go buy yourself a fancy new swim suit (or wet suit or birthday suit) and wade on in! 

This is a great, safe place to start. Not just Teachers Write, but here on Friday Feedback, where my motto is, Brave is as Brave Does. Where we -- the published authors -- put ourselves out there with an excerpt from our own, new, raw, rough work for feedback, so that you might be brave enough to do so, too.

How does it work? Easy peasy:

Every week, I -- or one of my awesome guest authors -- will share a tiny bit of writing wisdom followed by an excerpt of our own ROUGH, UNPUBLISHED writing for your feedback. In return, we offer you the same opportunity: to share a brief excerpt in the comments for feedback from us (and other campers!). 

See? Simple and exciting. There are just a few more RULES:

1. The Feedback should be specific and go like this:

  • WHAT WORKS? (and why);
  • WHAT MIGHT NOT BE WORKING if anything (and why) and

Please note the order of those. Here at Friday Feedback, our first goal is to be encouraging. We appreciate the gems in one another's writing before we offer up constructive criticism.

2. The excerpts should not exceed three paragraphs, if long, five paragraphs if mostly dialogue or otherwise short.

There may be 30 - 50 excerpts up here on a busy week for me and/or my guest authors to read. If you put up more than the requested length, we do not promise to read. You may post excerpts through Saturday and I will check in, but I do not require my guest authors to read past close of business Friday. 

3. We ask you to remember this: there is only so much we can realistically glean from a brief excerpt out of context. 

Friday Feedback is intended to be instructional and inspiring, but our feedback out of context of a full work, must always be taken as merely that. Your job here is to take in the information as you will. Keep what you like. Toss out what you don't. In the end, you are the boss of your own writing.

4. You may be the recipient of one of my patented "Superspeed Flash Edits."

Okay, fine, they're not patented, whatever. Sometimes, if your excerpt lends itself to me doing one of these, I will do so: namely, zip through your piece editing for passive voice (where not intended) unneeded words, wrong punctuation, repetition, etc.

I will NOT edit your own unique voice or substantive writing. This is an exercise intended to demonstrate how revision/clean up/intentional writing can truly make our voices pop and shine.

If you do NOT want to be the recipient of a Superspeed Flash Edit for any reason, please message me at

And, I think that's it. If you want to be super brushed up on the rules, I probably cover them in more depth HERE or HERE

Otherwise, super excited, so here we go!

Since we've just begun our summer together, I figured our openings are a good place to start. This is the opening for a manuscript called IN SIGHT OF STARS that I just handed in to my agent . . . Remember that fear thing we were talking about up there? Triple it ten-fold (okay, fine, I know that's not good math) and add in some terror for good measure! 

Anyway, I won't tell you anything about it. Let's just see how it makes you feel. . . And if you want, in the comments, share a piece that might also make us feel.

So, without further ado: What works for you? What doesn't? Do you want to keep reading on?

Look forward to reading your work in the comments!

I know it even before I push the fucking door open. Sarah is in there, moving, in slow motion.
I cry out, but no sound comes. The pain is swift and excruciating.
I shouldn’t have come here. I know she can’t help me. She already told me she isn’t the one.
I jam my hands in my pockets, turn to go.
Someone – not Sarah – says something obnoxious. I know it’s that douchebag Abbott. I don’t give a shit. Screw them all. I’m done with this place soon. Done with all of them. My mother, and everything at Northhollow.
I reach the door, jam my hands harder, registering the metal in my pocket.
The X-acto knife.
I don’t know why I do it.
My brain says, show her. Show her how bad you hurt.
So I do. I cut.
The air grows cold and dizzying.
“Holy fuck, Alden! What the hell?”
Jesus. There’s way more blood than I thought.
I lie down on the cold tile floor. 
This pain will make that pain stop

xox gae

*please note that my mother in law passed yesterday (expectedly at the age of almost 90 after an extended illness) and the services are today. . . (please don't fill the comments with condolences!!). So, note that it may take me through Saturday to get to all the feedback. I promise I will!


  1. Thank you for your time Gae and the other authors too. Your excerpt works because of the raw emotion, the intensity. Yes, I want to keep reading. I want to know about what Alden knows, what his experience has been. You can just tell he has had enough life experience to last a lifetime in his, what I am guessing, 16 or 17 years? I think the best openings in MG/YA leave you with unanswered questions that you, as the reader, must seek out the answers. You did that for me. Thank you for sharing this.

    1. Thanks, Dana. I love seeing what people glean from the first sentences including stuff a reader can't yet know, like the fact that Alden is his last name. :D Yes, he is 17, almost 18. A graduating senior, if he makes it through the rest of this year. <3

    2. Hi Gae--I completely agree with Dana about your writing leaving me with unanswered questions that I want to find answers for. Does Alden wake up still at the (presumably) school? or in the hospital? Who helped him? What is his relationship to Sarah? How does his mom factor into his frustrations? I'm ready for the next section!

      My favorite lines follow "I reach the door,..." and my most favorite is "This pain will make that pain stop." That one's a keeper! I think many young adult readers who have struggled with rejection or other intense, negative emotions, can relate to the feeling that any escape, no matter how harmful, would be better than what they're currently experiencing. For teens (and many adults) relationships are all-consuming, especially when they end, and those impulsive decisions to get others' attention, like the one our boy Alden just made, usually only lead to more problems. As the all-knowing readers, we can see that, but Alden is still too much in his own hurting world to look ahead.

      I do have a question for you: how easy or difficult is it for you to write using such intense language? Even though I generally don't swear--the occasional "dammit" flies out when I'm stressed--as a reader, I appreciate an author's use of cuss words when it helps me know and understand a story's characters. I haven't read much YA; maybe this is pretty common ground? I'd love to hear your take.

      Thanks so much for sharing your opening with us! Brava!

    3. Mary, thank you for such insightful comments. So glad you are able to post now!!!

      As for the intense language: a. yes, very common in YA and as I am a huge fan (right or wrong) in real life of the F word, it comes WAY too easily to me to use it. Having said that, I often cut back after my first draft. . . after all, the voice needs to be of my characters, not of me (though author's voice always is in there). My first book had all the f-words removed after the rough drafts... knowing it was going to appeal to school/library and, more importantly, feeling it was okay to lose them as long as I could give Nick -- my MC -- strong enough language to ring true in very dark and difficult situations for him.

      In my second novel, there are no f words because they weren't needed and didnt seem authentic to character, story, or the feelings I wanted my readers to feel.

      In both The Memory of Things -- narrated by an almost 17 year old boy who is in the middle of 9/11 -- and here in this ms narrated by an 18 year old boy who is having a nervous breakdown after his father has killed himself -- the language came organically and felt authentic. But still, on revision, I will always make sure it is used only where I think it needs to be used, and others won't always agree. :D

    4. Wow Gae! I definitely want to keep reading! I love the descriptive language in your piece "the air grows cold and dizzying" and "I lie down on the cold tile floor" both actually gave me shivers. What I would hope to discover is the root of her pain and why that makes her feel like she must cut. Also, I feel like she may be in a type of rehab facility and if so how did she get there and what is her mindset on healing. I'll look forward to reading more soon. Thanks!

      My picture book - WIP
      The glob says to Samuel, “is it spring?” Samuel said, “Yes, it is a beautiful spring day.” “Who or what are you?” Samuel asked. “Umph”, Izzy said as she drags herself out of the mud. “I’m Izzy Turtle and I’ve been hibernating in this mud for seven months! I’m very dirty and quite tired of being under the water in the mud. I’m going to rinse off and go lay on that log to enjoy the sun. “Okay,” said Samuel. “We’ll see you later.”

      Izzy rinses the mud off her head, neck, legs and shell and crawls up on a long brown log. She stretches her neck and legs as far as she can and soaks up the wonderfully warm sun.
      As Izzy is warming up she hears something moving in the branches above her log and almost jumps into the water to safety until she realized it is Samuel and Cassie again. “Izzy, what are you and the other turtles doing on that log?” asked Samuel. “We are warming up in the sun. After hibernating all winter our bodies are cold and we need as much sun as possible after just waking up. “Wow”, says Samuel “that’s interesting” and he and Cassie scamper off to play tag until lunch.
      About a week later Izzy is feeling much better from all her time spent in the sun. Her body tells her it is now time to lay her eggs. Izzy knows about the pond not far from here where she will lay her eggs and she decides to begin her journey there tomorrow.
      As Izzy wakes up the next morning she is happy to see that it is another sunny day. After breakfast and saying goodbye to Samuel and Cassie she begins her journey. Walking through the grass is tough at times but she keeps on going. Soon Izzy steps off the grass and onto a hard surface. She has only taken about six steps when she feels herself being scooped up. She turns her head and sees a young girl holding her on a shovel. Izzy tries to wiggle off but the girl tilts the shovel so Izzy can’t move. The girl walks back to the pond Izzy just crawled from and sets Izzy near the edge of the water and walks off. Izzy is very frustrated.

      Just then, Samuel and Cassie come by and see Izzy. “What are you doing back?” asked Samuel. Izzy said, “I was on my way when a girl brought me back on a shovel.” “Why did she do that?” asked Cassie. “I don’t know but I’m leaving again tomorrow morning.” said Izzy.

  2. Good Morning Dearest Gae,

    As always, thank you for your indomitable encouragement.

    Your excerpt: I know cutters. What rings true for me in this piece is the extreme desperation of getting to the point of taking a blade from a dollar store pencil sharpener, the blade from a disposable razor or a piece of broken glass to skin. And, when that doesn't work....the use of salt and ice, a hot glue gun. I've sat in on sessions with all kinds of therapists who say...when it all boils down to it....cutting is simply a sucky, no good way of coping.

    The cutter I know best got/gets angry with other cutters because they are "fake" or "fashionable" cutters...such as the "cutting for Beiber" sillies. They don't cut for "real" reasons.

    So, what rings true for me in the excerpt is the point of no return....the knowing there is no place else to go but inward.

    What I would like to see....and likely exists in the next lines/paragraphs/story is the self-loathing of well as the trying to escape self-loathing with the badge of honor shit that cutters do. Tumblr is full of it. It's a sick sort of duality of self-loathing and pride....and kind of competition that horrifies me. I'm supposed to not react to this in the ways I do....but how the heck?!

    I think I"m volunteering to be a beta reader here.

    So, what works for me in your piece is the point of no return. What I wonder about is "handS" in "pocket". Maybe just a typo. But also, cutters have some ingenious places for their blades. Pockets are too easy. Inside a phone case, inside the seams of clothing, soles of shoes....ANYWHERE you've seen anything hidden in a show such as Orange is the New Black. There is a pride in these hiding spots too.

    I am compelled to keep reading because I want to keep going to see what rings true for me and the dear ones in my life that have overcome this experience. I believe they will either immediately dis a story like this or use it to grow. You have so much ability to make it the latter. Love ya, lady!

    1. Hi, Linda! thanks for all your appreciation and insight! Pocket is a typo! (thank you!!) it should be pockets! Fixed. The knife is NOT usually there, was shoved there in a moment of frenzy/fury: he was using it to open a sealed box and shoved it there when he found something that upset him, and he is not a cutter. It's an impulsive act... something he's never done before. Things you can't know yet, of course, from reading it!

      Love you back.

    2. Hi, Gae!

      I read your excerpt last Friday and I've been thinking about it. I use Xacto cutting tools for crafts and have had many an unhappy accident with them. An Xacto knife is not something you put in your pocket without having an accident way before shoving your hands in your pockets. The "safety" caps that come with it are lost easily, don't snap shut, can come off with the slightest of intents, and although I've thought I really don't need to be telling you any of this, the truth is, it keeps nudging at me to tell you. My husband and daughter both use Xacto knives for art and they agreed. A boxcutter would make more sense to us and would totally get the job done for Alden. Please don't be upset by this comment!

      I want to know: why Sarah was vocal about not being able to help. What did Alden need help with? Is it true that she can't or is it that she doesn't want to? If she doesn't want to, is it because she's afraid/mean/apathetic? Where is Alden going that he's so close to being done with everyone including his mom?

      I can imagine his surprise at the amount of blood that's spilling from his body. I hurt for him, because even after acknowledging this wasn't the plan, it would take away "that pain". That's a lot of pain for a kid to handle.

  3. Oh! and my excerpt!

    Eric knew that it was one hundred steps from the classroom door to the water fountain where the class line leader would stop and wait for Mr. Ahmed’s OK before turning the corner to the cafeteria.

    Looking down at his sneakers and counting steps was how he kept his hands and feet to himself, his mouth quiet and out of trouble while moving between doors at school. According to his counselor, Mrs. Grimes, a student couldn’t get in trouble if he kept hands and feet under control, mouth and attitude in check. Eric had had many chats with Mrs. Grimes this year.

    But, Eric was in trouble anyway. Carlos had sprinkled his chair with purple science-experiment water and then blew up when Eric retaliated with a spilled beaker.

    Stupid Carlos…..always poking…always trying to get me a detention, thought Eric.

    Well, this time both boys were in for working lunch.
    Mr. Ahmed walked between him and Carlos at the end of the line keeping the boys on either side of him in a wide caboose.

    Cooked vegetable smells grew stronger as the class turned right the fountain down a ramp leading to the cafeteria. Eric trailed his finger along the blue metal of the handrail counting steps from the corner.

    He was at fifty-eight when Jasmin stopped short in front of him and his nose bumped right into the space between her shoulder blades.
    Ow! Watch it….yelped Jasmin.

    Eric was beyond sorry. His frustration bubbled over and he felt himself hit something.

    When he looked up, there was blood on the painted cement wall over the hand rail and Mr. Ahmed’s mouth was opening and closing in front of his face….hot breath hitting him in bursts. His left hand was throbbing and his brain screamed only one word.


    1. Linda,
      Way to go putting your writing out there!!!!
      What works - I want to know Eric. You have shown us, the reader, that he is troubled. Already, I am rooting for him. The counting steps and the way he has to hold it all together reminds me of students I have known. This is such an important thing you have done!!!

      I keep on coming back to the word "sprinkled" and I wonder if it is too sweet and dainty for Carlos, since he was being such a jerk! LOL!

      I got to the part where it says, "He was at fifty-eight" and I thought room number, then realized he was counting still. Could you write, "fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight" to put us in the moment?

      Of course I am compelled to keep reading! I want to know what happened, how this poor kid who is having quite the day already, now just adds to the crappiness of it all! Thank you for sharing this with us!!!

    2. Thank you, Dana! Good eye for words. I agree with you on sprinkled and on showing the feel of counting....oh, that show don't tell gets me. Eric is a kid that I'm getting to know. I only write one scene at a time. I look forward to finding out where he's taking me.

    3. I like all the details you've included in this excerpt.

      I wondered a bit about the moment when "Eric was beyond sorry." It seems like he was absorbed in his counting and his own internal ways of coping with his feelings and I wonder if he would really even notice Jasmin and how she feels (and the need to say sorry to her). Just something to think about. I don't have the context or know much about this character, but just from this small bit of story, I'm intrigued and would read more.

    4. Nice! I can feel Eric's forced control as he walks and counts and waits. I am tense right there with him, waiting for him to slip up, but hoping he won't. I love the lines, "Looking down at his sneakers and counting steps was how he kept his hands and feet to himself, his mouth quiet and out of trouble while moving between doors at school. According to his counselor, Mrs. Grimes, a student couldn’t get in trouble if he kept hands and feet under control, mouth and attitude in check." I imagine he repeats this to himself over and over again in an effort to follow it! I'm curious how old this class is. It feels young, fourth or fifth grade, because they walk in a line and have a halfway point. Also the language of the counselor sounds young. In rereading, I'd like a little more at the moment when Eric crashes into Jasmin. His reaction is so strong and so violent. What is running through his head before slamming his fist into the wall? Does Jasmin start crying and other girls cluster around her while glaring at him so that he knows he'll get in trouble? Does the boy behind him think he did it on purpose and start jeering at him? Does he panic and imagine the consequences instantly- he's going to get suspended for sure now!?
      I enjoyed the read- thanks for sharing!

    5. You've gotten a bunch of great feedback so far, Linda, and I see that you are just getting to know Eric, so I think I'll just chime in like this:

      I love this part:

      According to his counselor, Mrs. Grimes, a student couldn’t get in trouble if he kept hands and feet under control, mouth and attitude in check. Eric had had many chats with Mrs. Grimes this year.

      But, Eric was in trouble anyway.

      I love the juxtaposition and power of the first and last lines one following the other (with the sentence in between) because it tells us SO much about Eric - we get to see him feeling what he feels through this experience that even though he's trying to listen to his counselor -- heeding his words -- it isn't working yet. it's a lovely little section.

      Good stuff. Keep going. <3

    6. Hi Linda! As I read this, I immediately thought of my own two boys who work so hard to not touch things or bother others or climb on things. It has to be so hard to be a boy in school who has to listen and sit still and not touch others when that's how he understands the world. So I think you definitely captured that. My one suggestion would be to look at the sentence: "Eric was beyond sorry." Sometimes I wonder if my kids realize what they're often it feels like they just do without really thinking too much and I wonder if in this moment, Eric might punch the wall with frustration but without realizing it. So I wonder if that one little sentence telling us he is sorry might either not be needed or if maybe a thought might go through his head and illuminate how he's feeling instead - like he thinks to himself, "Why can't you just get things right?" and then he punches the wall without even realizing he did it? Just an idea. I'm glad you are exploring this character and excited for you to keep going!

    7. Thanks for sharing your opening with us, Linda! As I read, I grinned and felt a little sad at the same time. I've taught elementary students for many years, and I have lots of memories of little Erics. You've definitely captured his character here.

      I'm stuck on one tiny detail: the spilled beaker. Could you be more specific about how Eric retaliates with it? As an adult reader who watches far too many crime shows, all I can picture is him using it like a shank! (Awful, I know.) Clearly that's not your intent for a young audience; is it supposed to be that he splashes Carlos out of an impulsive overreaction? or throws the beaker at him?

      I sure want to keep reading to find out how Eric survives his day at school and learns from his mistakes. I hope he has a loyal friend and other caring adults, like Mrs. Grimes, who stick with him.

      I'm really impressed with your writing, and I encourage you to continue to develop this piece. Much success to you!

  4. (This is the start of a MG manuscript WIP)

    I knew I shouldn’t have done it, but I had no choice. The line was long and stretched from the scale all the way out the door. Every kid couldn’t SEE the number but they sure could HEAR the nurse yelling them for the nice old lady-volunteer, who must have been hard of hearing, to write them down.

    Running was my only option. Who wouldn’t? I mean, if you had figured out, just that very morning, that you were the heaviest kid in your whole fifth grade class and were taken to be weighed in public so everyone could see and hear THE NUMBER, then you would have done exactly what I did.

    It wasn’t the best choice for tons of reasons. For one, it was my first day in a school I had only been in twice before and one of the days was this very one. Second, I had no idea where to go when I ran. And third, I probably made a fool of myself. Probably, every kid in my class was talking about me. It’s entirely possible that I ruined my whole fifth grade year in 3.2 seconds.

    Some say you should face your fears, love who you are, but when it comes to the humiliation of THAT, well, there’s no way I could stay.

    1. Dana,
      Thank you for putting yourself out there and sharing.

      WHAT WORKS: The anxiety that a heavy teen feels, knowing they're about to be weighed in front of everyone (*raises hand)... I can feel this in the pit of my stomach. Nicely done.

      WHAT'S NOT WORKING (FOR ME): I'm confused by the timeline. Here: Paragraph 2 "...If you had figured out, just that very morning, that you were the heaviest kid..."
      WHY: How does the MC know this already, if s/he is still standing in line?

      Also, here: Paragraph 3 " was my first day in a school I had only been in twice before and one of the days was this very one..."
      WHY: How could this be the first day, if s/he has been here before?

      WOULD I KEEP READING: Yes, because I want to know more about the MC and what his/her story is. Keep going!

    2. Thank you Wendy!! I really appreciate the feedback! I need these first paragraphs to work well. I have some revising to do!!!

    3. Oh, you just gave me a flashback. I was 13 and being glib about a girl in my class that had put on weight to my mom. She made me get on our bathroom scale right then and there and face "my number". Ouch! I had put on weight too....and was never that heavy again until pregnant with my son.

      Weight and body image are such a part of girl and womanhood. And, doesn't it just figure that THAT day there was a deaf old woman (probably skinny...or the grandma of a skinny girl) who was volunteering to take down "the numbers". I'm getting clammy just thinking about it.

      What works: the feel of this....facing total humiliation in MS is, like worse than death.

      What I wonder about (I just can't ever say "not working") is why it's only the second day in the school...AND one of the days was this very one. I wonder if you can state that in a short, punchy way. And, do you intend to use the word "tons" for tons of reasons? You's just a word related to weight and I don't know if you want to do that in that spot. If so, great!

      Yes, I would keep reading because.....the flashbacks for me. I want to know that life works out for this girl. It's hard to be heavy in middle school

    4. Well done! You can feel her dread and you've created a horrendous situation. First day at a new school, heaviest kid and a weigh in. I love the first line, "I knew I shouldn't have done it, but I had no choice." You already know she's made a bad choice and there will be unforeseeable consequences for the reader to discover.

      My question is about the reality of the circumstances. I would think educators would be aware of the mental and social consequences to weighing everyone & calling out the numbers. I've never heard of such thing. Is this a cultural experience that others are aware of? Maybe it's something that happens in the States, but not Canada. I do need a little clarification there.

      I would keep reading to know how she gets out of this and adapts to her new school life.

    5. Hi, Dana, you've gotten some awesome feedback! And, I, like the others, already care about this character because you've given us a situation we can all relate to and want to see have a happy outcome. Invested = good.

      I have a question whether your MC is male or female, and I feel like knowing would be a detail that would tell us a lot in a short span of time. Other readers have assumed female, I was immediately thinking male, though I'm not sure why... but it leads me to be very curious and interested and I think would invest us even further in this character to know.

      Here's a big wonder I have. I love your first sentence, but the sentences right after caused me some confusion too, e.g. "Every kid couldn't see the number" is awkward. Does that mean some could but not every kid? Did you chose to say it this way for a reason?

      And then, when I got to the last line of the excerpt it was so powerful and I wondered if, tweaked, it is really your first line because it does some of the same things, but really packs a punch:

      Some say you should face your fears, love who you are, but when it comes to THAT humiliation, well, there’s no way I could stay.

      Keep playing with it. Keep honing. Keep going. :D

    6. I wanted to add that Nora Raleigh Baskin will be doing a great lesson on first lines next week, so you can think about it more then, and, in the meantime, keep moving FORWARD.

      Never worry about perfecting a first line (or even first chapter) until you know what your story truly is. They change SO often!

  5. Oh yes - I want to keep reading and yes it works. After the first two paragraphs, I want to keep reading, because I want to know who the narrator is, why Sarah can/can't help, and where they are. At the end of the piece, I want to keep reading, because I NEED to know if he(?) got the help he needed and how this scene works out (or doesn't).

    Just two spots that might be polished up in later passes - "I lie down on the stone floor." The word /lie/ seems to imply a deliberate choice; in this scene he I would think that he would have crumpled, sunk, fallen, etc. I imagined cutting the wrist and wondered if the description of the volume of blood was accurate.

    What's really working, though, is the voice. You've completely captured the raw emotion that I imagine someone contemplating cutting might have. You are able to evoke tears in your reader from the first page. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Hah, thanks, Margaret! Not a wrist, but ultimately will have to make sure such details are accurate... thanks for reminding me to think about that! Will think about those other word choices too. Glad the voice is working so far...

  6. Gae,

    What works: What Linda said, but also... This excerpt makes me want to keep reading to find out what happened with his relationship with Sarah to get him to this point. His pain is palpable. I like that the story is from a teen boy's POV. We don't often get that with this topic. What doesn't work...nothing at this point.

    My Excerpt:

    I frame the lake house in a smoke ring. Several of them actually. After years of practice, I’ve gotten pretty damn good at blowing perfect smoke rings.They’re fucking works of art.

    I smash one cig in the ashtray, and light another. People are filtering in to the party at the Dalyrimples’ place. That’s where I’m headed too. As soon as I can work up the nerve.

    This will be the last year I’ll make it to the cottages. I’m heading off to college in the fall, a year ahead of everyone else. Ivy-Fucking-League. Full ride. Thank you Bill Gates.

    I blow more smoke rings. Sam Smith sings my mood on the car stereo. A trio of curvy girls jump out of a car and flow toward the cottage. Their chariot, a shiny, black BMW, blows past me. I don’t recognize the middle-aged man at the wheel. He glares at me, and I can almost hear him: “Hands off, nigger!”

    I laugh. If only he knew.

    1. Oh, this provokes so many questions! Your voice is strong and compelling from the get-go. Smoke rings give a sense of languor or sitting back and watching the world go by. I imagine your narrator to be an observer. One who takes his time to react or speak, maybe someone who cares how others see him. Does he want to project calm, cool, and collected? Is it an act? I see a bit of his superiority in his thinking about others and college later.

      I want to know why he needs to work up the nerve to go to the party after years of doing so. I wonder if the middle-aged man driving off is black, too. It would make a difference. Where does this take place? What time period? Why does he laugh when the man yells 'hands off'? It all makes me want to read on!

    2. Do I know which Wendy this is? This is so fucking good. All voice. Such a punch in the gut. And that last two lines.

      You don't need me. Keep going.

    3. WWS. :) And thank you. A bit of a departure from my usual MG historical ms.

    4. I was thinking maybe, but then it was SO different... it's really good. Wow. Go, you! (and this time in the reply your name showed up the usual way... :))

    5. Wow is right! Those last two lines are such a zinger! I want more, more more!

    6. Wendy, thank you for sharing. I'm feeling this is a contemporary YA. I definitely want more. I sense the MC is conflicted about the Ivy League college. I have questions - Why is s/he attending a year earlier than friends? Is MC older or did s/he finish HS early? Of course the last two lines grab me. I definitely want more. I am wondering about voice - there was no hint of African-American dialect earlier. I wonder if the MC will be code-switching later. Is the word /nigger/ something s/he is using to shock others? How will that play out? I know these questions will be answered later.

    7. Wendy, I really like how you start this with an action, but one that is meditative, pulling us into layers of thought. You've packed so many microtensions into it. Not just smoking but blowing smoke rings; not ordinary smoke rings, but able to control them well enough to create a frame; not only rebel enough to smoke, but to be a teen who's been smoking enough years to have an older person's skill with smoke rings - all in in a few lines. The setting adds more mystery than if it were in town or in a suburb. There's a definite sense something is about to start, and I am curious. My one wondering would be similar to Margaret's. Without any prior sense of dialect or culture, the n-reference does not arrive naturally. I can see where this is intentional -- ironic, a challenge, accusatory. I also know that dialect would not necessarily be apparent in an Ivy League-bound African American from many parts of the country, so this may fit as the story progresses. Keep going -- I love how much you hint at in such a small excerpt and would love to read more.

  7. Hello :) Here I come out of lurking! Jumping right in...
    On your excerpt: I want to know who Sarah is. I want to know what happened before all this! When I started reading, for some reason, I envisioned a dorm room or some kind of shared space. Because I thought of a college atmosphere, I was surprised that the character mentioned that he was done with his mother and all of the town. Is Sarah his mother? I know, this is out of context, but that would be interesting and could make a lot of sense. I also wondered about the X-acto knife. Is it there because he plans to use it to hurt himself? As I read, I thought that Alden must be an artist and that he kind of surprised himself with the cutting. The level of mystery and surprise at how fast things escalated really worked for me. Abbot and Alden sound like very preppy-boy names. Northhollow sounds like an exclusive place. Are you set on the name for the place? I find place names to be very difficult.

    Here is my excerpt: (yikes)
    Lootie is the kind of guy that jangles when he walks. It’s not just that his keys bounce at his hip, but his entire body has a loose quality in motion. It’s like he’s got a blown suspension system. So, I see him leaving the arcade out of my peripheral vision. I’ve been sitting up the street on a saggy library bench and I’ve been trying not to look like I’m scoping out the Oddball. He’s my uncle, but I’ve got no real reason to talk to him. In fact, dad’s gone as far as to tell me to keep my distance from all the local relatives. But I’ve got questions. So, I catch up to him just as he’s hopping into a mud encrusted Chevy truck. He must see me out of his peripheral vision, too. Because without so much as a sideways glance he orders “Hop in, kid! I’ve got answers.”

    I manage the heavy swing of the door and an awkward leap that lands me in a brittle patch of sun scorched bench seat as the truck roars to life. Lootie starts down Main street and takes a quick left down Hamilton. I know some folks wouldn’t be pleased to see him with me, either. We’re headed toward the interstate. Which would make no good sense, except the long stretch to the Johnsville exit has little traffic and no pedestrians. It’s perfect for a Q&A.

    I look over at him and, for the first time, I see that he’s the spitting image of my mother. Smiling eyes shaded by the brim of a dusty ball cap, sharp jawline obscured by chin-scruff, and the unmistakeable tilt of a Malloy nose all right there. He’s the baby of the family, five years younger than my mom and I’d conveniently put all that information aside in my quest for answers about the night-travels, but now that I see him, I miss her. I miss her so much.

    1. What works---"hop in kid I've got answers" This is where you've snagged me as a reader. How did he know she had questions?

      I wonder why the physical family traits are so important? Why is the mother gone? What are night-travels?

      I want to know the answers to these I'm reading more!

    2. I love all the description you give and I want to know why the people in the town are against his uncle. Keep up the good writing.

    3. I love your language- "It’s like he’s got a blown suspension system" and "I manage the heavy swing of the door and an awkward leap that lands me in a brittle patch of sun scorched bench seat as the truck roars to life." Your choice of words in descriptions of place, people, and trucks sets a tone of small town life. Your MC has an observant eye, is aware of how others might see him (?) and is concerned. The one thing that threw me was while describing his uncle as the spitting image of mom, you describe the stubble on his chin! Maybe parentheses is enough to fix it so I don't envision mom that way! ". . .sharp jawline (obscured by chin-scruff). . . ) I'd be interested to read more!

    4. Welcome, Audrey! YAY for jumping in. I'm going to just echo and piggy back on Ms. Caldwell's feedback, because those were the voice lines that hooked me too! The blown suspension and brittle sun scorched set . Wow. I'm stealing! Okay, not really. Okay maybe. :D Great voice! Lots of conflict introduced and things to hold the readers curiosity! Keep going!

    5. Yes! I agree with all the other comments. Your language and descriptions are outstanding.You've lined up a series of questions that absolutely would keep me reading!

    6. Ms. Caldwell, thank you for the helpful suggestion on clarifying the stubbly-chin thing...I think I have an idea about how to work that out :)

  8. Good morning!

    What works? Definitely Alden's voice. I love the tough voice, yet obviously Alden is struggling on the inside. What doesn't work? Nothing. Obviously there is information I don't know, but that's what made me want to keep reading.

    Here is my excerpt:

    Jill and Jen are having a blast. Splashing and thrashing. I look longingly at them, their eyes scrunched inward to block out the water and sun's reflection. Who knows how they were even able to get each other wet with their eyes closed.

    "Come on, silly! Get in here!" Jen shouted.

    I watch from the edge and watch the tide roll over my toes. I could go out there. No one would notice anything with all that splashing. Right? I inched toward the water. It was over 100 degrees outside, but my teeth still chattered with anticipation. Just do it, I told myself. I'm not just wearing my bathing suit; I have shorts on too. My confidence heightens a bit, and then my head sinks down. No girls wear shorts over their bathing suits in the water.

    1. What works are the questions I can sense there are answers for coming later in the story....
      why the timidity?
      why the shorts?
      why do the friends not notice the timidity and the shorts?
      Does this girl cut? Has she been assaulted? Does she simply feel bloated? Is she pregnant?
      There are possibilities in this!

    2. Hi, Sarah! So much fun to see you posting here (I don't remember you posting here before, have you?! If not... yay, yay, yay! Well, either way.

      What works, is that sense of one kid longing to be brave while she watches her friends being brave. That not fitting in. That wanting to be a part of something that you can't be, because you can't bring yourself too... it raises all sorts of questions and presents immediate conflict which is exactly what hooks your reader. We already care about this character.

      What you need to watch - and I still have this problem myself -- is switching from writing in present tense to past tense and back again. Are you tell this story in present ("Jill and Jen ARE having a blast") or past ("Jen shouted") (3rd para: "I WATCH or I inchED, etc)???

      I find that especially early on, we should write in whatever tense is more natural for us or this will happen a lot. My natural voice is present, so if I try to write a ms in past, I'm constantly veering into present. If you're aware, you can always go back and fix. Also ask yourself, well which tense serves my story better and why?

      Good stuff here! Keep going. <3

  9. Wow, Gae! You got my attention. If I had more of the story in front of me, I would keep reading. The intense action works for getting the reader's attention. What I really like is the language (not that I use that kind of language - yeah right:) because it will hook that reluctant high school reader (there are too many reluctant high school readers).

    What doesn't work? Nothing. Like you wrote in the introduction, it is difficult to critique such a small excerpt, but I will write that I couldn't find anything (Do I want to learn more about the characters? Absolutely. Do I want to learn about the conflict? Absolutely. But all of that would come with more of the story.).

    Before I post mine, I have to share that I laughed out loud when I read the title of your post (I already had the small excerpt that I wanted to post in mind). You'll see why when you read it:
    Beep. The adrenaline rush pushes me off the starting block. My body is full extended when I enter the water. With one strong dolphin kick, this was truly my best start of the season. As I surface for my first arm stoke, I see the thin rope three feet in front of me.

    The rope.

    My second stroke is one that gets me to the rope. I hang on the rope with my enthusiasm completely deflated and the adrenaline is gone, replaced with anxiety.
    Who false started? I look to my right and then my left and instantly know that my teammate in lane two has left the starting block early, resulting in disqualification from the event.
    I tread water slowly as I make my way back to the starting block for a second start. With one swift motion, I pull myself back up onto the deck.
    “Benning, you needed those points, because you aren’t going to win this race. Now that Roth is gone, it’s just you and me. You are going down!” says Carter.
    Ryan Carter, former friend, and now my biggest rival in the league is striking his “muscle man” pose for his team. He is the most arrogant swimmer, more like person, that I know. How were we ever friends?

    THANK YOU, Gae, for this opportunity to share. This is my favorite part of the week. Happy writing (and swimming;)!

    1. Hey, Andy! I'm (always) so happy to see you here -- and anywhere. One of the best parts of my week, too!

      What I LOVE here: your short truncated sentences interspersed with the longer ones. They really pack such a punch. "The rope." SO good. Those two little words because of HOW you placed them.

      Your dialogue is also terrific and I love that last line -- total hook. Good work.

      Things to watch: switching tenses (I think we've discussed this before). This feels so far like it really lends itself to present tense -- action stories or moments really do ... but that word "was" in the first para throws me. I think it may be past because it *just* happened, but you could just say, "One strong dolphin kick, and I have my best start of the season."

      Also, watch for repetition of words that takes away from the shiny "pop" of your story. So maybe in this section:

      As I surface for my first arm stoke, I see the thin rope three feet in front of me.

      The rope.

      My second stroke is one that gets me to the rope. I hang on the rope with my enthusiasm completely deflated and the adrenaline is gone, replaced with anxiety.

      You have the word "rope" four times. I already told you what a punch it packs combining the first and second references, so how about if in the third and fourth you tweak a little?:

      As I surface for my first arm stoke, I see the thin rope three feet in front of me.

      The rope.

      My second stroke is one that gets me there. I hang on with my enthusiasm completely deflated and the adrenaline is gone, replaced with anxiety.

      Great stuff! Keep going!

    2. Hi Andy. I, too, really like the effect of those short sentences. Your long sentences hold a lot of detail but the short ones show where the emotion is! Are you a middle or high school teacher? The voice of your character is so convincingly teen-aged. Just kind of a wild, off the cuff idea here, but have you ever considered trying something like this in a prose form? As I read it, it felt it had that prose-y quality.

  10. Gae,

    Your piece sucked me in right away. I could feel his frustration and anger and I definitely want to know what happens next. I want to know more about where he is and why he is so angry. The only thing that stopped me was the "fucking door". I felt like it hit me in the face to get that in the very first sentence. But the "Fuck" when he didn't get what he wanted was far more effective, Perhaps leaving it out in the first sentence may help to show his frustration building. I promise I'm not prudish (my kids have heard me say it plenty of times), it just didn't work for me.

    And now (gulping down my fear), here's mine:

    I watch the world float by as we drive further and further away from Somersville, from home. Trees, houses, people, shopping malls all blend together as if the painter never bothered to lift his brush. If I blur my vision, it becomes even more surreal. I can believe, only for a moment, this isn’t really happening.

    But of course it is.

    How could it not happen, especially when your life is determined by Murphy’s Law – if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.

    I shift my focus and see my Picasso head staring back at me. Instead of a nice, normal oval, my head is more like an upside down triangle. Having my hair pulled back only makes it more obvious how irregular I am. A pair of large brown eyes set too far apart takes up so much of my face that my nose and mouth seem unimportant.

    “You should smile more; you have such a pretty smile.” I’ve heard that way too many times in the past twelve years of my crummy life.

    I would smile. If I had something to smile about.

    1. I really liked the art references in this short excerpt, because it tells me something about how this character sees the world.

      I really liked the first paragraph. It drew me into the story and got me asking questions about the character and what was happening.

      Some things to take another look at:

      For me, the voice of this section felt like it was YA (age 14 and older) rather than 12 (as mentioned in this piece of writing).

      After "of course it is" I expected to find out why she was leaving home, rather than a description of her appearance. I wondered if this character would shift thoughts like that so easily, if she is so upset at leaving. Just something to think about.

    2. Thanks, Andrea! I was planning on this being MG, but I agree that she does sound older than 12. A lot to figure out before this WIP becomes submittable. Thanks again,

    3. Hi, Michele!

      I too love the early art references and the line about the brush not being lifted. Lovely!

      I also LOVE the punch of the line "I've heard that way too many times. . . in my crummy life." Let's us know a lot of what we're in for, but also builds curiosity. You could even drop a more detailed hint of why it's so crummy if you wanted to . . .

      Things to watch for on revision. Sometimes, you make your sentences more complicated by their structure than they need to be and the tiniest tweak would make it clearer and easier to picture, especially in a line like here, which is such an important view into how she feels about herself:

      A pair of large brown eyes set too far apart takes up so much of my face that my nose and mouth seem unimportant.

      Could simply be:

      My large brown eyes, set too far apart, take up so much of my face they make my nose and mouth seem unimportant.

      It's almost an imperceptible change, but it makes it so much easier to see?

      Great stuff, keep going!

  11. Really enjoyed reading the posts so far. I still can't believe I'm surrounded by such talented writers. Okay here goes nothing. NO FEAR right?!?!

    I was dizzy. I had been watching the huge tires on the 18 wheeler go around and around as it rode frighteningly close to my mom's sedan. I couldn't help thinking just a few more inches to the left and we would be swept away in a crumpled heap of metal and rubber.
    Ugh! Why do I always think this way? Looking at every situation like it might be my last. I wasn't obsessed with death, just the ways people died. Sometimes from long term disease or natural causes, but sometimes death is portrayed in headlines as senseless, uncalled for, tragic. That was what it had said about Toby anyway.

    1. I didn't have much to post today, but that's why it's a WIP right?

    2. Rachel,
      You've caught my interest, especially with the last line about Toby. I want to know more about him, how he died and why it affected this character so much. It sounds like he/she is obsessed with death, even though he won't admit it. Keep going with this - it has a lot of promise.

    3. I'm with Michele, Rachel,

      That last line is a beauty!!!

      Eventually as you polish (a/k/a revise) watch for tenses... are you staying in present or past? If it's confusing because her thoughts are a constant (e.g. present) but the story is in the past, make sure in the thoughts section you're staying in present... and tweak the structure around it so that it becomes clearer. For example, just taking out some words will often create clarity by the shift itself. I'll show you what I mean. Read these two versions aloud to yourself and tell me if you sense any difference/more clarity (or not!)

      I was dizzy. I had been watching the huge tires on the 18 wheeler go around and around as it rode frighteningly close to my mom's sedan. I couldn't help thinking just a few more inches to the left and we would be swept away in a crumpled heap of metal and rubber.
      Ugh! Why do I always think this way? Looking at every situation like it might be my last. I wasn't obsessed with death, just the ways people died.


      I was dizzy. I'd been watching the huge tires on the 18 wheeler go around and around as it rode frighteningly close to my mom's sedan. Just a few inches to the left and we'd have been swept away in a crumpled heap of metal and rubber.
      Ugh! Why do I always think this way? See every situation like it might be my last. I'm not obsessed with death, just the ways people die.

      But, again, this is all revision stuff. You've got great raw stuff here. Keep going!

    4. Thanks guys! I just giggled to myself out of excitement. Gae, I see what you mean about the tenses. Please revise away. I actually have about 3 pages of this story, but I didn't want to put too much. I'll be sure to add more of it next week. This is so great!!!

    5. Thanks guys! I just giggled to myself out of excitement. Gae, I see what you mean about the tenses. Please revise away. I actually have about 3 pages of this story, but I didn't want to put too much. I'll be sure to add more of it next week. This is so great!!!

  12. For some reason my comment posted as unknown.

  13. Gae,
    You did a good job of capturing the rawness that is cutting. It's a brutal way to handle stress. At first I was put off by all the swearing but after reading it over several times, I believe it works to help set up that raw feeling. Nice work.

    And here's a piece from my current WIP:

    My dad murdered me. He killed my mother, my older sister and my two younger brothers.

    He also killed twelve other people before shooting himself. Those he killed with a semi-automatic.

    The rest of us he killed by association.

    1. Wow. What really works is that last line: The rest of us he killed by association.
      That line makes me want to know the whole story.
      What has me a little confused, and I imagine intentionally, is who is dead, and whose life has been shattered. Does "the rest of us" include the narrator and family, or was the narrator's family killed with the other twelve, and the "us" refers to characters not yet revealed? This is what I'm wondering, but I anticipate the answers are ahead. Thank you for sharing!

    2. I like how you've embedded so much into such few words. I like the juxtaposition of "My dad murdered me" and all that does to your mind against "He also killed twelve other people" Then there is your strong last line.

      I've read some powerful books based on the emotional aftermath of a shooter on their family like After, by Hazel Hutchins, and We Need to Talk About Kevin, by Lionel Shriver. Both were insightful. I'd read yours too!

    3. Ooh...that's powerful! Great hook and interesting subject. I'd read it, too!

    4. Oh, Martha, I'm with everyone else. That last line!!!

      Keep going. Though sounds like a brutal ms to be working on! <3

  14. Gae, what works for me is the pain and emotion in this short excerpt. Even though I don't know much about Alden, I can feel the intensity of how he's hurting. The one minor thing that made me pause slightly was the line "This pain will make that pain stop." I wondered if someone who is feeling that deep emotion would think in this slightly explanatory way (it seems like it's more for a reader that doesn't understand the "why" of cutting).

    1. Andrea,

      I'm paying attention to that note about it being too explanatory although he is not a cutter. It's a momentary impulsive act. But the line may still be problem for the reason you state. Thanks. Thinking. . .

  15. The emotional intensity grabbed me and pulled me into the scene. The surroundings and people are fuzzy and muted making me feel like I’m inside the character’s head. Clearly, what is happening outside of her is causing her pain.

    Knowing I’m coming into this scene in isolation without background, I’m feeling the need for more setting details. I feel a bit too lost as to where I am. I know there is a Sarah there, moving in slow motion, but I’m not able to picture what that means exactly.

    I absolutely want to continue reading. I want to know the cause of this intense pain. I want to understand how you battle one pain by causing yourself physical pain. I’m intrigued and worried about the character. Thank you for sharing!

    This is from my WIP YA novel.
    “Look Andrew, we know you were here last night. Because of the storm, you were the only one. Mr. Wazaleski told me he let you into the building. The cameras show you going down that hallway. The uniforms were there before you arrived and now they’re gone. I want to know what you’ve done with them!”
    How many times can I say I didn’t do it? Andrew wondered. He was tired of saying the same things over and over again. Mr. Vandrese wasn’t listening anyway. His mind was made up.
    The principal was flushed with the joy of having a worthy culprit. Andrew was perfect. He had been at the scene of the crime, everyone knew he loathed the members of the basketball team, and the old saying, ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ rang through his head. With a father like Andrew’s, what could you expect from the kid…a lowdown worthless delinquent!
    Brad Thompson burst through the door. Mr. Vandrese looked ready to bite off the intruder’s head until he saw who it was. “Brad, you really should knock. I’m interrogat…uh, questioning Andrew here.”
    “But Mr. Vandrese, we found them.”

    1. Christi, hi! Welcome.

      Love your excerpt you shared, especially the last paragraph and last line... you've done a good job of making me care about Andrew, and already dislike Mr. Waz... because I'm so relieved when Brad Thompson burst through and saves him!

      In that first paragraph, eventually relook at the dialogue. It's a little too perfect -- giving every explanation -- when the work around it should eventually do some of that. It reminded me of one of many of Geoff Herbach's awesome craft videos. Watch this one on "Cracked Dialogue" and see if you can figure out what I'm trying to illustrate...

      Great stuff. Does Brad save him or Waz doesn't believe him? I want to know! Keep going!

    2. Gae, I watched the "Cracked Dialogue" video. Perfect suggestion, it was just what I need. I plan to go back and attack that conversation again! I truly appreciate you taking the time to give me feedback!

    3. Oh, so glad it resonated. Geoff has a bunch of awesome craft videos on his website. I love them all. Funny, watchable and CLEAR! I use them all the time in my workshops. Glad it helped and that you're ready to go back -- or write forward -- with enthusiasm!

  16. Once, while I was working as a part-time janitor in New Mexico, a homeless woman offered me a hundred dollars if I would sleep with her daughter. She thrust the bills at me--mostly wrinkled tens and twenties, smeared dirty--and pointed at the abandoned hotel across the street, saying that I could sneak into one of the rooms for privacy. She’d wait outside, keep watch. I thought she was joking until she grabbed my wrist and dragged me around the corner to where a dark-haired girl leaned against the wall. A cigarette teetered from her lower lip. She was skinny but her shirt was too tight, painfully so, as if she’d robbed a toddler for it. Sweat stains bloomed from her armpits. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen.

    At that point I was two weeks away from finishing my student teaching, and I knew the stories: police stings all across the state, undercovers soliciting sex and passing around handcuffs like high-fives. I told the woman to fuck off and then ran for the bus stop, looking back only once to see them both standing there, the child still slumped against the wall.

    Later a friend tried to convince me that it was an uncommon but distressing occurrence in some of the seedier areas: women offering their daughters’ virginities to passing strangers they deemed respectable. Women like the one I encountered had decided that allowing their daughters to be deflowered by relatively clean, nice men was better than waiting for the inevitable pack of diseased denizens to gang rape her in an alley.

    I thought it more likely that the woman and, sadly, her daughter as well, were simply overstrung on an endless cocktail of drugs and their desperation for funds had peaked.

    It’s been almost twenty years since that happened. In the early days of my marriage, after a fight drew me and Tiff to the opposite poles of our bed, I’d lie awake, the pressures of fatherhood hovering scythe-like above my neck, and I pictured the girl’s legs as they appeared in the afternoon sun, how my life might have been different if I’d reached out and touched her.

    1. Wow! I'm in. Gritty and raw, reflective and oddly sweet.

    2. Oliver, this is so powerful and raw and poignant and painful and the musing at the end... again, powerful! Is it memoir or fiction?

      I'm going to go through and do a super speed flash edit focusing on only one single thing: taking out small unneeded words that will allow all the gorgeous words around them to shine even more. Curious for you to read and tell me if you feel any difference... and what you think.

      Once, while I was working as a part-time janitor in New Mexico, a homeless woman offered me a hundred dollars if I would sleep with her daughter. She thrust the bills at me-- wrinkled tens and twenties, smeared dirty--and pointed at the abandoned hotel across the street, saying I could sneak into one of the rooms for privacy. She’d wait outside, keep watch. I thought she was joking until she grabbed my wrist and dragged me around the corner to where a dark-haired girl leaned against the wall. A cigarette teetered from her lower lip. She was skinny but her shirt was too tight, painfully so, as if she’d robbed it off a toddler. Sweat stains bloomed from her armpits. She couldn’t have been more than fifteen.

      I was two weeks away from finishing my student teaching, and I knew the stories: police stings all across the state, undercovers soliciting sex and passing around handcuffs like high-fives. I told the woman to fuck off and ran for the bus stop, looking back only once to see them both standing there, the child still slumped against the wall.

      Later, a friend tried to convince me that it was an uncommon but distressing occurrence in some of the seedier areas: women offering their daughters’ virginities to passing strangers they deemed respectable. Women who had decided that allowing their daughters to be deflowered by relatively clean, nice men was better than waiting for the inevitable pack of diseased denizens to gang rape her in an alley.

      I thought it more likely that the woman and, sadly, her daughter, were simply overstrung on an endless cocktail of drugs, and their desperation peaked.

      It’s been almost twenty years since that happened. In the early days of my marriage, after a fight drew me and Tiff to the opposite poles of our bed, I’d lie awake, the pressures of fatherhood hovering scythe-like above my neck, and picture the girl’s legs as they appeared in the afternoon sun, and how my life might have been different if I’d reached out and touched her.

      Not much, just a few pulled words.

      Keep going. So poignant.

    3. Thanks for your reply. I like the changes, specifically the lines in the third paragraph. Those little-addition words have a way of creeping up on me! Again, thanks for offering feedback! (Oh, and this is fiction.)

    4. This is a great scene and then ending as you remember from a different time in your life wondering how it may have changed it all. I am anxious to read more and wondering if we will hear from those characters as well.
      I am confused about why a homeless woman would pay him to have sex with her daugher when later you state that they were desperate from drugs and funds.

    5. Oliver, I'm definitely in. I feel the grit. I also feel the juxtaposition of the gritty early adult life and the more middle-class later life. Rather than wondering about gang rape, I was wondering if the woman wanted an American father for her grandchild? Would having an American-born grandchild protect her in some way. This piece has lots of space for political commentary, but more importantly space for characters' stories. I am wondering if it's intended to be adult fiction or YA.

  17. I want to keep reading because I fear for his safety and well being. You have grabbed my attention. I'm not used to reading the "F" words since I mostly work with elementary students, but I realize that is the culture of most middle and HS students. Thank you to all of you for your time! Gail
    Here is my entry.
    Clutter, clutter
    I’m drowning, I’m shouting
    All beware

    If you come to my house
    You’ll be very surprised
    At all that I have
    Hiding inside

    Clothes without hangers
    Drawers never used
    Please help me out
    I’m getting the blues

    It’s so overwhelming
    I know not where to start
    It has a life of its own
    And its eating me apart

    One thing in
    One thing out
    It makes great sense
    Why must I pout

    If you’re planning a visit
    Come right in
    I’ve a stack of bills
    If you’ll help we win
    This battle with clutter
    Messy piles of stuff
    Taking over rooms
    Making life tough

    I’m ready, I’ll do it
    I’ll start with the mopping
    As soon as I return
    From my necessary shopping

    1. Your name is showing up as unknown! If there's a way to clarify, please do! Much nicer to share compliments with a name. :)

      I love this little piece. So much emotion going on -- real frustration coped with through humor. Enjoyed reading!

    2. Thank you for your feedback. I really appreciate it!

  18. Hi Gae,
    Regarding your excerpt. I want to read on, but I'm afraid to look, but keep looking because of the clues you've left about the people, the place, and what brought about the self destruction. It is a topic I'm not familiar with, but I'm curious to know how things turn out from such a forlorn state. I definitely want to read on. You have me thinking and wondering, "How will things turn out?"

    1. Thanks, Karol,

      The good news is, that despite a very intense opening... my MC does find light and humor rather quickly in his situation... I love that you read it not necessarily as a cutter as others have (understandably) but for what it is: a moment of self destruction. he is forlorn, and I'm glad that comes through, but he battles back and hopefully the story about how and why are compelling. As my agent has it... we shall see. *Bites nails some more*

  19. Good morning, Gae. That last bit got me. It felt almost in real time, each sentence taking its own line. I wonder if Alden shouldn't jam his hands deeper into his pocket. To me that adds to the time element. I don't know if that makes sense, but deeper feels like it takes a nanosecond longer than harder.

    My excerpt is very rough, but here goes:
    We lost our dad in February. I hate that. We didn't "lose" him. We know exactly where he is. He's on Molly's dresser in a Tabu dusting powder container carefully secured with thirteen rubber bands so that he doesn't bust free and scatter around. He is supposed to be in the car with Kathy and I driving to Torch Lake for his memorial, but he's not. We forgot him.

    On Father's Day when we gathered at Kathy's to celebrate our husbands and our dad, Kath and I took a moment to marvel at the innovative packaging of Dad's remaining remains. Most of him is in a niche in a lovely California crematorium. This other portion was to be transported illegally across state lines in Molly, my niece's, car since we had to get that car to Michigan for Molly anyway. We had taken the Tabu container from the suitcase and placed it gently on Molly's dresser in Lafayette so that I could document our crime in true Thelma and Louise style. Post selfie, we managed to leave him on the dresser and then promptly left the next morning without him.

    "I've never been a fan of the high desert,"Kathy stated matter of factly, as we drove, bright-eyed and perky through Nevada. "This part of Utah looks like an alien planet," she marveled as we passed through Utah. "Of course we should stop at the Matthew Sheppard Memorial! It's at University of Wyoming. Mark was inspired choosing U of W. He loved it here."

    "Oh. My. God! Is there no end to Nebraska?" I grumbled, bleary eyed and cranky from being trapped like veal in the Volvo for the past three days. It occurred to us that we had forgotten Dad at the eastern edge of Wyoming. We still had Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana and Michigan to travel through. The realization had us aching with laughter, but also had us recalling memories of Dad.

    1. Hi, "Tales from..." I love this excerpt... since I know it's rough, not going to spend much time on some of the smaller stuff but focus on the things you do SO well: The HUMOR and the setting are both excellent and the details like the rubber bands -- these are the things that hook your reader. Nice work.

      I wonder . . . if it would be fun to start with "My God! Is there no end to Nebraska?" Such a funny line that puts us right in road trip mode... and I wonder if we might get to see that moment when they realize they've forgotten "Dad" in real time, because that could be really engaging vs just telling us they had ached with laughter. We'd get to ache with them!

      Great stuff! Keep going!

    2. Great ideas. I'll see what I can do. I'm marveling on your ability to juggle everything you have accomplished today. That's dedication. Thanks.

    3. Welcome! It's a nice distraction to be here with my peeps. Old and new peeps. All peeps. :D <3

  20. Hi Gae-
    Your opening pulls me in immediately with its anger and desperation. Alden feels very real and tragic. His feeling of rejection and quest for revenge are palpable. As another reader said, I was thrown by the quick succession of "fucks", but they certainly convey your MC's frame of mind. It seems that Alden is new to cutting and happened to have the blade with him for other reasons- he is surprised by the amount of blood. I am confused by Sarah being wherever they are and moving in slow motion. I reread it many times and have a whole list of possible interpretations! I'll be curious to see what is true because I want to read on-- Thanks for sharing!

    My current opening:

    I don’t know what kind of idiot thinks it’s a good idea to host a child’s birthday party on a lawn next to a cliff by the ocean. Or who feels the need to show off their wealth and status by hosting said party at the biggest mansion in Newport. And don’t ask me why we were included in this joke of an event or why I was expected to keep track of 36 four and five year olds for the better part of two and a half hours after they’d had too much sugar and were simultaneously melting down and spazzing out. I wasn’t paid staff. You couldn’t have paid me enough to babysit in that environment, and yet there I was, expected to do it for free while the majority of the paid staff gathered behind the outdoor terrace having a cigarette or two. It’s not like I hate children. But I started to that day. Before Lola disappeared.
    So I was there to pick up Devon after he fell and scraped his knee. I helped Sarah get another piece of cake (against my better judgment), consoled Bridget after her older sister rejected her, and even managed to catch Penelope’s balloon before it escaped the tent canopy into the blue beyond. I intervened on countless arguments brewing, taught a group how to make bigger soap bubbles with a wand, and managed to get at least five kites into the air on what was a relatively still day. But I didn’t manage to save my little sister.


    1. wow, Jen,

      That last line... there's a bunch of that good last line stuff going on today...

      I'm really curious to see where this goes... It starts out as if it's going to be humorous.. then the narrator almost appears to be blaming... and I wonder if you intend this... if you don't, I wonder if starting "I was there to pick up Devon that day..." would be a better place to start. Then let us see the narrator's overwhelm at the part, being asked too much after we've gotten a glimpse of her as a helper first so we're feeling sympathetic...

      Either way, you have a very compelling (and heartstopping) kind of story starting -- or continuing -- here, don't you?! <3 Keep going.

    2. That should have read, "Then let us see the narrator's overwhelm at the party, being asked too much . . ."

    3. Hi Jen! I agree with Gae, I love how this we read so much and see how wild the day has been and then you jab us in the gut. I did find myself wondering why exactly the main character was there and how he or she did get roped into being in charge of all of them so I think you can clear that up a bit. I like Gae's suggestion to start with "I was there to pick up Devon that day..." and then maybe you could help us see what happened - did someone ask her to help? did her mom ask her to help? did she see how desperately someone needed help? and then did that person disappear? Whatever happened, just give us a quick glimpse and then you can go on with all the catastrophes he or she was able to avoid. I so want to read more and figure out exactly what happened to the little sister and this main character. Poor thing.

  21. Gae, your excerpt captured me into the moment and immediately I became invested in your main character. The desperate feeling was clear. The phrase, "fucking door" seemed too much for me in the opening sentence, but I know this piece is out of context of the whole, so maybe this is why I feel like it is too much. I definitely want to read more!

    My excerpt:

    He just does not understand! I do not want a dog, I NEED a dog. When I am terrified at night, a dog will comfort me. When I am lonely or sad, a dog will snuggle with me.

    “Dad, I will pay the adoption fee, pick up the poop, feed him. I swear I will!”

    “Rrr,” Dad grunted, shutting the office door behind him.

    Defeat washed over me like a wave. I’m drowning. I slowly trudge up the stairs and plop down on my bed.

    “Rrr,” I grunt.

    1. Jennifer,
      I like this! It's straightforward and honest and I like that his/her response is the same as her fathers. Consider adding more concrete details about why the character is terrified (scared by a thunderstorm, missing absent mom, etc). Hope he/she gets the dog in the end!

    2. Thanks for the feedback. I will use it!

    3. Jennifer, I too love that last line. The mimic of the father, but with a different intention/mood. Tells us so much. LOVE.

      If this child is young -- which it feels like she/he is, don't be afraid to write using contractions especially when in dialogue "Dad, I'll pay the adoption fee! Pick up the poop! Feed him, I swear!"

      Also the Im drowning in present tense confused me within all the other past tense writing. Eventually, make sure you're aware of this... though you don't need to worry in a rough draft.

      Also, small notes that we all can keep an eye on myself included, things like "slowly trudge..." Slowly not needed because it's implied in the word trudge. That's why trudge is such a great word. :D

    4. Thank you. So helpful. I'm new at this and have never seen myself as a writer, I've always feared it. So, again, thanks!

    5. Hi Jennifer! After years and years of wanting a dog, I totally sympathize with this character. I agree with Michele, it's neat how her response is similar to her dad's. And I'm curious too about what got her here or what she does next after this and why she so desperately needs a dog but I'm sure the rest of the story would/will tell us that. I hope you keep exploring this character!

  22. This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Here is my short piece... *thanks in advance for any feedback*

    Stay calm.

    Two words - four letters each - run around in my mind like a dog chasing its tail. Sometimes words seem to bump into each other inside my noggin. Calm, I’m not. Inquisitive, I am. Well, that’s what momma says from all the questions I ask and getting my nose into other people’s business.

    Standing still outside Momma and Daddy’s bedroom in the dim, hollow hallway, my older sister Mabel cracks open their door, slides out from the pitch dark and into the hallway, and shuts it. The door squeels on it’s hinges as if it hurts to close and then I hear a click. The door squeels no more.

    She places her hands on my shoulders and squeezes tight. The pressure of her grip is almost too much to bear. Looking straight at me, her bottom lip quivering and water welling up under her eyes, she says in a hush tone, “Stay calm, Lottie…” Sniff.
    “and go find Daddy.”

    She looks up at the ceiling.

    I feel a stinging pain as she releases her grasp. She swallows hard and as she closes her eyes, all the water that was kept under the deep reservoir of her eyes, fall like a waterfall.

    Lighting flashes through the windows as claps of thunder rumble outside.

    I stand still.

    1. Hi John! I'm so excited to read your words here! I'm already so curious about this character and wondering what he's dealing with right now. I'm worried about him and worried about his Momma. :(

      I love how you start with "Stay calm." and explain how this is a sort of mantra for your character. I wonder if you can bring it back after the first paragraph. Like, use it to show what your character is doing in the moment. Like this:

      "Stay calm," I tell myself again as I stand outside Momma and Daddy's bedroom. I'm in the dim, hollow hallway, trying to slow my heart down while Mabel checks on Momma.

      And then go back to her cracking the door open and slipping out...and telling us how dire things are. I'm glad you are writing this and sharing it. I hope to read more!

    2. Thanks for the feedback Jen. We need to Vox soon (I'll get on that!)

      ~ John

    3. John, first of all let me say how exciting it is to read how your writing has improved and developed over the past few years! This is wonderful!

      I agree with Jen on her suggestion and it also leads to a piece of revision advice... watch sentences that start with the Perfect Participle "ing" phrases as they can slow things down/make the reader have to think harder than necessary . . .or something. By Jen's edit, she kills your Perfect Participle leading into that their paragraph in a perfect way! It makes the language and story telling more active. Keeps us write there. I'm not an MFA so never know the best way to describe it, but read the difference and see if you can FEEL it. Sometimes, it's a gut thing to understand. One other small note... the word squeals... squeels? Either way, I feel like squeal is too loud a word for a door. Creaks? Or if it is louder, let us see what that does to his already hard pressed to exist 'calm.' Also is your narrator -- the one who sees the sister coming out of the room -- Lottie? -- a girl? If so, both Jen and I assumed boy. That may just be because we assumed you as a male were writing a male mc . . . or it may be because of certain word choices... e.g.. noggin seems a bit more boy maybe. Maybe throw us a hint if it is a girl -- something about twisting at her nightgown or something... anyway, all this is minor stuff and confusion that is simply because of it being such a brief excerpt, but the bottom line is that this is good, Good, GOOD.

      Keep going, friend. <3

    4. Keeps us "RIGHT" there not "write' there. Geesh, these comments need an edit button. Anyone know how I get an edit button?

    5. Thanks for sharing your opening, John!

      I remember hearing or reading years ago that an author/screenwriter uses a storm in a story to signal a major change. I love that your opening takes place during a thunderstorm! That really helps me visualize the setting, and creates a sense of drama and tension.

      Your use of "Momma and Daddy" immediately takes me to the South, and the sister's name Mabel makes me think historical fiction (which I love). I'm so curious: is Momma dying? did she deliver a stillborn baby? I'm ready for the next page!

      I think you have an amazing beginning to your piece. Thanks again for giving us a peek!

  24. Gae. What an impact that piece you wrote has! WOW. I love it.

  25. Such a powerful piece, Gae! We may be behind the times, but for the first time, that we know of, there are cutters in our school. I am so intrigued and would love to read this book when it comes out. I'm wondering at the beginning, shocked at the end...all in a very short piece of writing! Kudos

    My WIP is a lot more gentle but has a larger theme. It's about a silkie chicken, at a farm my daughter rides at, who is sitting on a clutch of mismatched eggs from all over the farm. Picture book was written all over that!


    “That’s enough!” crowed Miss Silkie, coming across a large duck egg perched on the pond edge. “Eggs should not be here, there and everywhere. Eggs need nests.”

    She picked up her floppy, fluffy foot and flipped the egg over. She bent her poofy, white head and gave the egg a push. She poked and prodded her way towards the barn.

    Arnold, who always had his nose to the ground, strolled over. “Whatcha doing?” he asked.

    She turned her head and stared at him. “I’ve had enough, Arnold. I’m collecting all the eggs. They need a home. Eggs need nests.”

    1. Hello, writer friend! Aw! What a sweet chicken! I love Miss Silkie's voice! She sounds just like a chicken with her definitive statements and so-sure attitude. I like how you use alliteration and how you describe in a way that I can imagine this chicken at work with the eggs. I'm left at a spot where I'm wondering how things are going to go for this chicken with her eggs and so curious as to what might hatch out of them...and then what! Thanks for sharing! Keep writing!

    2. Stephanie, I loved this. I can completely see a silkie chicken carrying a starring role in a picture book. I love the nurturing theme -- which is partly mothering, but also "social justice," as she looks out for all the strays. What I really respond to is the way your word choice creates such interesting sounds -- the kind of sounds that are fun to read aloud, and you can imagine listening children playing with them as well. Can't ask for much more in a picture book! I hope you keep going!

    3. Thank you to both of you! I'm so glad you see the social justice part. A friend of mine fosters and her home is filled with children of different backgrounds and needs and I thought of her when I wrote this.

      Also, I hear her in my head. I almost think she's from the south, although I live in Canada. This is my first share & this story is my summer project. I've got work to do, but I'm aiming for 100 rejections! I'll happily take critiques too!

    4. Stefanie, don't have much to add to what Elissa and Jen already shared -- like them, I agree: a fantastic wonderful premise for a PB. Wish I know more about how to write a PB properly, but I'm sure you'll find some of that on TW this summer. Maybe our last guest author, Selene Castrovilla, will share some PB stuff too. Having said that, I just love this. Your MC and her voice. Great stuff, keep going!

    5. I had to google "silkie chicken photos." You're so right--a perfect little creature for a picture book! Made me smile. She looks like she could be a little silly at times (maybe some of the other animals don't take her seriously), but, as Jen said, she's got that so-sure chicken attitude that will likely bring her success in hatching those eggs.

      I can already envision a story with tenderness, a little humor, maybe even a mishap or two, that children and adults of all ages could relate to. I think you have a gem of an idea here!

  26. Hi, Gae - I love the suspense at the beginning of your excerpt. So many questions racing through my mind: Who is this? What's going to happen - I know something bad is going to happen! What is he doing there - I can tell he knows better!

    My excerpt:
    I don’t know if losing it made it that much more valuable to me, but I knew enough to appreciate when Gramma gave me her sweet silver clutch with a dainty metal chain. So trendy and chic, like everything she owned. That lady had style - I enjoy beautiful things, but I am sure that Gramma took more fashion risks than me. I loved that purse and carried it in Rick’s wedding with my gorgeous navy blue gown. Gramma said she didn’t need the bag anymore, so it found its way to California with me, and next to the wedding. I was heartbroken when our luggage was lost after the wedding. List your items from the bag, the airline said. State the replacement price, they said. I was furious. There was no amount of money that would bring back the bag that Gramma had carried at other family weddings and special occasions, the bag that she’d entrusted to me. It was in perfect shape, and I’ve often wondered if someone dared to use that bag again, noticing the Sung perfume that, I hope, lingered on it forever.

    1. Hello writer! Oh, sadness! I'm so sad for this character and her lost clutch...but more for how much she misses her grandmother. I'm so curious to learn more about her story and how losing her grandmother and the clutch might impact more of her life.

      I wonder how this would read if you put us in the moment with her as she's at the baggage claim arguing with an attendant and dealing with the emotions as she follows the procedures to get her bag back or report what is missing. There's something annoying yet real and also beautiful about how the world keeps on going even in the midst of tragedy or sadness or loss. I'm imagining the constant rattle of the conveyor belt and the clatter of words as travelers move about that might weigh on and frustrate your character as she mourns the loss of the clutch and remembers the loss of her grandmother.

      I'm definitely feeling how upset she is to lose the clutch and am curious to know more about her! I hope you keep writing and sharing! :)

    2. Angela
      I love this connection to Gramma. I'm hoping there is more. I would love to know what risks Gramma took and how she knows? Remembered, in stories from others of her time or in photographs? I agree that the scene at the airport would be powerful also. Good ideas here. A great story for sure.

    3. Angela, what a poignant excerpt. . . Is this simply a writing exercise, the opening to a story, something else? Whatever the case, just lovely.

      I agree with Jen’s comment if it is the beginning or part of a larger story. The moment of recognition of loss could be a great opportunity to enhance and explore story!

      I also wonder if you move Gramma up to the first line and let us know what it is so we don’t have to work as hard to be grounded in your story, that we’d be immediately more connected and invested. What I mean is this: the clutch is sentimental, but it’s not – say – the Hope Diamond, so we don’t need the suspense of “uh oh, what is it?” in the first sentence, and the trade off to immediately ground us in an almost universally understood and poignant connection to a grandmother might be worth it. So, instead of this:

      I don’t know if losing it made it that much more valuable to me, but I knew enough to appreciate when Gramma gave me her sweet silver clutch with a dainty metal chain.


      I don’t know if losing Gramma’s sweet silver clutch with the dainty silver chain, made it that much more valuable to me, but I knew enough to appreciate when she first gave it to me.

      You could also build character by giving us some information about the moment your character first received it (e.g. was it years ago when she was young or recently? So maybe it would continue something like this:

      I don’t know if losing Gramma’s sweet silver clutch, made it that much more valuable to me, but I knew enough to appreciate when she first gave it to me, let me parade around, wobbling, in her too-big heels while I held it before me by its dainty metal chain. So trendy and chic, like everything she owned. That lady had style - I enjoy beautiful things, but I am sure that Gramma took more fashion risks than me.

      I loved that purse and carried it in Rick’s wedding with my gorgeous navy blue gown. . .

      Of course, I’m just making that up as an example… maybe it was just a year ago…

      I don’t know if losing Gramma’s sweet silver clutch, made it that much more valuable to me, but I knew enough to appreciate when she first gave it to me, just last year before she died, holding it out with now-shaky hands by its dainty metal chain. So trendy and chic, like everything she owned. That lady had style - I enjoy beautiful things, but I am sure that Gramma took more fashion risks than me. . .

      See how much room there is to build character and story, and emotion and tension here, all which will add to the power of the loss . . . add to story?!?

      This was a fun one to play with and expand on. In fact, if I have your permission, I may use it as an example in my in-person writing workshops that start next week! May I?

      Great stuff! Keep going!

      p.s. Liza Weimer will be doing some work like this in two weeks when she hosts FF on the 15th!

    4. Wow! Thank you so much for the ideas! I appreciate the suggestions, even going to far as to show me what various tries might look like - amazing! I realized I didn't even KNOW what was more important for this particular excerpt - the relationship or the item, but thinking it through this way makes total sense. Thank you for your insight and guidance, ladies! And I will be sure to watch for Liza...thanks!

    5. I'm so glad it was helpful, Angela. That's what is so cool about these "conversations." others often help us to see -- or find our way to see -- what our story is really about. What is important to us. Why does this story matter? Or this detail matter. And if it is there, it needs to matter. :D

  27. Hi Gae! Hugs to you and your family. I know you spent a lot of time with your mother-in-law and have wonderful memories of her and I hope they bring you joy as you remember her. xoxo

    I love the excerpt you shared! Cutting is something so hard to understand. It seems so unreal and yet to those who do it, it is very real. It seems like you might be shedding some light onto what it might be like from the perspective of someone who does it and I'm fascinated by that. I already am so curious about your character and hope to read more. My feedback would be that as a reader, I don't get a real sense of where this character is and so it's hard to quite imagine where he is and where the girl character is. But the emotion - that I get. I feel the emotions here to my core.

    Here's a new bit from the beginning of the revision of my novel that I'm working on right now. Thanks for reading!


    I want to curl into a ball, hide under my covers, and forget the disaster I created but the canvas with the waves sits unfinished, staring at me. I grab a brush and paint a red heart that takes up most of the canvas, then I add streaks of black and white before grabbing the newspaper on my desk. My scissors snap as I snip words from an article about a famous musician who recently passed away.

    wanting, creative, life, music, loved, pure, embrace, ferocious, wish, artist, evolving, deeply, cosmic, future, past, forgot

    I slap the words onto the canvas, smooshing them into the paint that isn’t dry. I’m in the zone, sobbing silently, working frantically. Never in my life has someone not talked to me like this. I am the world’s most horrible person.

    ferocious wish
    creative life
    embrace deeply
    pure artist
    evolving music
    cosmic past
    future forgot

    My head is in a daze, my body is exhausted. It’s past midnight when I check my phone one last time. Still nothing from Hayden. I disintegrate into my bed and sleep.

    1. Jen,

      This is a powerful opening, and I'm pulled into this scene right away. I feel the emotion as the MC snips at the words in the newspaper and slaps them onto the canvas. I wonder if there's music on while s/he's doing this? Also, I want the MC to do something more than just sleep. Maybe there's a bit of a fitful, fatigue-heavy plunge into sleep instead (to match his/her mood beforehand). Keep going! -- Wendy

    2. Love this. I am wanting to know more...and the way you used the words and connected them seems almost poetic. LOVE IT!

    3. Jen, I love this. What works for me is the mix of conflicting emotion and action. Contrasting the beauty, constructiveness, insight, and creativity, with the fact that she is sobbing is so much richer than if her actions had been something more obviously connected to crying. All of the actions together have a way of concentrating intense focus on the activity right in front of her, at the same time you feel as if the real tension, conflict or desire is something off stage -- which is a really cool effect. I'm glad you shared it, and am curious to hear how far along you are with revisions. (Were you working on this last year? I'm wondering if it feels familiar, with something you would have shared then?) Nice to see you here.

    4. Hey, Jen! Thanks for the kind words. Fun to be here doing what I love, taking my mind off of sad things!

      As always -- you know me -- I love your stuff. And I love this little bit of art and the concept behind it that you have in this excerpt!

      I think Elissa gives amazing advice -- there are moments where this very emotional powerful scene get slowed down by the art and so I decided to play with it to incorporate the art and let it escalate the emotion your character is feeling... of course, I've done this in 2 minutes or less and since I can't get italics in the blogger comments, I put what would be your characters thoughts/feelings in parentheses instead. So you could play with this scene like this and let the art build a crescendo:

      I want to curl into a ball, hide under my covers, and forget the disaster I created, but the canvas with the waves sits unfinished, staring at me. I grab a brush and paint giant red heart over what was there before, then slash streaks of black and white across the canvas. I see the newspaper on my desk and my scissors are snapping before I can think, snipping words from an article about a famous musician who recently met his death.

      wanting, creative, life, music, loved, pure, embrace, ferocious, wish, artist, evolving, deeply, cosmic, future, past, forgot

      I slap the words onto the canvas, smooshing them into the wet paint. I’m in the zone, sobbing silently, working frantically.

      ferocious wish



      (slap, smoosh!)

      creative life
      embrace deeply

      (oh my god! Never in my life has someone not talked to me like this).

      pure artist
      evolving music
      cosmic past
      future forgot

      (I must be the most horrible person in the world!).

      My head in a daze, my body, exhausted, I finally look up at the clock. It’s past midnight, so I check my phone one last time.

      Still nothing from Hayden.

      I disintegrate into my bed and sleep.

    5. What say you? Keep playing? Keep going! :D

  28. Good afternoon. I'm a first timer at this, scared but willing. This is an elementary chapter book about a young girl who ends up exploring a dramatic writing class.

    ACT I; Scene I

    Don’t worry when you read this book. Nobody’s going to die, or run away, or get lost, or any of the many other crises in stories that I read. This is just my simple story about how I fell in love with acting and got to star in my own play.

    I like to use my imagination but mostly I read books. My brothers are constantly teasing me about having a book in my face everywhere I go. I don’t know what the big deal is; they constantly have a ball in their hands, all three of them. Nobody gives them a hard time. My mom says it’s healthy for them to be physical and not in the house. She’s referring to me when she makes these comments. She thinks I spend too much time in the house, with my nose in a..., well, you understand.

    That is exactly why I decided to try out for a play; my mom wanted me out of the house. That and a character in a book I loved was always quoting Shakespeare, who was a playwright, you know.

    We live in the city that has this amazing children’s theatre connected to the science center. I’ve been to a few plays there with my dad. I brought my idea up at mealtime which, I tell you, is hard to do. Usually at dinner I just sit and listen to my brothers chatter about sports and balls, balls and more balls. They miss the humor in this of course but I do not. My two older brothers, Finn and Leo, are very good at ball-handling and my little brother, Savian, tries to catch up to them.

    Dessert time is when I finally caught a break in the dinner conversation - while the boys were busy shoveling in their ice cream.

    “I read the flyer from the children’s theatre yesterday when it came in the mail.” I blurted out.

    Gae: I enjoyed your piece above and am interesting in reading more.

    1. Hello Ms. Peaceful Reader! Hooray you for sharing! I like how you say you are scared but willing - I feel like that a lot with writing. I'm scared and overwhelmed but I'm going to keep doing it anyway. Love that attitude!

      From reading your excerpt here, I already adore your main character. She seems sweet but spunky and I imagine she has to be that way with all those brothers. Three brothers!

      My advice to you would be this: rewrite this in real time. Right now, this reads like an MG to me...which is great. This would be great as an MG but I can see how writing out this scene would help you get some voice in there - both of your MG, her brothers, and maybe her parents - and I think it would help you see if it's truly an early chapter book or an MG.

      I really want to see her walking with her nose in a book and to hear the sound of her brothers bouncing a ball and teasing her. I want to see her mom smooth her hair and kiss her forehead and encourage her to go outside.

      Like I said at first, I already want to read more about this character - she's there. I hope you keep writing - whether you try writing in real time or just go from here. And I hope you'll share again! xoxo - Jen Vincent

    2. I agree with Jen. I immediately hear this as MG. Love the MC already as well. Keep writing, and you'll discover more about all of the characters.

    3. Hi Peaceful Reader, thanks for sharing. I definitely read this as MG also. I enjoyed how you broke the 4th wall and opened with the MC/narrator speaking directly to me as a reader. The voice of the MC feels relaxed and conversational, slow paced - as someone who loves to read might be. I love the lines at the end of the paragraphs: "with my nose in a...well you understand" and "who was a playwright you know."

      I feel the potential conflict - only girl in the house, one who loves to read when others are into sports. I'd like to know about the conflict more specifically though. The first paragraph, with the "simple story about" makes it sound like there's no conflict. Can you tease me with a hint there?

    4. Peaceful Reader,

      Yay for you, being brave! Doesn't it feel grand?!? :D

      And, omg, you have gotten great advice here from the other campers a/k/a writers chiming in.

      You have so much humor in this piece and a wonderful voice developing here (whether elementary or ultimately MG) and that is the most important thing. :D

      Margaret shared with you the thought I was having as I was reading. I'd love you to push yourself to give us a hint at the conflict -- right away. I mean, we all know it when you say this is a simple story... that it isn't going to be. So go a step further. Show us the tension/conflict. Jen's way of rewriting in real time may be just the trick... and certainly a great exercise. Put us at that dinner table and let us see a peek at where the real conflict is. I'm interested in knowing which is a very good think. = curious = hooked! Keep going. :)

  29. Wow. This certainly captured my attention. Definitely want to read on. You nail the character's uncertainty as to what to do, where to go, and just how surprised he is to see so much blood. That's the part that struck me the most. He obviously is in pain, and want to cut himself to cause more, but the fact that he's almost shocked to see the blood, that says a lot about the character.
    I wanted to know more about Sarah and what she was doing in the other room or if she was aware that he was even there. I guess the setting details are there earlier or later than what we saw, so that would probably clear up any confusion I had.

    My excerpt from a Middle Grade WIP:

    I stood in line at the bank, ready to roll.
    Well, as ready as I could ever be for my first bank robbery. Sweat poured off my skin—like enough to fill a bucket—and the pinched face lady at the counter probably wondered why I couldn’t keep my feet still.
    It’s not like The Rockwell Savings Bank in Springfield, New Jersey had a bunch of security guards on duty or an elaborate alarm system to dismantle. Every dusty old floorboard creaked and moaned with the slightest breeze. I bet it never occurred to ole pinch face that someone would think it’s worth the trouble to rob. But it did have cash, which was what my family needed if we were going to get to Florida.
    “I’d like to open an account,” I said in my sweetest, most innocent sounding voice. I wanted to itch my scalp where the fresh dye turned my long hair from blonde to Bold Brunette #45, but itchy girls look suspicious, so I shoved my hands into my jeans.
    Plus, we had a plan. A perfect one. Foolproof, even.

    1. Well, I am certainly intrigued by this opening and would continue reading to find out what's going on. A couple things I wonder: Is the MC male or female? How old is the MC (because in my state you have to be 18 to open a bank account without a parent or guardian - which would make this YA rather than MG)? And what time period is this, since the bank seems old and without security (that's hard for me to imagine these days).

      Keep going... I'm curious about what happens.

    2. Dave,

      I, too am intrigued. A robbery is a great, exciting, concerning way to start off a story and you put us right in it! Kudos!

      In fact, I think you can do this even more. Build up the scene/tension a bit more before you give away - in a rather matter of fact way -- what this kid is doing! You could do this just by reversing the order of things:

      I stood in line at the bank, ready to roll.

      Sweat poured off my skin—like enough to fill a bucket—and the pinched face lady at the counter probably wondered why I couldn’t keep my feet still.

      Well, hard to not fidget when you're planning your first bank robbery.

      Food for thought, but right now, just keep going! :D

  30. Gae,
    Thanks for your time. It's great to be "camping" with you again!

    I love the raw energy of your excerpt. I can feel the MC's heart pounding as the scene unfolds. You've also packed a lot of potential backstory-Sarah, Abbot, Mom, and school(?).

    I wonder where this scene fits in the overall plot. It would be a great beginning, climax, or ending. I would read for that reason.
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
    My excerpt:

    When l walk down the street and hear my footsteps on the wet pavement, I like the sound. Something about it in the darkness with only a knife edge of moonlight illuminating the road makes me feel like a criminal.

    I'm not a criminal. Not yet.

    I have no plans to be a criminal, but that momentary feeling, a rogue in the rain, makes me consider my potential. If I'm meant to be. If I want to be.

    It wasn't just the one time. Not only on one drizzly night. Criminals aren’t usually so clichéd. When I feel that way it's usually preceded by footsteps. This time it was wet pavement. Sometimes it's the snarl of gravel underfoot. Even the swish of the sand beneath flip-flops on the beach can send my mind spiraling in dark circles.

    1. Hi, Todd. Your piece definitely made me curious. It raises literal questions (why he is debating being a criminal), but also... He speaks as someone self-aware (he knows the sensory experiences that set him off) but seems to be raising doubts about whether he trusts his own judgment. It's interesting to get that kind of tension from just a few paragraphs. Thanks for sharing.

    2. Hey, Todd,

      Finally getting to this! Thanks for your patience.

      I'm so intrigued by this excerpt -- by both the BIG (a criminal in the making) and the small (this urge brought on by such a small thing... footsteps) and am thinking that, when you're ready to revise vs. just write forward (for now, just keep writing forward!) that you can really bring this excerpt to life by more active writing. Specifically, by taking the writing that is already right there, and removing more passive language (eg. starting the excerpt with the participle beginning with the word When vs. just delving right in with the character putting us right there by starting with I). I did a super speed flash edit to switch up YOUR VERY OWN LANGUAGE a few places to make it more active vs passive and put the reader right there. Of course, this is a fast exercise just to show you what I'm talking about. Let me know, reading both side by side, if you can see what I'm trying to do, and whether you can sense the differences in your gut. Read them aloud to yourself -- sometimes that is really illustrative. And, as always, toss out what you don't like -- what's fucking with your own rhythm and not what you intended -- vs. what you might. Curious to hear your thoughts.

      So, it would be this, yours, as is:

      When l walk down the street and hear my footsteps on the wet pavement, I like the sound. Something about it in the darkness with only a knife edge of moonlight illuminating the road makes me feel like a criminal.

      I'm not a criminal. Not yet.

      I have no plans to be a criminal, but that momentary feeling, a rogue in the rain, makes me consider my potential. If I'm meant to be. If I want to be.

      It wasn't just the one time. Not only on one drizzly night. Criminals aren’t usually so clichéd. When I feel that way it's usually preceded by footsteps. This time it was wet pavement. Sometimes it's the snarl of gravel underfoot. Even the swish of the sand beneath flip-flops on the beach can send my mind spiraling in dark circles.

      VERSUS, something like this:

      l walk down the street, my footsteps on the wet pavement, a delirious sound. Something about it in the darkness, with only a knife edge of moonlight illuminating the road, electrifies me, makes me feel criminal.

      I'm not a criminal. Not yet.

      But this rogue-in-the-rain feeling makes me itch with potential. Wonder if I'm meant to be. If I want to be.

      It’s not the first time I’ve felt this way, this drizzly, solemn night. Criminals aren’t usually so clichéd. No, I’ve felt this way before. An itch, a buzz, preceded by footsteps – my own footsteps -- this time on wet pavement. But before, the snarl of gravel underfoot. The swish of the sand beneath my flip-flops, can send my mind spiraling in dark circles.

      What say you?

    3. Gae,
      Thanks for the thorough response! I agree with getting right to it and making the writing more active and engaging. I also like the addition of "my own footsteps." I have toyed with adding on there to include others' footsteps. That will likely come later.
      Mostly, thanks for the advice to write on! I often get hung up trying to perfect a section, tinkering, and losing the overall direction.

      What do you think about the gender? Does this character sound entirely "male" or could this be a girl?

    4. Well now you have me curious... i think the word "rogue" and your own gender made me assume male... if it's female, maybe the sound of a high heel clicking or something like that would clue us in. Which is it?

  31. Gae, thanks for your always encouraging posts.

    Regarding your excerpt:

    What Works for Me: There were so many characters introduced, and I wanted to know more. Who are these people and what is their relationship? The shift in paragraph length helps convey the urgency and anger the main character is feeling.

    What is Confusing: Although I suspect this would be cleared up in the rest of the text, I'm having trouble with the setting. I pictured Alden showing up at Sarah's house, but maybe they're in school? Then the cold tile floor seems like a bathroom to me. I had trouble picturing it in my head because I really didn't know what door Alden was pushing open.

    Did I Want to Keep Reading? Definitely!

    My excerpt from a short story for children:

    It was August. Hot, sticky, boring. Ugh.

    Chelsea was sitting on the front step, counting the cars as they drove by. So far she was up to two. If only she could ride her bike. Then at least she could go somewhere, make her own breeze, and see something other than her front yard. But Mom had already said no. She said that Chelsea didn’t know the streets well enough yet to go riding by herself.

    It wasn’t fair. In her old neighborhood, she was allowed to ride all the way around the block by herself. She could go visit her friend Olivia whenever she wanted. She had friends. She could go places -- at least anywhere in a two-block radius of home.

    Here in her new neighborhood, she hadn’t met anyone. Okay, Chelsea’s family had just moved in two days ago, but she was bored. Now her dad was at work, her little brother was napping, and her mom was busy unpacking.

    1. Beth, you do a great job of making us feel her lonely, sweaty boredom. Great voice in the punchy, short opening two lines. I also love the inadvertent sort of snarky humor in the line "So far she was up to two." It helps us feel the character, the slowness of the setting, and her age.

      You have a pro and con with the set up of a kid having to deal with a move to a new place ... the pro that it's so universal that we can all relate and feel connected to such a story... and the con that we need to see pretty early on what makes YOUR story a different one worthy of reading... what will do this is some amount quickly is to give us a glimpse at the bigger -- or maybe actually smaller -- conflict that your MC is going to be faced with. What I mean by this is -- and this is purely a stupid example because I have NO CLUE what your story is about. But lets say your story is about a boy name Duke (LOL) who bullies your MC terribly until she makes a group of friends who set out to outwit Duke and put him in his place... and then he ends up being her friend too. Okay, so summary of long MG story that I just made up on the spot. Whatever. But then, your first sentence could be followed with something like this:

      It was August. Hot, sticky, boring. Ugh.

      Boring, that is, until Duke Miller showed up on Chelsea's front stoop, hand balled in a fist, and told her this neighborhood was his.

      Again, totally making up a dumb example to show you what I mean.

      Maybe instead it's:

      It was August. Hot, sticky, boring. Ugh.

      In four short weeks, Chelsea would pine for the quiet of this day, wishing she never met Duke Miller and his friends at Milton Junior High.

      Whatever you do, offering up the more specific conflict, allows us to ground ourselves in the known trauma of a move while wanting to know why this move story is one we need to read in addition to others. Does this make sense?

    2. Thanks, Gae. Perfect feedback. Your positives are the parts I was feeling most confident about, and now I have some clear direction to start revisions.

  32. This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. Gae
    Thanks for all your images of the teens voices and the house where they all hang out so much he can "see" them and recognizes their voices. As a mother of teens, this rings so true. I love that there is a male voice showing some vulnerability and a juxtaposition of being "done" with everyone but still standing outside the door and then the self injury intentional or not but with this audience. These witnesses. I wonder why Sarah moves in slow motion? Is she grieving? Does she take drugs?
    I need to read more. I need to know about this Sarah character and about this boy who did not know he had an exacto but seemed willing to use it.

    My excerpt is from a short story because they seem to be the only works I am brave enough to finish!
    They ask me again to tell what I remember and all I can answer is, “Parts”.

    I know they are disappointed. My mother cries. My father pats my hand. The tired lady in the gray suit just nods explaining how important my words are to help catch him but her eyes go again to the clock above me.

    “Just you think about it, and when you remember anything else, you let us know,” she says stacking her papers with a slow sigh and looks at my mother then my father, holding their eye contact, asking them for something.

    I tell her it all again, “I am thinking. I do remember. I remember him… in pieces. “

    She nods, quiet and confused. They don’t get that there are some parts that are so perfectly sharp and clear. Parts that just always hold still, so still that I reach up to touch them, a series of bursting daydream bubbles before me. Solid, always there parts, swirled with blurring, always moving away parts too.

    A bubble rests right before me and I tell what I see every day, "There is a nest of hair wrapped around his head, held slightly back on a thin, long neck, like it’s meant to keep the nest in place, like cotton candy stuck on his head. There is always that small wrinkled hand patting the mass down, or in the wind holding it still. “

    1. Diane,

      This is good. I am drawn into this scene right away, and I want to know what's going on. I like the reality of the mc only being able to remember parts of what happened. I think this could actually be a longer piece in disguise. Keep going and see what you discover.

    2. Diane,

      First of all, I WISH i could write a good short story. I think short stories are WAY brave and hard!

      Secondly, what Wendy said. I am drawn into the scene, with my breath held, to know whether your MC will remember more than just parts... which we instinctively know will be a difficult thing. . .

      You do some lovely character building and scene setting -- the woman in the gray suit, who nods while eyeing the clock, the bursting bubbles, the cotton candy head/hair.

      After you finish your first draft and go back to revise, I think you will do some tightening that helps these details and your writing shine even more. For example, if your MC is feeling traumatized or shut off during this moment we see, maybe the third paragraph could be tightened to really keep us feeling what she is (and shape the dialogue to be more authentic dialogue):

      A bubble rests before me, now, so I tell her what I see. The image I see every day. "A nest of hair," I say, staring off, "wrapped around his head. Held back. . . his neck, thin. . . like cotton candy stuck on his head."

      Especially because this is dialogue, it needs to be more authentic. More broken. Not so perfectly concise and explanatory, maybe? I shared this above, but I really LOVE author Geoff Herbach's craft video on cracked dialogue:

      Let me know if this makes sense and helps any.

      Great stuff here. Keep going!

    3. Gae and Wendy
      Thank you thank you thank you.

  34. Gae, thank you for hosting this fantastic venue for teacher writers! I am so happy to be back to learn even more this summer!

    Thank you for sharing the opening of your new manuscript!
    What works? The raw emotion. Expletives. Angst. It all pops off the page.
    Am I compelled to keep reading? Yes. The blood, the pain, and the out-of-control control is completely compelling. And I have so many questions in my head that I can’t wait for more!

    Here is a tiny excerpt from my WIP, which I started last summer and plan to work on aggressively to complete this summer:

    Two Mondays from now,
    I will wake
    moments before 5,
    the wisps
    of a dream
    and realize it was
    a nightmare--
    an alternate reality of
    overwhelming grief,
    where I have mashed up
    the real and unreal
    to create a night
    where I don’t get
    to hug
    and kiss
    my baby
    I will rise
    with a knot in my throat
    and pain that
    inserts itself
    just above my
    right eye.
    My subconscious will
    trying to make sense of
    the chasm

    1. This is quite compelling. I immediately want to know how she knows she'll have the dream/nightmare. I feel that knot that she feels, and confusion that the dream causes. Nice. Keep going!

    2. Hi, Dalia,

      I'm so happy to be back too... and am already once again amazed at how much I learn by teaching... or trying to teach. :D

      I love this beautiful excerpt so much. . . ah, and that it feels familiar... am curious where you are going with it story wise. Is this a book of related poems? A story in verse? (did you see today's SATURDAY (!!!) TW! post is on verse stories?)

      I love the sharp details set against the dreamy pain (the "pain that/ inserts itself/ just above my / right eye"). Lovely stuff.

      Glad to hear you will be working on it aggressively. :) You go, girl!

    3. Hah!! See what I did to your name even though I know it?!? Grrr. >:(

      Hi, Dalila.

      That's better. :D

    4. Wendy, thank you for your encouragement and feedback. I'm playing a bit with the time aspects in this piece and trying to determine what can work. I'm taking a page out of Mrs. Dalloway and revealing aspects of the past within the retelling of a single event. Revealing a future event, I think, works because the whole piece is retrospective, and it's about me, so I know the "future" through this backwards lens. We shall see...

    5. Gae, you seem to have a knack for knowing where the work is! I love that you zeroed in on form. This is what I've been wrestling with. After the scene I created last summer, I committed to developing it into a book. For now, I'm working on writing a single event for each month of the year that followed Jeremy's departure. Mrs. Dalloway was my inspiration for this approach, but I'm still fighting with form. Even so, my biggest focus will be on writing the events and reworking it afterwards. I may even fictionalize it. I am just going to trust that if I show up and write, that I will gain clarity as I go. And, I'll be learning every day at camp! Thank you for your support and specific feedback! 😊

  35. Hi, Gae!

    It is intense reading this bit of your new manuscript. The spare emotion of it leads to the immediacy of this character's voice. The line, "She already told me she isn't the one," is such an echo of the character's sense of loss and isolation. I am definitely curious to read more. I also wonder what it is like writing this topic, as I could see it being both inspiring and challenging to be inside a pained voice. I'm really curious to see how it goes.


    This is a piece from the adult novel I am revising (same one I've been working on) -- from a scene in the 2nd chapter that introduces Michael.

    Police had cordoned off the beach. Stevie and Sean absently kicked a foot against the temporary barrier. The dogs, dark smudges working back and forth against the sand, now silent. Their bays replaced by the pleading rhythm of the barrier scooching incrementally with the bass of each boy’s kick. Duft-scuff, duft-scuff. Michael held out the blue and white streamer of crime scene tape that wavered, festively, with each blow.

    Gulls skiving, singing. High whine of an outboard echoing across the water. Cheery bell of a woman speaking to the man beside her, indifferent to the rise in her voice: “It will be that woman gone from Belfast. You know the one? Who was that? It was on the news. Oh, years back. The mammy dragged from her lounge with her babies clinging to her legs? An informant the IRA said?”

    Loud smack. Could be crack of drum sticks to add a new texture to the song, but no one needed to turn to know. Red handprint across her cheek, lip chewed to stop it smarting, to chew off blood.

    “Jay-sus, don’t say that so loud… Jay-sus, woman...”

    The boys could watch the dogs – tails out like trail markers – and add to it imagination of the man behind them, head swiveling to see who might have overheard his wife.

    Gradual rising mew of her explanation what she’d meant, but they all knew. No one saying it, but yeah, she’s right. The boys, themselves are picturing the dogs’ claws tearing through dune or the tide line, slicing paw pads on razor lipped clams. All of them see the Belfast mammy unearthed, an inch at a time. Song of the baying, orchestral accompaniment to say, this is it, be ready. Every one of them picturing the bird’s egg wool of her best coat. Bright lines of teeth pinching to pull it out, snippet at a time, pull, nibble, dig, pry.

    Hugs to you & your family, Gae. Thanks for hosting another FF.

    1. Elissa, about to read your excerpt but just answering your question quickly: more inspiring than challenging, i think, because I knew at the outset that my MC was going to find his way to okay. The story is about how he gets there and the people who help him, and how he contributes to picking up his pieces and moving on. :D

  36. (I hope this comment is appearing in the correct thread...)
    Elissa, There are so many characters I want to know better here, and I want to read more to find out if the story will follow one group or all three (the two boys, the man and wife, or the killed woman.) I appreciated how I mentally pictured myself in one place - somewhere in the U.S., probably Florida or the Carolinas, but then you took me to Ireland. Than surprise was one of the things that made me keep reading at that point - political thriller maybe?

    Your voice is strong. The hint of dialect in the speaking woman. The very short, punchy sentences with few transitions. Compelling.

    As a draft, this is something that I'm sure will be polished. The first paragraph tripped me up a bit - the two boys kicking one foot against the barricade.

    Keep writing; share more. :)

    1. Hah, Margaret and I are on pace with our thoughts and comments on so many excerpts here. This says great things about Margaret, right? (that is me being snarky - my lame sense of humor!).

      Elissa, let's clear up for the millionth time what needs to be clear: Your writing is extraordinary. Always. OMG, some of your lines. Your dialogue (talk about "Cracked dialogue -- yes I have been -- somewhere *up there*). Just stunning. Your writing is stunning. Always. Every single fucking time. I get jealous, really. But it's okay.

      Having said that, once in a while, if you pull back a bit on the gorgeous writing and give us a plain, easily decipherable sentence, man, those gorgeous sentences will shine even more (and, we, as the readers, will be able to drink them in without feeling dumb or like we constantly have to stay alert, pay attention, to picture everything and stay on top of the story). And where Margaret was tripped up was exactly where I was: The barrier line. I had this cut and held for pasting in my cursor as I was reading what Margaret wrote:

      The dogs, dark smudges working back and forth against the sand, now silent. Their bays replaced by the pleading rhythm of the barrier scooching incrementally with the bass of each boy’s kick. Duft-scuff, duft-scuff.

      I want to not only appreciate this gorgeous reading, but both feel it and be able to stay in story while I am, and the middle line doesn't allow me to do this. Since the lines around it are poetic and descriptive and fantastic and unique and ALL THE GOOD ADJECTIVES, what if you gave us a more simple image in between that we don't have to work to see/ figure out. I'm not sure what is happening here: "... pleading rhythm of the barrier scooching incrementally with the bass of each boy’s kick," and if I am, i have to think too hard to get to it. What if you simply went to the sound...

      Their bays replaced by the pleading rhythm of the bass of each boy’s kick. Duft-scuff, duft-scuff.

      Find other places to do this... to rest the writing for story, allowing the reader to rest and feel fully engaged rather than just watching awe-fully, if that makes sense.

    2. Gae & Margaret, Thanks so much! Margaret, I knew completely what you meant about the 'one foot' - it's definitely one of those things I'll fix in draft. Gae, thank you so much for the encouragement. Your observations pretty much sum up where revisions are heading right now. I'd spent the last two revisions writing to know character, setting, situation - so this scene was a happy aha, as it's part of a chapter that took the place of saying "The Troubles aren't in their town, but Michael still had reason to be afraid." Now, as I'm moving on to revise the scenes that stay, they're full of sentences that need to be less cryptic and, sometimes, places to slow down and let a moment build. I'd say it's fun going through that process, but omg this ms is taking way too long to edit down! I'm happier with it now than a year ago (having taken the time to push the characters and story further makes me more confident), but the encouragement really helps. Thanks so much for taking the time with everyone's excerpts. I can't believe you got through them all so quickly.

    3. I agree Elissa and Gae. Stunning, intense, sensory, language that leaves the reader in awe. I love the last paragraph with the dogs digging out the body, but I read the paragraphs twice slowly to try to clarify which character you were introducing. I thought at one point "Stevie" may have been the woman in the couple...Stevie Nicks like.

      I like the back story of the Mammy, but I find the difference between the IRA dragging her out of the lounge "years ago" and her coat being still blue, pulled me out of the story.

      I'm looking forward to reading more, learning from & with you.



  37. Mid-novel WIP - Looking for a way to include the actual history here without boring my MG readers:

    Claude Lafitte Francoise was not who he seemed to be. Thirty-six years earlier, in 1715, a young five-year-old boy had assumed the throne of France. Since he was so young France was ruled actively by Philippe II, the Duke of Orleans, who took on the role of Regent. He performed as an actor, wrote an opera, had an overly active social life with many male and female lovers, and generally served as an inspiration to twenty-year-old Henri Lafitte. Through a great deal of guile and ingenuity, Henri had arranged a falsified letter of introduction as a result of gambling venues arranged for the Regent. Always a risk taker, Philippe II was delighted to be surprised by the collection of fashionable people Henri assembled for these events. Henri knew many high people in low places, most of whom were hoping for royal favors.
    Politically, Philippe II was also a risk taker. Unlike King Louis XIV, the Sun King, Philippe even formed an alliance with Britain, Austria, and the Netherlands in order to fight against Spain, and he approved the financial manipulations of the Scots financier, John Law. John Law, an excellent card player and gambler himself, met young Henri and assisted him in assuming a false name and position once he had the letters of introduction from Philippe. Never one to do something for nothing, John Law used the charisma of the young Henri to sell the wonders of New France. The favor was in exchange for Henri’s agreement to promote and travel to New France, and settle there as part of The Mississippi Company’s policy. It also meant that Henri was to establish himself as a French noble while enabling New Orleans to engage as a French trading port. Henri willingly agreed, and joined The Mississippi company’s New Orleans venture in 1718.
    By then, he was twenty-three with papers of nobility stating he was Claude Lafitte Francoise, the seventh son of a marquise. In reality, he was Henri Lafitte, a lucky gambler and rake whose father was a groomsman to Philippe’s horses. John Law’s business venture appointed a Governor for New Orleans, and the new Claude Lafitte Francoise quickly worked his way into local government. In January 1720, Law became the Controller General and Superintendent General of Finance for all of France. His bank was printing both paper livre and stamping silver coinage. John Law owned all of the rights to trading in New France, and he had a very profitable enterprise. Never one to trust paper, Henri insisted on his payment in coinage. The Mississippi Company shifted its name to The Company of the Indes to broaden its scope.
    All went well at first, but back in France John Law’s banking scheme began to collapse as people who owned shared in New France started selling their stock shares for actual gold. Shares in The Company of the Indes lost value, inflation struck France, and France’s entire economy was at risk. Philippe II dismissed John Law, and died not long after. John Law moved to Venice, where he again set up a gambling practice. Meanwhile, the bogus Claude Lafitte Francoise struggled with how best to survive in New Orleans. With both of his nefarious backers removed from the scene, he was at a loss. Then Cardinal Andre Hercule de Fleury took over as Louis XV’s regent, leaving Claude with no political contacts in the royal court. He could not even return to the stables, as his father had passed away.

    1. Hi Ms Dooley! It's such interesting information, I can see why you want to give that full picture. I would wonder if some details might be set in scene. Like, if instead of saying that he had assumed the throne with his uncle playing the role, if there were a way to put them in the same room and reveal that as reason for a tension between them. Or give a memory of being that child. On the other hand... I also get that sometimes you just need to convey the facts, without creating a tangent of separate scenes or fully portrayed relationships. Reading Harry Potter with my kids right now, so it made me think of a trick she uses. Sometimes when she wants to provide essentially the newspaper or 'encyclopedia' content of a character or piece of history, she just does that: she writes it as an article the characters are reading, or a letter they find, or maybe a long piece of dialogue where a teacher-character explains it to them. If you don't want to reveal the details in scene, I wonder if you have some character or written clue that might share this history? I am curious about your story -- I love that you are writing to share some of the more intriguing stories in history! Keep going, and I'm curious how it goes!

    2. Yes! Elissa gives good advice! I'm not sure whether this information is part of your main story or just facts that need to be conveyed. Could probably help better if I knew what part of your story this information plays. Is this story about Claude? Or is it just tangential information???

      The biggest thing is that you are TELLING a whole bunch of information here rather than showing it. So it reads like textbook information. What if you relayed this information through dialogue -- at least as an exercise. When you write dialogue, you are, by definition SHOWING vs. telling, because characters are engaged in talking. OR try to write a scene where we see some of this play out in real time -- to see what part of the showing is essential. Again, tell me more. What is your story about and what role does this info play and I'll try to help you better!

    3. Thanks! I was looking for alternatives for presenting the story form of this nonfiction backgrounder
      . I want to give my kids four or five alternatives to dialogue, and all that was coming to mind was turning it into that. I like the letter and news clipping alternatives. I plan to give the kids the earlier novel chapter and a clean version of this
      . Their task is to turn it into a narrative with a partner, and post it to our Google Classroom. Thanks!

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  39. Gae -
    What worked for me: that first line was perfect! In fact, I had to read it several times and let my curiosity about what happens next wait a bit so that the full impact of what was happening in the present could sink in.
    What didn't work for me: I'm not sure about all the swear words. I think they were meant for high impact. I felt slapped each time I read a new swear word. So, maybe that was the purpose? Obviously, not a book I could share with my grade 5 students :-).
    Would I want to keep reading? Absolutely! I want to find out what happens next. I want to find out who the characters are. What is their relationship to each other? And what happens to the main character...

  40. Gae-
    I think what worked,( and worked WELL ), was how much we, the reader, still don't know about the character. It leaves the reader with so many questions. Who are Sarah and Abbot, and what relationship do they have with Alden? What has happened that left him so impulsive and angry? It held such strong emotion as well, and left me torn emotionally. Do I want to dislike Alden for his impulses, or hope that he turns out alright? There isn't much criticism I could give, since I'm still an amateur writer at best. When reading it, I felt that the beginning and middle were somewhat disconnected. You made Alden "Cry out", but that wording sets a tone of helplessness and weakness, with no smooth transition into the feverish anger and pain that follows. Also, I understand that a few curse words here or there would have a powerful impact, just for being sudden and unexpected, but this passage was just littered with swearing, and it sort of took away the power of using them. Still though, I would definitely keep reading. There is so much suspense!
    As I said, I'm no expert. So don't put too much thought into what I say, I'm still an amateur!

  41. Here's a work in progress I'm writing. It's pretty mediocre, and I know I still have a lot of work to do.

    They say New York is the city that never sleeps. And in a wide-awake city, I can barely catch a rest. Me, Aurora Hawthorn, named after a famous sleeping princess, can’t sleep a wink.

    In the top floor of the eternally quiet Casa Blanca Hotel, curled up in a tattered green blanket on the concrete floor, I shift slightly, half awake. As an intense and aggravating beam of sunlight drifting in from the broken window slowly makes it’s way across the wall, it hits my protesting face, like a silent alarm clock screaming at me. I lift my eyelids just a crack, and am instantly blinded by white knifes piercing my eyes. I roll over to escape from the stabbing light, and instantly hit my skull against the slanted wall. “Urgh!” I groan, and slowly sit up, staring at the stubborn wall, and it’s chalky marks,(made by me of course), telling me it’s Wednesday. Construction day. Great.

    I throw off the “blanket”, and scramble to my feet, filled with new and sudden alertness Stepping carefully over the nail-ridden floor, I tiptoe over to the shattered window, and peer out. The city below me is already bustling, full of people strolling to work with a breakfast bagel in hand, or tourists trotting downtown, gaping upwards at the dazzling lights. My senses, well trained from experience, activate, and I inhale, sucking air deeply through my nose, letting it resonate against the sides. It reeks of gasoline, and the burnt-plastic scent of cars. I smell rotting garbage on the sidewalks, probably containing a carelessly tossed dinner or two. I smell the sweat pouring off the shaved ice merchant across the street, and the sour metallic aroma of coins dropped into a violinist’s case. I smell the smoky, dusty smell of cement, and the crisp, sizzling scent of bacon frying inside Freeman’s restaurant in the back of the nearby alley...

    My stomach rumbles, pleading, and I erase the thought of food from my mind. "Come on Rori," I scold myself, "Pull it together." I sling my torn backpack over my shoulder, and sneak carefully down the stairs, expertly avoiding the sawdust piles. Footprints would be suspicious. Then again, a thirteen year old girl, sloppily dressed, with dark circles under her eyes sneaking out of a demolition site already looks suspicious enough. Especially one travelling alone with a backpack. I reach the doorway and turn back to see if I’ve left anything behind, admiring the way the dust particles filter through the light beaming in from holes in the walls. Then, hearing the all too familiar crunch of black boots on gravel, I bolt outside, take a left around the corner, and press my body against the side of the building, letting out a sigh of relief as three workmen stomp in through the door I just left. I turn away grinning, and slowly stroll down the street, but despite my casual demeanor, my heart beats a feverish rhythm, desperately hoping the nosy workmen won’t discover anything unusual. After all, they most likely wouldn’t take it very well if they found out a kid was still living inside the very place they were about to tear down.

    1. Sorry, there should be a period after "alertness"

  42. Visit or for latest work.

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  44. This is something I've only just started. I'm still not entirely certain of what time period I'll be using as it is a combination of stories I have running around in my head. I'll be working on it here and there as the summer continues.