What is JacketFlap

  • JacketFlap connects you to the work of more than 200,000 authors, illustrators, publishers and other creators of books for Children and Young Adults. The site is updated daily with information about every book, author, illustrator, and publisher in the children's / young adult book industry. Members include published authors and illustrators, librarians, agents, editors, publicists, booksellers, publishers and fans.
    Join now (it's free).

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in
    from   

Suggest a Blog

Enter a Blog's Feed URL below and click Submit:

Most Commented Posts

In the past 7 days

Recent Comments

MyJacketFlap Blogs

  • Login or Register for free to create your own customized page of blog posts from your favorite blogs. You can also add blogs by clicking the "Add to MyJacketFlap" links next to the blog name in each post.

Blog Posts by Tag

In the past 30 days

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
<<November 2014>>
SuMoTuWeThFrSa
      01
02030405060708
09101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30      
new posts in all blogs
Viewing Blog: Flogging the Quill, Most Recent at Top
Results 1 - 25 of 1,113
Visit This Blog | Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
Blog Banner
Ray Rhamey is a writer and editor. He has made a living through creativity and words for a few decades now. As a writer and then creative director in advertising, he rose to the top tier of the Chicago advertising scene, then left it to try screenwriting. In Hollywood, he became a writer/story editor at Filmation, one of the top five animation studios. Look for his screenplay credit next time you rent an adaptation of The Little Engine that Could at your local video store. In 2001, he launched editorrr.com, and he has clients from the Pacific Northwest to Lebanon. He is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Northwest Independent Editors Guild, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and the Seattle Writers Association.
Statistics for Flogging the Quill

Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 14
1. an interview with yours truly

Mabry coverAuthor Richard Mabry has posted an interview with me in two parts: the first is here, the second here. Many thanks, Richard. 

Add a Comment
2. Flogometer for Elizabeth—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Wanted. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Elizabeth sends a first chapter of Ace. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Winning was all that mattered now.

Fife kept her fingers busy. Flicking the pages would bring too much attention, so she traced the leather cover instead. If they stopped for a moment her fingers would hold her nose... or begin to shake uncontrollably. She wanted neither. 

They smelled like animals herded into a pen. Well, technically it was the Administration Room. It didn’t matter what you called it, though, the names all meant the same. Fife’s personal favourite was The Gauntlet. She was stuffed in the corner of a largish hallway with yelling students all around her. Calling them bloodthirsty might be taking it a little too far, but still, The Gauntlet’s name fitted rather nicely.

“Form two lines, in alphabetical order according to first name.”

Fife slammed A Collection of Fairytales closed. She jumped to her feet too fast and black dots swam into her eyes. She elbowed through the crowd, ignoring the glares shot from behind. She really didn’t need a headache now. It could sabotage everything.

She took her spot in the line. With arms folded she rocked on her heels and wished, not for the first time, that her name wasn’t so close to the top of the alphabet. Not only was there more shoving up here, but she’d have to perform first.

Headmaster Bullwarn faced the first student and Fife glanced to the entrance. Some of (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Elizabeth's first page?

Good writing, and we’re starting with an immediate scene, which you know I prefer. I think I might have fared better if the scene had been set for me up front. And, for me, this narrative has clarity issues. Not least among them are what I call “information questions” (dealt with in the new book): they are references in the narrative to things that the reader doesn’t and can’t know but that knowledge is key to understanding what the narrative is saying. Lastly, the one kind of question I don’t see is a story question. Maybe it is whether or not she is going to win, but I don’t have a clue as what she’s going to have to do to win or what the consequences of losing are. Notes:

Winning was all that mattered now. Winning what? It would help the reader connect if she knew what was being referred to. I call this an “information question” that often leaves a reader in the dark. What happens to the character if she doesn’t win? What are the consequences, the stakes? What does she desire/fear?

Fife kept her fingers busy. Flicking the pages would bring too much attention, so she traced the leather cover instead. If they stopped for a moment her fingers would hold her nose... or begin to shake uncontrollably. She wanted neither.  Unclear as to the antecedent for “they.” It’s her fingers? And they could independently decide to hold her nose? I found this paragraph confusing.

They smelled like animals herded into a pen. Well, technically it was the Administration Room. It didn’t matter what you called it, though, the names all meant the same. Fife’s personal favourite was The Gauntlet. She was stuffed in the corner of a largish hallway with yelling students all around her. Calling them bloodthirsty might be taking it a little too far, but still, The Gauntlet’s name fitted rather nicely. Another antecedent issue: who is the they? I’m assuming it’s not the fingers, but who? And then there’s the “it,” which seems to be a room but she thinks of it as a gauntlet? I don’t think a room can be a gauntlet. The lack of a sense of the scene before we get to this point, of where we are, is limiting my understanding and involvement.

 “Form two lines, in alphabetical order according to first name.”

Fife slammed A Collection of Fairytales closed. She jumped to her feet too fast and black dots swam into her eyes. She elbowed through the crowd, ignoring the glares shot from behind. She really didn’t need a headache now. It could sabotage everything. What is “everything?” Is it important to Fife? It won’t be important to the reader unless she knows what “everything” refers to. Another “information question.” If the reader doesn’t know what the words refer to, then they are, essentially, meaningless. Why would you want to have meaningless narrative on your first page?

She took her spot in the line. With arms folded she rocked on her heels and wished, not for the first time, that her name wasn’t so close to the top of the alphabet. Not only was there more shoving up here, but she’d have to perform first.

Headmaster Bullwarn faced the first student and Fife glanced to the entrance. Some of (snip)

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Elizabeth

 

(continued)

the late ones were arriving. The ones with more pluck than necessary. But Ella had none of that. Even Fife didn’t. She bit her lip, and the scab came clean away. She swore quietly and dabbed at it with the sleeve of her blazer. The blood slowed a little, but not before dripping onto her pants.  

“You seem bent on massacring you lips,” Fife started at the soft voice, “You will get marked down for that if you are not careful.” Ella stared at her, a box cradled in arms. Two thin brown plaits hung down her front, tied with red ribbons.

“Who do you think drove me to such insanity? You show up moments before you are kicked out for being late,” Fife said. She raised an eyebrow at the box, and her tone lowered, “Finally?”

“Yep. I was late finishing it. I’m sor-”

 “Forget it,” she said. Fife figured she’d been too harsh, but there wasn’t time for niceties.

Ella poked her arm beneath the lid and fumbled for a moment, “Here it is.” She passed a bundle of black fabric to Fife. She didn’t bother eying it over. If she stopped to take a look, Headmaster Bullwarn would too.

“Thank you,” she murmured, tucking the costume beneath her arm. Ella took her position in front of Fife and they both faced blankly ahead. Fife was in certain danger of smiling as she noticed the other girl’s head barely came to her shoulder. She was too young for this stuff. So it had been a fair deal.

“Do you think I’ll do ok?”

“Yeah, I taught you what I knew.”

“But what if I don’t dance right during the performance?”

Fife spoke so her lips barely moved. “You will be fine, Ella. You danced well during our morning practices.”

Those practices had been Fife’s only human contact during the last semester. She would have evaded people entirely had it not been for the gain she had got from her end of the bargain. Ella had no talent in performances whatsoever, just as Fife couldn’t raise a needle without pricking herself. Part of her felt concern for Ella’s safety, but she couldn’t allow that. She had enough issues to worry about now without someone else’s. The Electroines would punish them both if they were found to be helping each other.

Bullwarn drew level with Ella. Fife froze up at the gleam of light on the metal bones. His frame was a skeleton, really, save for the blank slab of curved metal that served as a head. But what always unnerved her most was the throbbing heart inside a cage of ribs.

Turned out they were just Controlare officials. But there were enough rumours to make Fife question her sanity about creeping into the Library to practice every night. She’d never gotten used to them.

Then Ella was walking away from her. Fife started forward, but stopped herself as the little girl glanced over her shoulder. The huge brown eyes brimmed with fear. Fife managed a smile.

“Name?” Bullwarn’s voice had risen in case she was deaf. Fife jerked and stared at him. He asked a third time. “Name?”

“Fife.”

“Age?”

“16.”

“Division?”

“Dance.”

“Right. You are admitted.”

“OK.”

Bullwarn had registered the next three students before she remembered she needed to move.

The next corridor ran in huge lengths on either side of her. A corridor before a line of cubicles. Few had been taken, but Fife jogged to its end before selecting the furthest. She slammed the door shut. The floor fell hard on her kneecaps as she buried her head in her lap.

She didn’t look at the black material she dragged it on. She rarely did. Ella had good taste, and a better hand at sewing. She trusted that. When she finally stood with trembling legs, there was a cloak attached to the costume’s wrists as Ella had promised. They draped on either side of her, like flightless wings.

Flightless.

Her stomach had given up flipping. It was too exhausted. It only throbbed now in an effort to keep the vomit from rising.

This wasn’t like before. She’d tried convincing herself otherwise, but now she saw the lies for what they were. Last year’s winner had been carted off to the Controlare. She had no idea what happened to the kid after that, but she didn’t care really. This time she could win. She could leave the Institution, and the Electroines and the others and Ella. She would see the Outside- and the stars she had read about so often.

Because this year she was first ranked.

But her Library would be left here, along with all her books. Fife flipped open A Collection of Fairytales. The inside cover was scrawled with her name. Swarming with it. The shaking hand that had inscribed the words with the ballpoint pen was long gone now. Four years gone.

Fife. My name is Fife.

That was when she remembered her name. But when she read the stories inside she remembered who she was. Until then, all she’d been was a bed full of feverish limbs. She couldn’t leave that book now. Not when it had most likely saved her life.

Even if the costume had no pockets, Fife always crept back a couple of days after her performance to retrieve it. And to mock her fear. But once she won this thing, she’d be taken immediately from the Institution.

Fife looked up from the leather cover. She secured the black mass of her hair with gold wire, and hoped no one would notice her incompetence at hair styling. All she saw now were her eyes. Her left eye blue, her right a searing yellow. She tried to train some form of confidence into them, but gave up with a huff.

They’d all notice. The million pairs of eyes that scrutinized every cell in her body would notice. They would type it all on their little black keypads.

She was about to restyle her hair when the opposite wall of the cubicle swung open. Soundlessly. No one had prompted it. At least, it had never seemed so. Fife stared at the space for a while. She should walk now before she snapped.

But then she saw the mask. It lay on the floor, fallen from the bundle of clothes. Its left side was gold wire. Its right side was blue wire. The opposite of her eyes. Ella had messed up the sides. Fife lifted it to her face, feeling it mould to the curves of her nose and too-stark cheekbones. The elastic fastened with a dull thwack

She looked forward. Always forward. Her feet were lumps of meat as she walked from the cubicle. The room was bare on all sides. All white. Her composure shattered and she glanced over her shoulder.

The door had already closed.

Fife’s bare feet froze on the white concrete. She only felt blank now. Perhaps that was worse. But she didn’t care as she reached for the Grand Theatre’s door. Her fingers moved in fractions, each strain of muscle another quiver, until she felt the smooth wood of a handle under the pads of her palm.

A mechanical voice. A voice incapable of feeling. A voice that knew nothing of this damned performance.

“Fife is summoned to the Grand Theatre.”

Fife lifted A Collection of Fairytales on impulse. She’d never kissed anything before, but the word came to her mind with its meaning. Unsummoned. As if she had known it all along.

She kissed the highest branch of the leather tree. Encased with fire. She let the book slip to the concrete. The reek of oldness made her grimace.

She twisted the knob. Every joint in her shoulder strained as she wrenched the door open.

Her world incinerated.

Add a Comment
3. Flogometer for Colleen—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Wanted. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Mastering front 100WshadowBefore you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Colleen sends a first page of Zondar Apocalypse.

I was hatched on the Planet Zondar in the year of our Lady, 39-trillion 12-billion and 6. (They're still on the Reagonomics Calendar.) Okay, I wasn't really hatched. I just tell that story because it's way less traumatic than my actual birth. I was supposed to arrive like most Zondarian babies do -- by stork. However, the stork got waylaid by an errant superhero flying well above the speed limit, causing an inter-celestial collision that necessitated the dreaded ethereal womb extraction with a fibre-optic chainsaw. Also, the Ob-Gyn was stoned on Kryptonite, and epidurals had been outlawed following the All-Natural She-Woman Revolution.

As harrowing as Zondarian obstetrics are, my birth wasn’t horrific enough to make Mom want to leave her home planet, but Dad was desperate to get the hell out ever since that run-in with the Bustyernards Clan. Good thing politics were shifting. Before I'd learned to change my own diapers, The Grand Lizardess of Zondar decreed that no sporting events shall be televised. Mom, a closet fan of sportshagging, simply couldn’t abide, so we became Earthlings.  

We fit in on Planet Earth, despite the sideways looks we got when people saw our pet. Thor was a neurotic rabbit who had the run of the house. Wasn’t weird to us because most Zondarian families have a pet Kangadile slither-hopping about. They're so cute with their beady reptilian eyes and scaly pockets with the beadier eyes of its young peeking out at you, just like a built-in purse dog. Thor wasn’t nearly as cuddly, but we loved him. Unfortunately, so did the gas man, who turned out to be Bustyernards kin.

Were you compelled to turn Colleen's first page?

Okay, here’s one of those first-person narratives that can ignore many of the guidelines for what works on a first page. A fine, tongue-in-cheek voice that romps through a parody of science-fiction worked for me. There is a stream-of-consciousness aspect to this that Colleen may have to be careful with as it can toss in some confusion now and then, as it did for me and the part about the pet. But carry on, this promises to be fun. Just one note:

I was hatched on the Planet Zondar in the year of our Lady, 39-trillion 12-billion and 6. (They're still on the Reagonomics Calendar.) Okay, I wasn't really hatched. I just tell that story because it's way less traumatic than my actual birth. I was supposed to arrive like most Zondarian babies do -- by stork. However, the stork got waylaid by an errant superhero flying well above the speed limit, causing an inter-celestial collision that necessitated the dreaded ethereal womb extraction with a fibre-optic chainsaw. Also, the Ob-Gyn was stoned on Kryptonite, and epidurals had been outlawed following the All-Natural She-Woman Revolution.

As harrowing as Zondarian obstetrics are, my birth wasn’t horrific enough to make Mom want to leave her home planet, but Dad was desperate to get the hell out ever since that run-in with the Bustyernards Clan. Good thing politics were shifting. Before I'd learned to change my own diapers, The Grand Lizardess of Zondar decreed that no sporting events shall be televised. Mom, a closet fan of sportshagging, simply couldn’t abide, so we became Earthlings.  

We fit in on Planet Earth, despite the sideways looks we got when people saw our pet. Thor was a neurotic rabbit who had the run of the house. Wasn’t weird to us because most Zondarian families have a pet Kangadile slither-hopping about. They're so cute with their beady reptilian eyes and scaly pockets with the beadier eyes of its young peeking out at you, just like a built-in purse dog. Thor wasn’t nearly as cuddly, but we loved him. Unfortunately, so did the gas man, who turned out to be Bustyernards kin. I became confused here. Is Thor a rabbit or the Kangadile? Thor wasn’t as cuddly as what? A Kangadile? If Thor is a rabbit, why fill us in on what most Zondarians have?

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Colleen

Add a Comment
4. A shout-out for an extremely talented video guy

Adam photo cropped-captionedI had the great luck and pleasure of working with a young man named Adam Ratliff on creating a host of award-winning videos when I was with Washington State  University. Adam is moving on from the university and I want to broadcast that good news to anyone who can profit from employing him, who describes himself as an “adventurous videographer, a tenacious editor, and a creative problem solver.” I can testify that he is all of those things, and more.

I strongly recommend Adam to anyone seeking the highest caliber for their creative team. You simply cannot do better. He has a profound understanding of the marketing and communications job that a video has to do and the talent to shape a video to do it. That talent is enhanced by his high intelligence and wide-ranging knowledge and interests.

So if you know of any company that would gain from putting Adam’s talent to work, please pass this on. His portfolio website is here, and you can download his resume when you click here.

Good luck, Adam. Someone is going to be very glad they found you.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
5. Flogometer for Carolyn—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Wanted. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page ingredients from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Carolyn sends a first chapter of Bellinger Beauty. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Images of my husband’s dead body flooded my mind as I drove down Placida Road that Florida morning on my way to meet Howard Bellinger,

Throat tight and tears burning in my eyes, I pulled to the side of the road. Shockwaves tore through me as if I’d just received the news.

Two campers found Brett in the woods not far from here. The police had given up looking for his killer. I hadn’t.

A few quick glances out my window showed me Flamingo Mist looked pretty much the same, For every stucco palace with a tile roof, swimming pool and two-acre plot, dozens of trailer parks and cracker box houses sprouted like yard mushrooms after the summer rains. For some reason, the scenery calmed me and I drove back onto the road.

Flamingo Boulevard loomed ahead. I parked at the Elk's Lodge next to a sign listing Square Five and Lulu's Crew, the bands that would be playing for the dinner dances that week. When I stepped inside the two-story stucco building, the smell of fried chicken and French fries reminded me I hadn’t eaten breakfast.

The leather-faced man behind the desk stared at my business card before he stuffed it into the pocket of his jeans. “How can I help you Miss Gale or should I call you Zoe?”

“Ms. Gale’s fine. Which way to Howard Bellinger's home?"

Were you compelled to turn Carolyn's first page?

Good stuff here, I like the descriptions that give values to what we’re seeing, the voice, and a good story question. Well, it seems like the story question is who murdered her husband. It may still be, but that’s not clear in the chapter that follows, where it turns out that she’s a private investigator being hired to look for a missing college student. Suggestion to Carolyn: let the reader know on page one that she’s a PI. And, if the husband’s death is not the point of the story, then you might want to consider starting later when the current case is begun and if there are any consequences to Zoe for taking the case, etc. Nice work.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Carolyn

 

(continued)

"Just turn left, you can't miss it. Stucco house next to the golf course. I heard Mr. Bellinger just flew in from Hawaii yesterday."

"Which island?"

"The big one. He spends a couple of months a year there. Myself, I like the Bahamas but Mr. Bellinger says Hawaii has better weather even if it is pricey. You know Mr. Bellinger?"

"Not yet."

"I know him pretty well. He comes here every Sunday for dinner and dancing when he's in town." The man gave me a quick once over. I wasn't a youngster and neither was he. "If you're selling something, I wouldn't knock on his door. He'll sic his dog on you."

"Dogs usually like me."

The man grinned. "Not this one. Sorry, have to go. Time to make up the menu for Sunday."

I left the lodge and drove in the direction he'd indicated. Flamingo Mist, the two county town on Florida's West Coast, was settled by my distant relatives who opened a trail from El Jobean to Vineyard and set up a store to serve area fishermen, or so my grandmother told me. She and my grandfather bought a lot of property, some on the posh Manasota Key where a master carpenter built them a beach house. She told me Howard Bellinger swindled most of it away from her after my grandfather died, including the Majestic Casino and Lemon Bay Guest House, where rich folks from the north spent their winters.

I drove by Lemon Bay, remembering. Brett and I had grown up in Flamingo Mist and skipped stones across this water when we were little. Looking across the bay, I once again heard the sound of stones skipping cachou, cachou, cachou and saw his freckled face and the NY Giants cap on his head.

“Did you hear that?” His words echoed in my head as if he’d just spoken them.

Yes, I still hear it and wish you were here.

We’d sneaked into the Majestic Casino in middle school, and sneaked in the window of the Lemon Bay Guest House wedding suite in high school. It was there we gave each other our first kiss. The memories of those times were bittersweet in my mind and even more hurtful than seeing my husband’s dead body. Maybe because they’d never come again or maybe because it was a more innocent, trusting time.

My birthplace stretched out on the edge of this sweltering wasteland like a sleeping beauty. From a distance, this typical Florida subdivision appeared perfect, thrown down amid well-manicured lawns, garnished with golf courses and creeks born of retention ditches.

It was all a lie.

Bellinger's abode stood high above Pebble Beach Creek. My Tracer could barely negotiate the sandy road, and the trip sent the bag of clothes I'd meant to give Goodwill sliding around in the back seat.

The house's forbidding stucco face stood out gray and domineering. The windows reminded me of angry eyes. They seemed to be watching as I drove up to the entrance, or was that someone peeking out of an upstairs window? Standing on the porch I stared down over the golf course and caught a glimpse of a restless creek.

A big-boned, well-fleshed man in an expensive, but rumpled business suit opened the door. Behind him growled a large dog that reminded me of the Hound of the Baskervilles. "Don't mind Homer, he's harmless," the man said, but I held my doubts.

At the sight of Bellinger, a sick feeling crawled up my stomach, the kind I got after eating too much spicy food or when I felt like I needed to avenge a crime. I warned myself to get a grip and stay with being a PI, even though I wanted to flat-out punch the guy in the face.

Too uniformly gray, his hair had to be a toupee. That told me he wasn't entirely pleased with his own. Big creases ran down the sides of his hatchet face and his eyebrows sprang up above eyes of piercing blue, culminating in a look of disgust and suspicion.

"Howard Bellinger. You must be Miss Gale." His expression didn't change much, just loosened a bit about the mouth and eyes. Bellinger's half-smile came from a man who wanted to be liked but hadn't had much practice.

"As advertised." I handed him a card so new, the ink had barely dried. He didn't act as if he recognized me, but then why would he? We'd never met and my grandmother's last name was Winslow.

"You made good time from the beach. Didn't think you'd get here 'til later."

"I started out right after you called. You said the matter was urgent."

"Very urgent. Come in." The dog escaped onto the porch, and Mr. Bellinger led me along a musty hallway under creaky ceiling fans. He walked like a man who had once had a lot, but lost most of it. I wondered if my grandmother's property was part of what he'd lost.

We stepped into a living room while he kept up a constant chatter about his visit to Hawaii. "Can't even offer you a drink. I just got back to reopen the place and my housekeeper is sick. I wasn't even going to come back this time, but I thought Wanda might have come home." He sniffed. I suspected that meant he thought Wanda may never wander back.

The living room had a closed in feeling of old furniture and older secrets. Sheets hung over a chair and two huge objects I thought must be couches. Heavy drapes kept out the light. Bellinger clicked on a floor lamp, looked around in confusion and went to the window. The violence with which he yanked open the drapes surprised me.

Sunlight drifted in as if it didn't want to come inside, roaming across the room to a vivid painting above a stone fireplace composed of raw splotches of color and angles. Bellinger stared at the painting as if it had analyzed him and found him lacking.

"My wife's work." He mumbled to himself, "Should have taken it down years ago."

"Is your wife Wanda?"

"Wanda is my only daughter. Sit down, Miss Gale, and I'll tell you all about it." He slumped into a chair and pointed me into another. "The school called me yesterday. I've been away you know. They said she'd left the premises and they were trying to locate her. Can you imagine? She hasn't been to classes since December. No one has even seen her. I've been so worried about her."

"Is that the University of South Florida?"

"No, Bonaventure College. You've got to find her, Miss Gale. She's so young, so naïve."

"How old is Wanda?"

Protective grilling on the windows reminded me of bars. I wondered if he installed it to keep Wanda in or keep trespassers out.

"Twenty, but she has been protected from the world."

I suspected he’d been doing most of the protecting. "Is this the first time she's done this?"

"It certainly is. Wanda has always been a good girl, doing what we expected of her. She's had the problems any adolescent faces, but she came through it beautifully."

"Who did she have problems with?"

"Not with me. Her mother, mostly." He glanced at the painting and his face took on a darker, more desperate cast. "I don't want to go into that."

He had a whiny, grating quality in his voice, but I cautioned myself not to react. "Okay, maybe I can talk to her mother then."

"She's not available. She's never available. I don't even know where she is and frankly, I don't care. We separated last fall. No point in going over the gruesome details. Our divorce doesn't have anything to do with Wanda."

"Could she possibly be with her mother?"

"After the way her mother carried on, I doubt Wanda ever wants to see her again." He compressed his mouth as if he wanted to swallow the words he'd just spoken.

"When did Wanda disappear? You mentioned she left college in December. Do you recall the date?"

He sniffed the air as if it had suddenly gone bad. "Early December, the school said. They didn't really give me a date. That's your job to find out. I did speak to Wanda's roommate on the phone last night, but I couldn't get a straight story from her."

"It's been two months. Have you tried to contact your daughter during that time?"

"I was in Hawaii. They didn't notify me there, just left several messages on this phone. It's not my fault she left school."

He rose and looked as if he might pounce on me. Instead, he paced back and forth liked a caged animal that remembered the jungle, but had no idea how to get back there. "You've got to understand this. I wasn't home. I didn't even find out she'd been missing until last night. God only knows what's been going on here."

"When did you last see her?"

"The day I left for Hawaii. She came to the airport to say goodbye. If her roommate can be trusted, Wanda never went back to school."

He stopped in his tracks and looked at me with something fragile glinting in his eyes. "I'm terribly afraid that something very bad has happened to her. I blame myself. I should have paid more attention to her, but all I could think about was getting on that plane and enjoying myself in Hawaii. I wanted to put the divorce behind me and maybe Wanda, too. I deserted her just when she'd reached out for help."

Every time he said her name, it came out shrill and self-deprecating. I aimed to soften it a bit to get some useable information from the man."Young women disappear all the time. They grow up, leave home and start their own lives."

"Without telling their parents?"

"Some do. You were away. She might have tried to contact you."

"I left her my phone number in Hawaii. She could have called me."

"Maybe she didn't think it was important enough. Maybe she thought you deserved a holiday after your divorce."

He fell back down in his chair as if the effort had seeped all the energy out of his body. "I can only hope she's all right. I just don't understand it. She’s so bright and had so many opportunities."

"Maybe she took one of them." I gazed around the prison-like room and felt like leaving myself. "Was Wanda happy here?"

He looked at me with layers of defensiveness lurking in his eyes. "She hasn't been here much lately. We always went to Maine for the summer and then she was in school the rest of the time."

"How were her grades?"

"She was doing okay, not up to her ability, but okay. She had a little trouble at school last year, but she worked it out."

"What kind of trouble?"

"She had to leave Columbia. Not because of grades or anything. It was suggested that she might do better at a smaller school closer to home. That's why she transferred to Bonaventure. It didn't please her mother or me for that matter. We both graduated with honors from Columbia."

"Did it please Wanda?"

He shrugged. "It seemed to. She even found herself a young man."

"What's his name?"

"She called him Dirk, I believe. I'm not expert on these matters, but I think she really liked this boy."

"Was he a student at Bonaventure?"

"Yes. I never met him. She hadn't dated much in high school, so I was pleased that she finally got interested in the opposite sex."

"Young women can fall hard the first time." I pictured my husband and my heart started to pound. I'd been a prime example of that adage. "What does Wanda look like?"

"She's very attractive. She has the good looks her mother used to have." He produced a leather wallet and showed me her picture, holding it far enough away so I couldn't touch it.

Wanda stared up at me through a clear plastic holder, attractive with a casual carelessness about her Howard Bellinger didn't display.  Her blonde hair agitated around the edge of her face and her eyes stared back at me, dewy and lavender. She had her father's mouth, except hers held the promise of sensuality. An excitable type, Wanda could become a great beauty or a cold-hearted woman when and if she grew up.

"I'll need her picture. Can I have this one?"

He gawked at me as if I'd just insulted him. "No! This one looks the most like her. I have some others. You can have those."

"Good. I may need several."

"I'll go get them before I forget."

He left the room without another word. His steps pounded up the stairs, taking them as if he was in a race. He banged around above me until something heavy and metal crashed onto the floor and made the ceiling shake.

I'd gone along on cases with my husband before he was murdered, looking for lost relatives, but Howard Bellinger bothered me more than most. He sounded the perfect gentleman, but underneath his semi-polite outer covering, rage ruled. I couldn’t tell if his reactions were part of his grief for his missing daughter or the hostility he held for his ex-wife.

A minute later he boomed down the stairs and smacked his fist against the wall of the living room with such force, I thought his hand might break through the plaster. "Damn it! Someone's taken every blasted picture."

"Who?"

He glared at me and rubbed his hand as if it were a trophy he was polishing. "Probably Monica. My ex-wife's stolen things from me before."

"If she wanted the pictures of your daughter, she must be fond of Wanda."

"I don't think so. Monica never showed any affection for our daughter. She took the pictures to irritate me."

"How long have they been gone?"

He glared at the painting. "I don't know, but she hasn't been here since we got divorced. I haven't seen or heard from her since. She couldn't wait to get out of here and get back to her beloved East Palm."

"Is she still there?"

"Probably, but I have no idea where."

"You must have her address."

"All that's handled by the lawyers."

"Can you give me their names?"

Bellinger's eyes flared into balls of fury. "Yes, but I won't. I don't want you talking to Monica, and I don't want you trying to contact her, either. She'll just lie to you. You can't get a straight answer out of her. You wouldn't want to speak with her anyway. She has the vilest tongue I've ever heard."

He licked his lips and swallowed before he lifted his mouth into a menacing, sarcastic smile. The lines that broke out on his face told me that he didn't like the taste of his words.  "I don't want anyone exposed to her language. She said the most dreadful things to me."

"When?"

"She came to the airport the day I left for Hawaii, too. She forced her way through the crowd and attacked me. I had to call for security."

"She hit you?"

"She swung her bag at me and verbally attacked me in the most vicious way, accusing me of taking all the money and leaving her without a cent. I was very generous. She got the house in Aspen and the cabin in Maine."

"When was the divorce final?"

"The end of November."

"Has Wanda visited her mother since then?"

"Never. Her mother hurt us both when she left."

"Monica divorced you."

"Exactly. She's hated me for years, but we tried to keep up appearances. She hated it here, too. She considered herself a young woman, somebody with the energy to go out night clubbing every night. I'm certain the two of them hadn't seen each other for months, maybe longer, until that terrible moment at the airport."

"Wanda was there when your ex-wife was?"

"Yes. I wish I could have shielded her from that scene."

"How did Wanda react?"

"Very well. She looked shocked and horrified when she heard her mother, but she behaved exceedingly well. She even tried to calm her mother down. I was proud of the way she acted except I thought she was too nice to Monica. She deserved much worse."

Rage came up in his eyes and I wondered what his ex-wife could have done to him. "Did they leave the airport together?"

"Of course not. On second thought, I didn't see them leave. I just slipped onto the plane and took my seat when they called for passengers. It's unthinkable that Wanda would want to go with her mother. Not after the way Monica carried on."

"Did Wanda have money enough that she could have taken a plane somewhere?"

"She does have some money from her grandfather, but I believe that's still in trust. I gave her more to help her out. She told me school expenses had gone up and her new car needed repairs. I gave her a couple of thousand to tide her over."

"Check?"

"No, cash. I had been carrying around a lot of money for my trip, but I decided my credit card would do fine."

"Do you know where she was planning to go right after she left you at the airport?"

He gazed out the window and I wondered if he was trying to remember or spent the time making up a plausible answer. Finally, he said, "Back to the hotel. I had a suite at the Sandpiper. The flight was early in the morning and I didn't want to drive for two hours to get there. It was paid up for another night so she didn't have to go back down here right away."

"Was she driving her new car?"

His eyes gravitated back to the painting as if it had a mystical hold on him. "I don't think so. She said she left it with a mechanic to get it fixed. She wanted to drive to the airport, but I told her it was dangerous to drive a car that didn't work correctly. I ended up taking a limousine to the hotel and a taxi to the airport."

"Did she drive herself or take a taxi back to the hotel?"

"I'm not sure. She mentioned that she asked the driver to wait, but that could have been for her mother."

"What did the driver look like?"

"Oh, dark-skinned and tall, maybe. I didn't pay much attention. I was thinking of Hawaii and Wanda."

"Was it a yellow cab?"

Bellinger crossed and uncrossed his arms over his belly. "I'm not very good at things like that. I just don't pay attention to what people look like."

"What about Wanda's car? What does it look like?"

"I never saw it. She said she bought a sports car from some student at Bonaventure."

"I'll ask around the college. What was she wearing that day?"

He looked up at the chandelier that hung from the high ceiling as if it might hold the answer. "A blue suit with a scandalously short skirt. At least she had the decency to dress up. Usually she wears jeans, and tee-shirts. She has much better clothes, but she told me that's how college students dress these days. It seems pretty shabby, but Wanda always had a mind of her own."

I took out my spiral notebook and a pen and started to write.

"What are you doing?" He leaned toward me and stared at the page, a look of anger on his face. "I told you not to talk to Mrs. Bellinger. Why have you written down her name?"

"Just practicing my writing skills." The words slipped out. Bellinger had been getting on my nerves for some time.

"What are you talking about?"

"Just kidding."

"How dare you kid about something this serious?"

"I know it's serious, but you've been putting restrictions on me, making it hard to conduct my business. I can't take your case when you close whole lines of information to investigation. I have to be free to follow where the evidence leads me."

"You have to remember that you're working for me."

"I haven't agreed to that yet."

He opened the leather wallet again and grinned at me through clenched teeth as though it gave him great pain to discuss money. "How much to hire you?"

"It depends on how extensive you want this investigation to be. I usually work alone, but if the case crosses state lines, I can call in colleagues from all over the country."

"I want whatever you find to stay with you. No sense letting a lot of people know. There is my family reputation to think about."

"It's your daughter and you know best, but you might want to call the police and have them do the investigation."

"I spoke to Sheriff Buxton last night. He's a friend of the family and used to work for my father. The sheriff thinks that just filing a missing person's report won't bring much unless there's a crime. Without it, those cretins won't lift a finger." His voice carried a tone of depression that stayed with his words when he added, "Sheriff Buxton recommended I employ you."

"I won't exactly be an employee."

"Investigator, then. He said you and your husband were discreet. I hope he was right. I can't have any newspaper coverage of this matter. I've had a few bad experiences with private detectives in the past."

"What kind of bad experiences?"

He held his wallet between us like some kind of magical protector. "I don't want to go into it. It has nothing to do with Wanda having gone missing. How much of a retainer do you want?"

I doubled the usual amount because I believed Bellinger was going to be trouble. That, and I wanted to pay him back for whatever he'd done to my grandmother.

He opened his wallet and counted crisp one hundreds into my hand. The expression on his face told me he didn't part with the green easily.

"It's a deal, but I have to be free to follow the facts."

He grinned at me but the smile didn't reach his eyes. "As long as you stay discrete and open to the possibility that Monica may try to spread noxious lies about me or Wanda."

"Has she spread lies about you in the past?"

He held up a hand and his eyes fixed me in a venomous glare. "I don't care to talk about Monica anymore. Wanda is the one on my mind and the one who should be on yours, too."

"Fair enough. You said Wanda came to the plane to see you off, and that's the last time you saw her. What was that date?"

"My flight to Hawaii was November 24th. I flew back yesterday. I tried to telephone Wanda from the airport because I hadn't heard from her. No mail, no telephone messages, not even an e-mail. She's never been very good at communicating her whereabouts, but I was shocked when her roommate told me on the phone that Wanda hadn't been at school for two months."

"Did your daughter's roommate sound upset?"

"I think she was very upset, but she managed to convince herself, or was convinced, that Wanda was with me. She told me she thought that Wanda had flown to Hawaii with me at the last minute."

"Was that something you'd discussed with Wanda?"

"I asked her come along, but she was just getting used to her new school and she wanted to stick it out. Wanda is a serious student."

"Where does the boyfriend come in?"

"I'm not sure."

"What did Wanda tell you about him?"

"Not much. All she said was that she'd met him in September. That was about the time she started at Bonaventure."

"I'll talk to the roommate and see what information she has. Maybe she knows the boyfriend. What's the roommate's name?"

"Amelia Wilson." I talked to her on the phone, but she didn't seem to have the faintest idea of what's going on in the world."

"What's the landlord's name?"

"She never told me. No doubt you'll find him at the apartment building. The address is 601 Osprey Drive. I think it's very near campus. While you're there, please talk to Wanda's teachers and her adviser." He took out a road map and squinted at the intersections. "The best way to get to the school is to follow this road."

He gave me directions in a frantic and authoritative tempo while I waited for him to finish. I figured him for a retired business man who was better at giving instructions to his sales staff than at doing anything himself.

When he stopped talking, he gazed at me for a reaction, so I gave it to him. "I will drive over there because I think this should be done face-to-face, but you'd get more information if you talk to Wanda's college professors yourself. Sometimes people clam up when they hear the words 'private investigator'." 

"I'm not driving anywhere. I just got back from a trip. You don't have to tell them you're a private detective, but I'm paying you to do the investigating and I expect you to do the work."

"All right. I'll drive, but you have to come with me." We sat in silence and stared at each other. A wall of resistance had built up on both sides. On some level I realized that our last words might sum up our attitude toward life.

There was something chilling about Mr. Bellinger. Although I didn't like the man for what he’d done to my grandmother, I hoped he hadn't had anything to do with his daughter's disappearance.

Add a Comment
6. Flogometer for Kelsey—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Wanted. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this checklist of first-page elements from my book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are. PDF copy available here.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

Kelsey sends a first chapter of Blood Walkers The rest of the chapter follows the break.

In the dim candle light of her bedroom, Bryn skimmed her fingertips across the bowl of blood. She muttered an incantation and wherever she touched the blood it turned black. When the entire surface shone like midnight, she dumped it over another bowl filled with flowers. The flowers withered but did not completely shrivel into themselves like last time. They were supposed to turn to dust.

Bryn wiped her hand with a wet rag then flung it across the room.

“By the goddess!”

The clock above her bed chimed a dozen times. It was time for the midday meal in the great hall. Bryn wouldn’t have to hide the failure weighing down on her shoulders with smile since she never had one anyways.

She perched on a stool at the end of a table in the hall and ate her meal in silence.

After lunch Bryn made her way to her mother’s chambers for their afternoon tea. When she arrived her mother was already waiting by a pot and two steaming cups on delicate saucers. The thin cups were spider-webbed with cracks.

Bryn sat across from her mother. She would never be as graceful. Fair skin, dark red hair, such a contrast to Bryn. She imitated the crossed ankles with her own thick ones and folded her hands in her lap, waiting to reach for tea once her mother had.

Were you compelled to turn Kelsey's first page?

Nice clear voice and good writing, the scene is set nicely . . . yet there’s little tension on this page and I don’t see a story question. It’s pretty much set-up, as is the rest of the chapter. While you do need to establish the world quickly, do that and raise a story question on the page, hopefully one with jeopardy for Bryn. Maybe give some thought to the First-page Checklist (PDF copy available here.)

By the way, later in the chapter it appears that she runs away, but that is not motivated at all and left me confused. Might give some thought to that. Notes:

In the dim candle light of her bedroom, Bryn skimmed her fingertips across the bowl of blood. She muttered an incantation and wherever she touched the blood it turned black. When the entire surface shone like midnight, she dumped it over another bowl filled with flowers. The flowers withered but did not completely shrivel into themselves like last time. They were supposed to turn to dust.

Bryn wiped her hand with a wet rag then flung it across the room.

“By the goddess!”

The clock above her bed chimed a dozen times. It was time for the midday meal in the great hall. Bryn wouldn’t have to hide the failure weighing down on her shoulders with smile since she never had one anyways.

She perched on a stool at the end of a table in the hall and ate her meal in silence. Suggest switching things around to transition the reader immediately: In the hall, she perched on a stool at the end of a table and ate her meal in silence. Is she alone? Might add that.

After lunch Bryn made her way to her mother’s chambers for their afternoon tea. When she arrived her mother was already waiting by a pot and two steaming cups on delicate saucers. The thin cups were spider-webbed with cracks.

Bryn sat across from her mother. She would never be as graceful. Fair skin, dark red hair, such a contrast to Bryn. She imitated the crossed ankles with her own thick ones and folded her hands in her lap, waiting to reach for tea once her mother had.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Kelsey

(continued)

“Are you practicing today?” Her mother asked.

“No I was supposed to fix some of the water supply tanks,” Bryn said. Only the worst witches did manual labour.

Her mother waved her hand through the air as if gently dispersing unfavorable perfume. “I’ve had that rearranged.” She re-crossed her ankles. “I actually have you working on lessons for the next two days, there are some new spells I want you to practice.”

“You want me to try more difficult spells?” Bryn asked with excitement.

“Not necessarily more difficult,” replied her mother. “But different.”

Bryn’s shoulders slumped.

“Use what you have Bryn,” her mother said as she handed Bryn a slim volume.

Bryn turned the caramel leather bound book over in her hands.  A faint willow tree was scratched into the cover.

“Take as much time as you need,” her mother said softly. “Two days should be enough time to discover where you stand with these spells.”

Her mother stood with arms outstretched, Bryn stood and was drawn into a tight hug. “Always take what is precious to you, and let go of that which means the most.”

Bryn thought she saw her mother’s eyes get misty. Her mother waved her away and Bryn left to go to her room. She picked up speed as she made her way down the hallway and was nearly running when she threw herself through her doorway.

She packed her small wooden bowls and some spare clothes into a pack. She added her onyx crystal and various animal bones, necessary for some spells.

She crept out of the confines of her coven’s caves in the dead of night, cloaked by a moonless sky. At first she meandered down the main path through the forest but soon thought better of it. She wandered in and out of trees toward the dense heart of the forest where she would be harder to find.

As she walked through the trees at the peak of midnight, the start of the witching hours, she heard a rustle in the undergrowth. Bryn looked over her shoulder and saw two glowing, yellow-amber eyes. The sound of the soft padding of paws on the earth moved toward her.

Add a Comment
7. A first-page checklist & free review ebook

First at workshop I did for the Idaho Writers League conference a month or so ago and then for the Writer Unboxed Writer’s conference, I created a “first-page checklist.” This has grown out of seeing and working with more than 825 submissions to FtQ and the manuscripts I edit. I offer it below for your consideration and use. If you want to download a PDF version, click here. The checklist also appears in my new writing book, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling, one of the content additions to the old Flogging a Quill book that is now out of print.

Let me focus for a moment on the first thing a first page should be doing:

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist.

This notion grew out of a workshop by literary agent and fiction analyst Donald Maass. He reported that, in his agenting business, editors will often reject a novel saying, “It ran out of steam.” The reasons most manuscripts fall short are that not enough is happening in the middle and that the editor is not truly engaged with the protagonist, there has been no strong connection made. Maass suggests, and I agree, that you’re in a stronger position if you begin making that connection on the first page. I went in and revised the first page of my WIP after learning this. I like it better.

A couple of caveats go with this checklist: first, they are not rules, they are guidelines. No writer should feel that their first-page narrative checks off every box—although it can, and if it does it has a better chance of being compelling.

Secondly, I’ve seen where a strong first-person narrative can ignore many of these items and still compel. Part of what the outliers do is have a strong voice, the one ingredient besides story questions that can compel a page turn. Another part is that a first-person narration can raise strong story questions even without action, a scene, etc.

3D cover250WBefore I post the list, let me offer once again a FREE ebook copy (Kindle, epub/Nook, PDF) of my new Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling in return for reviews. Just email me and I can send you a copy.

The paperback is now for sale on my website--it's signed, free shipping, and discounted $16.99 $15. It's also at Amazon, but not signed. The Kindle edition is available here. And here's a free PDF sample.

And now here’s a first-page checklist, though it wouldn’t hurt to hold all of your pages up to these criteria. The checklist can be a good tool for spotting shortcomings where a narrative sags. PDF here.

A First-page Checklist

  • It begins connecting the reader with the protagonist
  • Something is happening. On a first page, this does NOT include a character musing about whatever.
  • What happens is dramatized in an immediate scene with action and description plus, if it works, dialogue.
  • What happens moves the story forward.
  • What happens has consequences for the protagonist.
  • The protagonist desires something.
  • The protagonist does something.
  • There’s enough of a setting to orient the reader as to where things are happening.
  • It happens in the NOW of the story.
  • Backstory? What backstory? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • Set-up? What set-up? We’re in the NOW of the story.
  • What happens raises a story question—what happens next? or why did that happen?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
8. The middle

At the Writer Unboxed Unconference last week—what a treat!—in one of agent Donald Maass’s workshops he talked about how good novel manuscripts fall short. The place they primarily fall short is in the middle. Too often editors report back to him that it just “lost steam.” He had excellent approaches to avoiding that, including engaging the reader with a character starting on the first page.

A writer at the conference posted the photo below, and it does such a fine job of showing the importance of the middle I just had to share it.

Submissions still needed for flogging. I have just one for this week.

The middle450W

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
9. UnBoxed Unconference

WUConference logo150WI'm still at (and loving) the Writer Unboxed Unconference. This conference, which feels more like a gathering of a huge extended family, could spoil other conferences for the writers here. The sense of community is like no other I've experienced. Below is a photo of me doing my first-page workshop. It was great fun.

WUU workshop photo350W

Flogometer Submissions Needed

There are none in the queue, so please send a prologue or first chapter if you'd like fresh eyes to tell you what they see in your work.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
10. Flogometer for Stacie—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. None in the queue for Friday. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Stacie sends a first chapter of Dark Places The rest of the chapter follows the break.

“She wants me to spy?” Vivienne said. She gripped Adona’s wrinkled arm.

“I don’t think it’s quite that. She just wants you to ask around.” Adona clicked her tongue. “Traitor trouble. What a shame.”

Vivienne nodded, envisioning Adona pouring over Vivienne’s letter, and grinned.

“Vi?” Adona said.

“Please don’t think I’m awful. I’m not happy about the strained relations, it’s just,” Vivienne bit her lip. “Tahna thinks I can do something. Lorelai too. I mean, they think that I can do something.” She stood up and whooped.

Adona hummed.

Vivienne felt around for her seat with her foot and then sat down. She smoothed her skirts and put out her hand for the letter. “My thanks for reading it to me Adona.”

“What did you come all this way to have me read your letter? What about your fancy companion. What are you paying her for if not to read your letters?”

Vivienne put all her attention into dusting her skirts, as if she could see any dust- as if she could see anything. “Janessa and I have quarreled.”

“Oh?” Adona said.

“Yes. Besides, I wanted to see you. I always want to see you.”

Were you compelled to turn Stacie's first page?

The voice is good and the writing clean, but for me there were some things missing, including setting the scene. Where are these women having their conversation? And when—on the next page Vivienne gets into a carriage, so this is a period piece of some kind, though there’s no hint. More than that, there’s no story question here, it’s all set-up. I think this needs to start later with an eye to clarity. Keep at it, a blind woman spying in older times is an interesting concept, just get to the story.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Stacie

 

(continued)

“Hmm.” Vivienne loved the sound of Adona’s voice. It was deep and strong and had not yet matched her age.

Vivienne expected that Adona was leaning her cheek toward her for a peck so she leaned forward until Adona’s cheek hit her lips. “Well, Adona.”

“Well.” Adona stood next to Vivienne. Vivienne placed her hand on Adona’s arm and walked with her to the door. They stopped in front of her carriage. Garth handed her up into the carriage.

“See that that new cook of yours doesn’t burn down my kitchen,” Adona said.

Vivienne smiled and blew a kiss. “Oh.” She pushed the letter forward again. “What am I thinking? Will you burn this for me?”

“What?”

“I, that is-,”

“You’re always in for the dramatics.”

Vivienne smiled, “Yes, exactly.” Though she didn’t think so at all.

Adona sighed and took the letter. “I haven’t had a warmth fire in weeks, but I’ll do it just for you.”

“Don’t be silly, you can just throw it into one of your cook fires when Jakey comes to help you with your meals tonight or tomorrow.”

“Very well.”

Vivienne felt Garth close the door, “Ready miss?”

Add a Comment
11. 22 Rules to Phenomenal Storytelling

In a fun, graphic way, Pixar—a notably successful storyteller—gives us their notion of the 22 rules to utilize for telling a phenomenal story.

Story structureMy favorite is one I’ve seen before, the basic structure of any store boiled down to 6 sentences.

Meanwhile, I’m in Salem, MA for the Writer Unboxed Unconference, about to go down to register and mingle. Had supper last night with the force behind the Unconference, Therese Walsh, her husband Sean, and other conference-goers I’ve only “met” on the Internet. I read Therese’s latest novel, The Moon Sisters, on the flight here and, once again, she made me cry. I’ll be writing a review later, but I’ll recommend it right now.

WUConference logo

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
12. Flogometer for Yvonne—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. None in the queue for next week. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Yvonne sends a first chapter of Fugue The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Lakeview Neighborhood, Chicago

Even the rain was just a broken thing in her screwed up mind; Lake Michigan transmogrified into suicidal shards. The deluge coated her picture window at dawn, materializing in Viola Collier’s dream as syncopated percussion gone wrong. 

No!

The nightmare music had felt so real that Viola was certain she had been working still. She massaged her neck, cranked at an unnatural angle from sleeping in her chair as a bombastic measure of thunder rattled her studio apartment, assuring her she was awake now to deal with her real nightmare.

Ugly peg stubs. Nasty skin comb-over. Disgusting.

Viola surveyed her legs, never getting used to the fact that they ended at her knees now. Three years and she still woke each morning believing she was whole, phantom feet ready to bolt for a quick shower before rehearsal. But everything had ended with her accident: Her career, her ease of life, her bourgeoning relationship with Andrew… everything.

The train: She needed more from the horns to bring it to life. And the rhythm that had seemed so perfect last night was all wrong this morning. The rain had shown her that.

 Courtyard light cast shadows of fat raindrops onto her bedroom walls. The light was murky, as if coffee tracked down her windows in continuous rivulets, but it was just bright (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Yvonne's first page?

Very nice writing and voice, and you introduce a hugely sympathetic character. Yet there’s no story question raised, nothing happening other than waking up. If you can do without the dream reference and just get into something happening that raises a story question about what’s going to happen to her next, this would be a winner. I gave it an Almost tending to Yes. Notes:

Even the rain was just a broken thing in her screwed up mind; Lake Michigan transmogrified into suicidal shards. The deluge coated her picture window at dawn, materializing in Viola Collier’s dream as syncopated percussion gone wrong. 

No!

The nightmare music had felt so real that Viola was certain she had been working still. She massaged her neck, cranked at an unnatural angle from sleeping in her chair as a bombastic measure of thunder rattled her studio apartment, assuring her she was awake now to deal with her real nightmare.

Ugly peg stubs. Nasty skin comb-over. Disgusting. This briefly took me out of the story. Yes, the next line fills in the gap, but I still had to stop and think about it. I suggest you try preceding this paragraph with the first sentence of the next one, then return to the “three years…”

Viola surveyed her legs, never getting used to the fact that they ended at her knees now. Three years and she still woke each morning believing she was whole, phantom feet ready to bolt for a quick shower before rehearsal. But everything had ended with her accident: Her career, her ease of life, her bourgeoning relationship with Andrew… everything.

The train: She needed more from the horns to bring it to life. And the rhythm that had seemed so perfect last night was all wrong this morning. The rain had shown her that.

Courtyard light cast shadows of fat raindrops onto her bedroom walls. The light was murky, as if coffee tracked down her windows in continuous rivulets, but it was just bright (snip) I would cut these two lines to get the reader more imbedded into what’s going on by going directly to this from the next page:

She needed to hurry before the lines of the last movement dissipated into smoke. The distorted rhythm of her dreams presented her with what was lacking: The adagio was too harsh. A softer reticence to act as portent, that’s what Viola needed.

 Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Yvonne

 

(contined)

enough for her to work.  She needed to hurry before the lines of the last movement dissipated into smoke. The distorted rhythm of her dreams presented her with what was lacking: The adagio was too harsh. A softer reticence to act as portent, that’s what Viola needed. 

Time to summon Andrew back to her.

Viola inhaled a deep breath, taking in the same air that Andrew too breathed somewhere else in the city. It was the only connection they shared now, across neighborhoods and skyscrapers and trains and Chicago’s thriving pulse that continued to beat without her, somewhere he breathed her air. Loving a ghost is what it was.  His absence was present in every note but her music returned him to her too, an irony she could never explain:  The slight hollow beneath his cheek bones commissioned by the spot light, the wild halo his hair formed in mid-pirouette, the soft rage emanating from him when he danced, when he approached her. These were her worst moments, when Andrew was so real again. They created her most inspired work.

They say you’re Balanchine’s grandson. Is it true?

The pen was still in her hand, a relic from last night’s furious pace. Her fingers ached when she stretched them.  Wheeling herself to the back corner where the wall met the window, Viola allowed a cool draft gusting through the closed window to dry her sweaty face. Wall space was running out and soon she would need to shimmy to the floor to work from there.  But for now, she remained seated, last night’s work pleading with her to be completed. Again, she lost herself to her music.

More intensity. Impending ruin…grinding. Just more. The wall as her pallet was no longer before her.  Viola waited at the Diversey Street Station now, standing on the platform with ichor and blood running through her legs, the hinge of her ankles neatly propelling her upright. She smiled into the warm air of the arriving El train as it blew back her hair on the day she was going to rehearse with Andrew, but instead, never saw him again.

Outside, the wind blew and the courtyard trees danced a tribal dance and the sky boiled in the dark, but Viola was elsewhere as the room sobbed and sobbed and sobbed around her.

Add a Comment
13. Flogometer for Tim—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed for Next Week. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Tim sends a first chapter of Labyrinth. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Flames rose from the burning manor as the cloaked figures approached my carriage.

I frowned at the view from the coach window. I’d sent three people to infiltrate the manor. Counting the turncoat within the walls and the prisoner, there should have been five people in the approaching band. The approaching group numbered three.

The plan didn’t call for burning the manor, either.

Something had gone wrong.

“In you go,” said Gerent, opening the door and thrusting the prisoner into the carriage.

The prisoner glared at me. She was pretty, blond, and all of eighteen years of age. She was also a distant relation of the imperial house, thought lost for years until she abruptly surfaced in this stinking pesthole last week and underwent the simple ritual confirming that she was indeed the descendant of Vania DuSwaimair and Gilos Euripides.

“Let me go, you knife nosed bastard,” she said, spitting the gag out of her mouth.

“My lady, this is a rescue, not abduction,” I said. “And my nose is aristocratic, not ‘knife nosed.’”

She lifted her bound hands by way of reply.

I put on my best false smile. “Merely a precaution,” I said.

Were you compelled to turn TIm's first page?

A likeable voice and good story questions—what will happen to the prisoner girl? Why is she being taken? There are a few issues and the narrative could be crisper, but that can be dealt with. I turned this page. Notes:

Flames rose from the burning manor as three the cloaked figures approached my carriage.

I frowned at the view from the coach window. I’d sent three people to infiltrate the manor. Counting the turncoat within the walls and the prisoner, there should have been five people in the approaching band. The approaching group numbered three. wordy

The plan didn’t call hadn’t called for burning the manor, either.

Something had gone wrong. This seems obvious, why waste a line on it.

“In you go,” said Gerent, opening the door and thrusting the prisoner into the carriage.

The prisoner glared at me. She was pretty, blond, and all of eighteen years of age. She was also a distant relation of the imperial house, thought lost for years until she abruptly surfaced in this stinking pesthole last week and underwent the simple ritual confirming that she was indeed the descendant of Vania DuSwaimair and Gilos Euripides.

“Let me go, you knife nosed-bastard,” she said, spitting the gag out of her mouth. If she could spit it out, why hasn’t she already done that and called for help? Doesn’t seem credible. Suggest he take it out.

“My lady, this is a rescue, not abduction,” I said. “And my nose is aristocratic, not ‘knife-nosed.’” Nice characterizing line.

She lifted her bound hands by way of reply.

I put on my best false smile. “Merely a precaution,” I said.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Tim

 

(continued)

The coach jolted. I refrained from cursing the local despots who’d long ago stolen the paving stones from its surface to use in building their own crude palaces.

“Where are you taking me?” demanded the girl.

“To the Solarian Empire,” I said.

Outside her window, the pitted and cracked wall of Saba drifted past. I’d had quite enough of the place, thank you very much. I’d spent much of the past fortnight amid those stinking huts and weird temples, listening to eunuch priests prattle about their pagan deities. I’d negotiated with nearly naked hunters for ivory, and with black skinned merchants who smiled far too often as they sold their kin into servitude.

The view from the window on my side revealed a steeply rising unpopulated slope covered with bizarre orange grass and dotted with immense ebony boulders with crude faces carved into their surfaces. One of Saba’s priests had told me the stones were guardians set in place by the god Geb to guard his realm. If so, they hadn’t done a very good job.

“Suppose I don’t want to go,” said the girl.

“My Lady Bethany,” I said, “you have no choice. Nobility brings with it obligations. Obligation to empire is why your mother and father wed.” I refrained from mentioning the fratricidal bloodbath seven years after those nuptials which saw her brother and both parents slaughtered. Officially, she’d died along with them. Unofficially, there’d been doubts.

I also forbore mentioning my families interests did not align with those of the current imperial clan. It was possible my grandfather would see Bethany married to one of my cousins before turning her over to the emperor. It was also possible he might decide the best place for Bethany was an unmarked grave in the wilderness. Or he might simply decide to extract a few concessions. But his decision would have the Maximus family interests at heart.

We rounded a corner, approaching the main road from Saba’s gates. Now the broken bulk of Mount Radix loomed outside my window. The local cults forbade settlement on the mountain. One priest’s I’d spoken too claimed the mountain was Geb’s stronghold and the deity made the ground tremble beneath would be settler’s feet. A rival cultist informed me another deity had imprisoned Geb beneath the mountain, and the mountain shook as a result of his efforts to break free. I cared for neither myth. What I cared about was the galley I’d hired was waiting for my party in the cove on the mountains far side when I arrived. Officially, I was already on that galley, sailing north towards Ismara with ivory and slaves.

The coach slowed. Something was wrong.

A hard cracking sound filled the air. The floor tilted and turned into the wall. Bethany collapsed into a tight ball in the corner. My landing was undignified.

Screams and shouts rang from outside, along with the clash of metal on metal. From the sound of it, Casein was giving a good account of himself.

I popped the door open, stuck my head out, and nearly lost it to the blade of a hairy brute whose exposed skin was so pale a shade of pink it practically glowed.

My return thrust pierced him through the chest.

He fell backwards.

By the time I’d made it out of the toppled carriage, the fight was over.

I took in the scene. Casein bled from a nasty cut across his chest. Gerent held his side. Horace spat out dirt and stones. A solid wall of Saba’s residents lined the road, watching, pointing, and jabbering. All the horses had perished or run off in the attack.

“Titus,” said Casein. “There’s more behind this bunch.”

“Get the girl,” I said.

Gerent climbed atop the coach and lifted the door. I heard him mutter something.

“Stop mumbling and get the girl,” I shouted.

“She’s not here,” said Gerent.

“What? That’s impossible!”

I refrained from uttering a string of obscenities. Instead, I kicked the corpse of the man I’d slain. His body rolled over. My blood chilled. I was staring at the corpse of Carl DuFloret, a minor scion of a major imperial family. The Imperial Eyes would have hard questions about the demise of a ranking nobleman, even in a pesthole like Saba.

A trio of Saba’s elite citizens ran into the city, their brightly colored robes flapping. A nearly naked hunter with a bone through his nose took a step towards us, leaf bladed spear pointing in our direction.

We had to get out of here. We couldn’t stay on the road or reach the harbor. That left the mountain. I began scanning the slopes. Hopefully, fear of Geb would keep Saba’s denizens from following us.

Casein glared at the approaching hunter, who retreated into the mob. The hunter shouted something in a tribal dialect.

I remembered encountering Carl DuFloret’s older brother in Saba a few days earlier, preparing to hunt the giant lizards which roamed Mount Radix’s slopes. I was willing to wager giant lizards weren’t the only creatures he was looking for out here. He must have known about Bethany. Being an imperial loyalist to the core like the rest of his clan, he really would attempt to rescue the wayward princess.

A bit of movement on the slope above caught my attention. It was Bethany.

“There, my lord,” said Horace, pointing to a steeply climbing gully before us.

We began running towards the crevice.

The gully was just shy of vertical. Fortunately, there were abundant hand and footholds. Horace climbed without apparent effort, a talent developed during his housebreaking days. I followed, drawing on skills unused since my time in the legions.

A steep grassy slope dominated by giant black stones waited at the top of the cleft.

I stepped back from the cliff and took in the scene below.

A mob of Saba’s citizens stood outside the gate. I saw at least ten of the nearly naked hunters, bones through their noses and hair tied back in knots among them. Each carried a long spear and a sharp knife.

A large ragged band of footmen approached along the road from the still flaming manor, led by the peacock Eugene Parthenon, as impeccably mannered and utterly treacherous as the rest of his family.

Another party of hairy, pale skinned westerners emerged from Saba’s gate. I recognized Simon DuFloret’s tall frame in their midst.

The local gawkers fled at the sight of the chained vree held by two of Simon’s men, no doubt fearing the venom in the creature’s tentacles. I remembered those vree. DuFloret had been proud of acquiring the dog sized, six legged beasts with tentacles growing out of their heads, prattling on endlessly about the creatures tracking ability, and how difficult it was to train them. He’d been especially proud of the packs leader, an ancient beast the size of a pony.

The two groups converged at the fallen carriage. I expected a fight. Instead, they exchanged words.

The two bands were negotiating with each other! Utterly loyal Hairy Simon DuFloret stood before the treacherous, effete Free City nobleman, engaged in intense conversation.

“They won’t be getting those beasts up the crack we took,” said Casein.

“I found her trail,” said Gerent.

“We’ll follow her, then,” I said. “Maybe we can salvage something from this debacle yet.”

We began climbing the steep slope, following a faint trace past fractured stone blocks tall as castle towers.

The slope ended at the lip of a sheer drop into a swampy dell with an aroma reminiscent of an open sewer rising from its depths. My stomach churned at the stench. “It smells like droath,” I said, remembering the six legged house sized beasts from the war. The quartermasters valued the ugly things for their sheer pulling power, but they stank worse than a garbage pit mixed with a barn full of manure.

“No, not droath’s,” said Gerent. “I drove a droath cart in the legions. That’s thunder lizard stench.”

I remembered Simon saying he’d come to Saba to hunt thunder lizards. I also remembered a priest mentioning that thunder lizards were sacred to Geb.

“There’s a road,” said Casein, pointing at a dark line angling into the dell across from us.

“Her trail leads straight for it,” said Gerent, who’d knelt to the ground.

“Damn,” said Casein. “She’ll get us eaten by thunder lizards.”

I couldn’t decide if she was being stupid or smart. “We go after her,” I said.

We began working our way along the valley’s lip.

“My lord, we must hurry,” said Horace, tugging on my sleeve and pointing at the slope we’d just ascended. A large band of pale figures was visible at the bottom of the slope, Simon DuFloret plainly visible in their midst. Past them, outside Saba’s gate, half a dozen priests were haranguing a crowd of several hundred locals, many of them waving their traditional spears. I glimpsed smoke rising from several parts of the city. I doubted they were mere cook-fires.

We reached the road, a worn trace surfaced with black stones. Bethany’s trail followed it right into the pit. The road leveled out just above the bubbling green and brown fluid.

Gerent paused.

“Out with it, man,” said Casein. The stench was so bad his eyes watered.

“She went into the muck,” said Gerent, “but came right back out.”

“Why would she do something like that?” Casein demanded.

“To mask her scent from the thunder lizards.” I considered the glop while attempting to keep my stomachs contents in place. This woman thought more like an imperial scout than an imperial princess. I splashed some of the disgusting fluid on my arms and legs.

Gerent nodded approvingly. “Thunder lizards do track by scent,” he said, and applied a dose of the vile substance to his own garb.

Horace and Casein followed suit.

“Let’s press on,” I said.

Gerent obliged, and we followed the road along the edge of the crater until it ascended a short slope and turned sharply into a narrow gorge. The gorge ended in a round black hole twenty feet across, flanked by crude statues of lizards with huge maws, six legs, and long tales - thunder lizards. Great claw marks marred the ground where massive beasts had passed.

Casein stared at the tunnel mouth. “You’re not serious. She went in there?”

Gerent nodded ascent.

Horace tugged my sleeve. “My lord, they’ve reached the edge of the valley.”

I turned to Casein. “We don’t have a choice. We go in after her.”

“It’s dark in there,” Casein complained. “What will we do for light?”

I pointed at Gerent who held up a bundle of sticks with their ends wrapped in rags. “There’s a pile here at the entrance,” he said. He brought out a packet of precious matches and used one to set three of the torches ablaze.

We stepped into the dark.

The round tunnel ran straight. There were no intersections.

“There’s light ahead,” said Gerent, his voice barely more than a whisper.

“Is it her?” Casein asked.

I glared at him. “Of course it’s her. Who else would be in here with a light?”

I was wrong. The light came from a bubbling red pit in a large chamber at the end of the tunnel, with other round passageways leading from it. The chamber reeked of sulfur. Bethany stood next to an opening on the chambers far side, clenching a flickering torch, her filthy pale dress gleaming slightly in the gloom.

A six legged, scaled monster three times the size of a horse slept on a flat stone between her and us.

A faint racket sounded behind us, the sound of many men attempting to move silently and failing miserably.

We didn’t have a choice. We began skirting the cavern, keeping our distance from the sleeping thunder lizard.

I reached the Bethany’s ledge. She ignored me, her gaze fixated on the sleeping monster.

Hoping she wouldn’t cry out, I grabbed her arm. My hand passed right through her flesh. The dress fell to the ground. The girl’s image flickered and vanished.

I silently cursed.

Bethany was a witch! She’d used magic to escape the carriage.

I remembered similar sorcerous tricks from the war.

A clatter of steel on stone came from the passage we’d entered by, followed by a not silent enough oath.

The thunder lizard’s eyelids opened, revealing yellow orbs the size of my head.

The vree tore into the cavern, leaping for the thunder lizard’s throat. A roar that sounded like the trumpet of doom erupted from the creature’s throat, followed by high pitched cries as it squashed one vree flat and knocked a second into the magma with its armored tail. But more vree escaped its wrath, dodging claws, teeth, and tail, circling and leaping.

Behind the vree came men, carrying bright swords and long spears. The thunder lizard ignored the high pitched yaps of the vree and focused its attention on these new intruders. Then it leaped. Three men died in as many heartbeats, impaled by claws or crushed by jaws large enough to swallow a dog.

Simon appeared in the tunnel entryway. He ducked under the thunder lizard’s tail and dropped next to the magma pool.

My party retreated into the tunnel behind the false image.

The barest hint of movement from a third opening across the way caught my attention. I was willing to wager it was Bethany, watching the carnage she’d unleashed. But there was an angry thunder lizard between me and her.

Across the chamber Simon plunged his spear into the thunder lizard’s side. Its tail knocked him twenty feet in retaliation. Simon came to rest right at the mouth of the portal where I’d sensed movement. He saw something. A pale arm reached from the gloom.

A second warrior jabbed a spear into the thunder lizard. The thunder lizard swatted him into the magma.

More men entered the cavern, flanking the beast on both sides.

One of the vree wrapped itself around the giant reptile’s right rear foot.

Simon led Bethany from the shadows.

I ground my teeth in frustration. I lacked the men to fight either the thunder lizard or its executioners. If I remained, Simon would execute me once he’d finished with the thunder lizard. His prowess was legendary, along with the backwoods code of honor his clan adhered to. I doubted even Casein could match him.

One of the vree, the largest of the bunch, turned its attention from the thunder lizard to the tunnel where we crouched.

It leaped. Caseins sword flashed. The vree gurgled and died.

I turned and began working my way along the tunnel.

The clamor faded behind us.

At length, a dot of daylight appeared before us, which grew into a round opening. We stepped into another narrow valley with crude idols of thunder lizards and other monstrosities lining its slopes.

The view didn’t cheer me. I dreaded the tongue lashing awaiting me from grandfather. I feared he’d do more than that: he’d kept my cousin Quintus confined to his room for year for a much smaller blunder.

Casein noted my despondency. “Cheer up, Titus,” he said, smacking me on the back with a meaty paw which still stank of the swamp. “At least we won’t die in that pit now.”

“No,” said a new voice, “you will die out here.” Eugene Parthenon emerged from behind a nearby boulder, his clothes not stained or disheveled in the slightest.

More men popped out from behind other stones, some of them carrying bows.

“Murdering a member of the Solarian aristocracy is a poor idea,” I said. “Such acts have started wars.”

“I’m certain the thunder lizards will leave no evidence of homicide,” Eugene said. He nodded. The archers pulled back on their bow strings.

I looked for cover, and but saw nothing more than a shallow pit and a knee high boulder.

A scream rang out.

For a moment, I couldn’t figure out who’d screamed. An immense trumpet like roar sounded as a thunder lizard came running across the dell, one of Eugene’s men kicking feebly in its grasp.

Eugene turned and stared disbelievingly as the armored creature lifted a three toed foot the size of a tree trunk.

Before he could run, the foot came down, crushing him to bloody pulp.

A swipe of the monsters tail knocked a second man into a boulder. He slid to the ground, chest crushed, leaving a red stain on the grey rock.

Eugene’s remaining guards fled. One launched a single arrow at the beast before fleeing, which bounced off its scaled hide.

The thunder lizard paused and stared uncertainly in our direction. It sniffed.

My companions and I stood stock still, not daring to breathe.

The thunder lizard’s horse sized head shook. Then it spotted a man running down the hill and took off in pursuit.

I remembered to exhale. My body shook. “Let’s go home,” I said, considering the implications of both a dead solarian noble and a dead free cities aristocrat.

Add a Comment
14. Meet me in Salem?

WUConference logoI have the privilege of conducting my Crafting a Killer First Page workshop at the very first Writer Unboxed Unconference this coming week in Salem, MA. The unconference is from November 3 through November 7 and features luminaries such as Donald Maass and other writing pros.

Get more information about the workshops and sessions being offered here.

This one should be even more fun than the others I do since I’ve been a contributor to the Writer Unboxed blog for, egads, 10 years, and WU has become quite a community. Many of the attendees will have seen my posts there over the years, and I theirs. I’m excited about meeting in person the people behind all the good writing I’ve read.

There are 11 seats left! There’s still room, and right now you have a chance for a $100 discount. Go here for the conference schedule and to register.

I hope to see you there. Be sure to say hey.

Ray

Add a Comment
15. Flogometer for Stanley—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. Nothing in the queue. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Stanley sends a first chapter of The Tapping I believe it’s intended for middle grade readers. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

Kathy first heard it the night of the picnic. She and her boyfriend, Bill, had spent the evening sitting around the campfire with their friends roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. It was now just past 11 p.m. and she had gone to bed. It had been a fun day, the picnic and all.

Kathy had always enjoyed scary stories, but the one about the tapping noise from the trapped coal miners had caused her to shiver with fear. It was good to be back home  in her own bed. She needed the rest because she was going hiking early the next morning with Dawnese, Bill and Jeff to the Emery Hot Springs at the old mining camp. Kathy turned out the lights and drifted into sleep.

Just past midnight, Kathy stirred. She saw and heard the miners tapping on the walls of the tunnel, trying to get out before they suffocated. The roof of the tunnel had collapsed and the water was rising, trapping all 15 of the men. They scrambled for higher ground, but it was no use. .

Kathy woke up. She was shaking. Her pajamas were wet. Had she actually been there? Was it just a bad dream?

She checked the clock; it was 12:01am. "I must have been awaken by the chime of the clock in the hall," she thought.

Were you compelled to turn Stanley's first page?

This opening page (and the chapter) has storytelling issues that need to be worked on. It opens with a good deal of backstory and exposition and then leads into a dream, all things that tend to defuse tension. Then the character wakes up, and that’s about all that happens. There’s no real story question raised other than the wet pajamas, which, if true, could have been the start of something interesting—but the character ignores it. Later in the chapter she recounts her dream to her friends but doesn’t mention waking up wet. I passed. Notes:

Kathy first heard it the night of the picnic. She and her boyfriend, Bill, had spent the evening sitting around the campfire with their friends roasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories. It was now just past 11 p.m. and she had gone to bed. It had been a fun day, the picnic and all. The unattributed pronoun “it” at the beginning refers to something the reader doesn’t know, so it’s basically meaningless. And this opens with backstory instead of the “now” of what’s happening.

Kathy had always enjoyed scary stories, but the one about the tapping noise from the trapped coal miners had caused her to shiver with fear. It was good to be back home  in her own bed. She needed the rest because she was going hiking early the next morning with Dawnese, Bill and Jeff to the Emery Hot Springs at the old mining camp. Kathy turned out the lights and drifted into sleep. A lot of “telling” and info dumping in this paragraph. What happens tomorrow doesn’t matter now. The list of names doesn’t add, either.

Just past midnight, Kathy stirred. She saw and heard the miners tapping on the walls of the tunnel, trying to get out before they suffocated. The roof of the tunnel had collapsed and the water was rising, trapping all 15 fifteen of the men. They scrambled for higher ground, but it was no use. .

Kathy woke up. She was shaking. Her pajamas were wet. Had she actually been there? Was it just a bad dream? Her pajamas are wet but she doesn’t react other than to notice it? If I woke up in bed with my pajamas wet, I’d get out of bed. Seems like the bed would be wet, too, but in the chapter she just stays in bed and goes back to sleep. Not credible to this reader.

She checked the clock; it was 12:01am. "I must have been awaken awakened by the chime of the clock in the hall," she thought.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Stanley

(continued)

Kathy laid her head down on the pillow and again started to drift into sleep. It was not long before she heard it again, the tapping sound. Was she back in the same dream? "No," she thought, "I am still awake." She listened closely. The tapping was coming from under her bed. She pulled the covers over her head and tried to go to sleep again. The tapping soon stopped, but she kept her head under the covers for the rest of the night, and vowed she would not listen to ghost stories ever again.

Suddenly, there was knocking, this time at the door. Kathy still had the covers over her head. Kathy's mother was saying, "Wake up, Kathy. Dawnese is on the phone." Kathy, blurry eyed, noticed it was morning. The sun was shining through the window.

Kathy's mother knocked again and said, "Kathy! Dawnese is on the phone."

"Yes, mom," Kathy responded sleepily, "tell her I'm coming." What a night it had been! She was sure it had just been a bad dream, but the tapping noise had sounded so real. She was still very sleepy. "What time is it?" she thought. "Seven thirty! I'm late!" They had planned to get everything ready at seven for an early start on the hike. Dawnese was probably calling to find out why she wasn't ready yet. Kathy threw on a robe and headed upstairs to the answer the phone.

Kathy was a happy girl of 14 with a long slender build, brown hair and eyes.  Dawnese was just slightly younger. They had been friends for a long time and had just discovered fun things to do with boys. It was summer time and they didn't want to waste any of it.

"Yes, Dawnese," Kathy said with an apologetic tone, "I overslept. Those ghost stories last night at the campfire kept me from sleeping very well."

"You'll have to tell us all about it on the hike, but we late getting started already."

"Okay," said Kathy, "I'll hurry. Come on over. We can leave in about 10 minutes."

Kathy hung up the phone and quickly ran to the bathroom. Over her shoulder, she shouted to her mother, "Mom, can you make my sack lunch right away?"

Kathy quickly showered, unusual for her, and hurried off to her room. Her room was in the basement of the house built almost 50 years ago. It was dark and gloomy in some parts of the basement, but Kathy had painted her walls a lively yellow color and plastered pictures of mountain scenes and movie stars throughout the room. Linoleum squares covered the floor, but she had a large throw rug in the center of the room to add some warmth. Her bed was a big old fashion four-poster painted white. Kathy's bedspread was a lively plaid and gave the room a comfortable feeling.

Kathy turned on the radio as she picked out light blue shorts and blouse to wear. She would wear her sneakers and take a daypack with her. She and her friends planned to spend about three hours walking up Emery Gulch to the old mining camp. The area had a swimming hole with a hot spring feeding it. Living in the mountains at about 5000 feet elevation made many of the swimming areas too cold in early June. The hot springs made the water very comfortable this time of year.

Kathy picked out a white swimming suit and said to herself, "I hope this doesn't get too dirty at the Emery swimming hole." She finished dressing and made one more quick glance at the mirror to see how she looked. She heard the knock on the front door upstairs, and quickly left her room; bed unmade, and slammed her door as she darted up the stairs to her waiting friend.

"Hi, Kathy," said Dawnese, "I see you are ready."

"Yes. How is my lunch coming, Mom?"

"It’s ready. I packed you two tuna sandwiches, a granola bar, an apple, and soda. Anything else you want, dear?"

"No, Mom, the lunch is just fine."

There was a knock at the door. Kathy said, "Come on in Bill."

As he opened the door, Jeff said, "Do I look like Bill? Of course, I am better looking!"

"Not so fast, Jeff," said Bill as he pushed his way inside. "Are you girls ready to go yet?"

It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and just cool enough to make the walking enjoyable. Kathy look at Bill. He was tall, thin and muscular. At 16 he had hint of a mustache, brown hair and brown eyes.  Her mother said she was too young to date so these group activities gave her time to spend with Bill, even if they were not alone.

"I wonder how the Emery swimming hole fared this last winter," Bill wondered aloud.

"I am sure the hot water will feel just fine," Kathy said. "I can't wait to go swimming again."

"Did you learn any new strokes in school last year, Kathy?" asked Jeff.

"I sure did," said Kathy. "I learned to do the breaststroke. I also did a few backflips, but they are still a little scary."

"I can give you a few instructions," said Bill.

"Thanks,” said Kathy as she smiled at him.

They walked in silence for a few minutes as they opened the gate through Olsen's yard and started walking towards the Gulch. Emeryville had been a coal mining town in early 1900's but several mining accidents had closed down the mines. It had been just too expensive to reopen them, although there had been recent talk about opening up the mines using newly available extraction methods. Kathy's grandfather had been a miner, but he had died several years ago. Kathy's father was an engineer and felt it might be possible to make money on the mines again. He believed there were gold and other valuable minerals still present in the mine.

There were many superstitious people in this old mining town. There were some who said they had heard the cries of the dead when the mine collapsed in 1917. They were afraid of the ghost of the dead men from the mine. Times were changing and less of the people believed old tale.

"Kathy," said Dawnese, "you were going to tell about your dream last night."

"What dream?" asked Jeff.

"Well," said Kathy, "you know we told ghost stories around the campfire last night. Some of those stories seem just too real to me, especially with the old timers still talk about the night of the mine collapse. When I went to bed last night, I must have still been thinking about the Emeryville Ghosts because I woke up last night about midnight."

"Yes, go on!" said Bill.

"It is hard to describe. Spooky! My room was dark. The moon must have gone behind a cloud. The room was deathly quiet. I felt as if I was in a cave and there was no way out. Now, you know I am not afraid of caves, but this was different. I heard the tapping of the miners’hammers and the distance sound of those trying to reach us.  I could feel the water getting higher and higher, and I struggled to breath. I wanted to scream, but I couldn't!"

"Scary," said Dawnese.

"Strange," said Bill, "we have told those stories many times before and nobody had those types of dreams.

"What did you do, Kathy?" asked Jeff.

"I covered my head and tried to go back to sleep. I was even too scared to try to turn on my light."

"I would be too," said Dawnese. "Could you get any sleep?"

"No, it was strange. Occasionally I heard a tapping noise again. It seemed to be under my bed."

"Were you asleep?" asked Bill.

"I must have been because there couldn't be a real noise under my bed," said Kathy slowly, but she was not sure herself. "Let's talk about something else, please."

Add a Comment
16. I’m excited!

Mastering front 250WI’m only a proof and a couple of weeks away from publishing Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling, a sorta-new writing craft book.

My original book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells, is now out of print. I’ve gone through it to polish the content, reorganized it completely, and added new content and examples. It still feels good to me, and it seems I’m in good company: a couple of quotes from Amazon reviewers on the original about what's in my book(s):

“This is one of the outstanding 'how-to' books about writing. I keep it right beside two other favorites, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King and Renni Browne and On Writing by Stephen King.”

“Ray’s . . . advice on experiential description is on par with Donald Maass's 'micro tension' advice—critical to delivering top-shelf writing.”

Why a new version with a new title and new cover?

By going from 8.5” by 11” to a 5.5” by 8.5” trade paperback, the new size lowers the price—$16.99 versus $21.95—and may make it more convenient for writers to have in their bookshelves. At 320 pages, it should look something like the 3D image at the bottom of this post.

The change in print format also enabled conversion to ebooks, too, so there will be a Kindle edition published at the same time. Maybe an epub too, but I’m focused on Kindle for now.

By the way, did you know that you can get a free Kindle reader for a PC or a Mac that enables you to read a Kindle book on your computer? Same goes for epub (Nook) ebooks, too, with Adobe Digital Editions.

New title? I’m hoping that a more benefit-oriented title will attract more readers.

New cover? I felt the original wasn’t all that good and needed refreshing.

And I’m hoping the new ebook formats will also reach more readers.

Want to receive a free Kindle ebook in return for a review?

On Amazon, the new version won’t be able to bring to its pages all the amazingly positive reviews of the original. While it can point to the old FtQ page, it would be good to have fresh reviews—if, of course, they’re positive. But that’s the chance all authors take.

If you want a free beta Kindle version to read for review purposes, please email me. I’ll let you know when the book is officially published and has a page on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Pass this on?

More anon.

Thanks for your time and consideration,

Ray

3D cover400W

Add a Comment
17. Flogometer for George—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. Nothing in the queue for next week. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

George sends the first chapter of Guardians.

The City lay in darkness under a full moon and a cloudless sky. A thousand armored vehicles of the Guardians of Peoples’ Rights patrolled a city so vast that it was sectioned off into forty eight self-sustaining districts. Equal in every respect to the armored ground vehicles, a thousand drones flew above the rooftops of the high-rise apartment buildings. Together they assured the citizens a safe and peaceful slumber.

Corporal Joe Higgins sat behind the wheel of Ground Patrol Vehicle 688, District 9 (GPV688D9), trying to keep his eyes focused on the wide and deserted avenue before him. On top of the armored vehicle a camera slowly rotated 360 degrees. Accompanying its wide-angle rotating lens were three-sensor pods; one detecting sound, another heat and a third, motion. Should any of these sensors go active, the camera would stop and its lens would focus on the direction of the disturbance. Activation of any sensor also armed the machine guns mounted on a turret atop the rear compartment of the vehicle. He glanced

at the clock on the dashboard and smiled. This part of his watch was coming to an end. He neared an intersection, shifted gears and slowed his vehicle to a stop in the center. Higgins unbuckled and shifted to the passenger seat.

Sergeant Wells emerged from the rear compartment, dropped onto the driver’s seat and buckled in.

Were you compelled to turn George's first page?

Good clear writing but where’s the tension? A story question? In this opening page all is well. There’s no problem for the characters to deal with. All the world-building, while necessary in science fiction to some extent, could wait until something happens to start the story moving. As you’ll see in my notes, I think most of it should go, at least from this page. They are attacked; why not begin that on the first page? The rest of the chapter follows the break.Notes:

The City lay in darkness under a full moon and a cloudless sky. A thousand armored vehicles of the Guardians of Peoples’ Rights patrolled a city so vast that it was sectioned off into forty eight self-sustaining districts. Equal in every respect to the armored ground vehicles, a thousand drones flew above the rooftops of the high-rise apartment buildings. Together they assured the citizens a safe and peaceful slumber. Good use of shallow POV to set the scene.

Corporal Joe Higgins sat behind the wheel of Ground Patrol Vehicle 688, District 9 (GPV688D9), trying to keep his eyes focused on the wide and deserted avenue before him. On top of the armored vehicle a camera slowly rotated 360 degrees,. Accompanying its wide-angle rotating lens were three-sensor pods; one detecting sound, another heat and a third, motion.Should any of these sensors go active, the camera would stop and its lens would focus on the direction of the disturbance. Activation of any sensor also armed the machine guns were mounted on a turret atop the rear compartment of the vehicle.He glanced at the clock on the dashboard and smiled. This part of his watch was coming to an end. He neared an intersection, shifted gears and slowed his vehicle to a stop in the center. Higgins unbuckled and shifted to the passenger seat.

Sergeant Wells emerged from the rear compartment, dropped onto the driver’s seat and buckled in. I would cut most of the above—it’s detail that’s not needed now or, really, later. The sensors mentioned do come into play, but when it happens they are a natural part of the machine and don’t really need explanation or set-up, in my view. I suggest that George get to the place where they’re attacked, and do it on the first page. The world-building that takes the place of something happening can wait—get to the story.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 George

(continued)

“Have a good nap?” greeted Higgins, stretching his arms toward the roof of the cab.

Wells smiled and reached for the thermos of coffee in the warming compartment. “Your turn now,” he said. He then shifted the vehicle into drive.

The maneuver sent Higgins off his seat and out of the cab. While he was adjusting to the red light that illuminated the rear compartment, Higgins dropped onto the operator’s chair. He logged himself in and took a quick glanced at the monitors. He only half saw the empty street and darkened buildings that were projected on the screen, or the steady green line crossing the three scopes. He stretched himself into a comfortable position, lifted his feet onto the counter top and closed his tired eyes. Four more hours and then he would have two days off. He smiled, because the next shift was the day shift. Three months of night duty cut into his social life. Higgins sighed and drifted off.

“Contact!” announced the speaker. “DPV756D45; contact at Avenue East 210, 200 block. Hovering at 1500 feet. Return!”

Higgins was a blur of action, his feet hit the floor and he was sitting upright in his chair. He blinked the sleep from his eyes and focused on the monitors. He scanned his instruments to determine his location. “DP756D45, this is GPV688D9, we are at Avenue East 214, 800 blocks and responding. Return! Wells?”

“I hear you!” Wells yelled back as he slowed the vehicle down in preparation for a maneuver.

“This is GPV360D16, we are at Avenue North 206, 100 block, responding,” came another voice over the radio.

“Wells, we got ourselves a race!”

“Strap in. We’re going to get there first,” declared Wells as he started turning the vehicle. Having completed his u-turn, Wells activated the vehicle’s turbines.

“Man oh man” Higgins said being pushed back into his seat by the acceleration. “When was the last time we caught a citizen breaking curfew?” he asked.

“Too long to remember,” answered Wells, steering the speeding vehicle through the deserted streets, its seldom used turbines reverberating through the concrete canyons of the City.

“How’s your contact 756? Return!” asked Higgins.

“Slow and steady,” came the human reply. The drone’s controls and senses were now under human control. “I read three persons. Over.”

“Right 56, we’re now in the 600 block. Over.”

“I see you. Contacts are leaving East 210 onto North 30, 900 block. Over.”

“We’re six blocks away G688, we’ll back you up,” came the voice of the operator from Ground Patrol Vehicle 533, District 16.

You can watch, Higgins murmured to a silent microphone. No need to torment them, he thought.

When GPV688D9 turned onto Avenue North 30 its sensors came alive. The camera stopped turning and all the sensors locked onto the targets two blocks away.

Wells killed the turbines.

“We have them in our sights 56, over.” informed Higgins.

“Roger!”

The distant closed quickly. The spot light, mounted on top of the cab switched on and evaporated the darkness. Three citizens in the middle of the 900 block found themselves enveloped in white light. Blinded, the two men covered their eyes and relinquished their hold on the man between them. Free from their grasp, the man in the center dropped to the pavement. Free from their burden the two men standing bolted.

Higgins’ reaction was instantaneous and the twin machine guns burst into life. The bullets hit the concrete walls above the fleeing men, showering debris over them. The two men stopped running fifty yards from the armored vehicle that was screeching to a halt.

 “You are under arrest for breaking curfew, “ said Higgins over the loud speaker. “Any further activity on your part will only add to your infractions.”

Higgins watched the two men squinting in the direction of the patrol vehicle. He watched them looking toward each other for guidance. They had only one choice, thought Higgins, the next burst from the machine guns would be the last they would hear. The two men placed one hand in front of their eyes and approached the patrol vehicle. Higgins was disappointed. He had secretly hoped for more defiance from these citizens. Well, at least these two men offered a diversion. It did end a dull tour of duty. Higgins relaxed his observation. He failed to notice that the other hand the citizens hadn’t raised were inside their tunic. When their hands reappeared, they were holding machine pistols. They started firing at the patrol truck’s spot light as they darted away in opposite directions. The guns could only follow one person. Which one was left to Higgins to decide and he had to decide quickly because suddenly both citizens had changed direction and were attacking.

“Get those bastards,” shouted Wells, “They’re trying to shoot through the window shield. It’s working!”

Inconceivably, Higgins realized that these citizens were suicidal. The machine guns came to life, its bullets sending one attacker careening against the concrete building. Higgins turned toward the second attacker and at point blank range reduced the man to a ragged doll.

“Contact!” warned the voice controlling the drone through the fading echoes of gun fire. “We have a contact behind you.”

Higgins quickly disengaged the visual scanner from the machine guns and turned it 180 degrees and looked at an empty street. “I don’t see anything?”

“It’s there and coming right at you,” said the controller.

The gun turret whined 180 degrees. The other two scanners followed. The motion scanner reacted instantly, but the visual and heat scanners remained flat lined. Higgins stared in bewilderment. The scanners were giving him different messages. “56, I have motion but no visual or heat.”

“Same here 88,” came the answer, equally baffled.

Higgins saw it before it disappeared under the vehicle; a small canister that suddenly appeared out of thin air and dropped under the truck.

“Wells. Brace yourself!” shouted Higgins. The explosion jarred the truck and the sound was surprisingly faint.

“Wells?”

“Whatever it was, it was too small to hurt this baby,” answered Wells. “Everything is checking out A-Okay.”

Suddenly the heat sensor began bleeping a warning and the scope began registering an increase in heat within the compartment. Higgins could feel his body heating up as the interior of the compartment temperature gauge sounding out a warning. He could feel heat penetrating the soles of his boots. He reached for the rear door handle and quickly pulled back as the hot metal burned his hand. He started to sweat. His throat was starting to dry up as he began breathing the super heated air inside the compartment. When he touched the hot console, he knew he was in trouble. “Wells scramble!” he yelled. He burned his other hand opening the rear door and dove out through the open doorway.

The drone’s controller was shouting. “Mayday! Mayday! Sector Control Eight. This is DP756D45. GPV688D9 is experiencing abnormal readings at Avenue North 30, 900 block. What the?...Correction 688 just exploded.”

“This is Control Sector Eight command. Can you get closer?”

“Negative.” answered the controller wondering who was at the other end. What could a drone do?

“This is GPV533D16. We are two blocks away and running at high speed.”

“One contact going away from the scene, going South on North 30,” informed the drone’s controller.

“What’s happening to 688?” asked Control Sector Eight commander.

“I see four bodies and a hunk of metal,” came the sober reply.

“756 guide 533 toward that contact you have going away from the scene.” instructed Control Center Watch Commander, Major Bernard Norris.

Norris following protocol had activated all transmissions between the ground vehicles, the drone, and his department to the WCRC (World Control Records Center) where it would be analyzed to determine if the incident was a local disturbance or a global threat. Norris also knew it would analyze the performances of all persons involved. He cursed his luck. This was not his watch. He was on duty as a favor to a comrade who had a heavy date, but he would be responsible for all the reports. “Damned Terrorists! Why couldn’t they wait ‘til I’m off duty?” he grumbled to no one in particular.

Add a Comment
18. Flogometer for Iziah—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. None in the queue for next week. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Iziah sends a first chapter, title unknown.

PETER LOOKED UP from his office area as he heard approaching footsteps. The unfamiliar man caught his eye and hefted a package forward.

“It’s a heavy one, Peter.” He placed the box on the desk. Peter thanked the delivery man as he walked away. An occasional thank you letter or financial report made its way into his mailbox, but this package was too big to be either. He lifted the box and moved it up and down to note its weight. He moved it closer to read the sticker.

To:       Peter Winecrest

            Kane/Goldstein Tech Co.

            San Fernando, CA

 

From: The Time Traveler

Hmm. Peters' coworkers knew of his addiction to the more unknowable things in life, and of his impractical interests. His drawers were filled with Science magazines, and the more fantastic fiction.

He ran to the door and looked down the hallway.

“Hey Jane, did you see that delivery man come through?”

“He left already—kinda funny fella,” she screeched. He grunted and shut his door.

What a joke. A time traveler, Peter thought, as he plopped down in his chair. A (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Iziah's first page?

This opening works at injecting some tension here with the mysterious appearance of the delivery man and the curious “From” part of the address label but, for me, it didn’t get the job done. The story questions raised are pretty minor, to me, and there’s no suggestion of a problem ahead for Peter. And there were writing craft issues that foreshadow more to come. It seems to me that there’s an interesting story, judging from some of the elements in the chapter, but the storyline wandered and spent valuable words on set-up that didn’t impact the NOW of the story. Having introduced the mysterious package, it seems to me that the story needs to stay with that. The contents are briefly set up to be intriguing, but then they are left behind for other events that aren’t related. Notes on the opening page:

PETER LOOKED UP from his office area desk as he heard approaching footsteps approached. The An unfamiliar man caught his eye and hefted a package forward. “office area” was unclear, and it turns out he’s in an office (has a door). “he heard” is a filter that distances readers from what’s happening. And there was some overwriting.

“It’s a heavy one, Peter.” He placed the box on the desk.

Peter thanked the delivery man as he walked away. An occasional thank you letter or financial report made its way into his mailbox, but this package was too big to be either. He lifted the box and moved it up and down to note its weight. He moved it closer to read the sticker. This is overwriting, the inclusion of detail that really doesn’t matter to the story.

To:       Peter Winecrest

            Kane/Goldstein Tech Co.

            San Fernando, CA using valuable lines for an address sees a waste to me. look for another way to get to the “From.” It could be as simple as simply saying, Peter read the sticker. It said the package was from “The Time Traveler.”

 

From: The Time Traveler

Hmm. Peters' coworkers knew of his addiction to the more unknowable things in life, and of his impractical interests. His drawers were filled with Science science magazines, and the more fantastic fiction. Feels like it’s missing a conclusion—is he thinking it’s a prank?

He ran to the door and looked down the hallway.

“Hey Jane, did you see that delivery man come through?”

“He left already—kinda funny fella., she screeched. He grunted and shut his door. I see no reason to have her screech, and a dialogue tag isn’t needed as we know who says this. Since the man is gone and Jane doesn’t really reveal much about him, this isn’t necessary. Get on with what’s in the mysterious package.

What a joke. A time traveler, Peter thought, as he plopped down in his chair. A (snip)

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Iziah

Add a Comment
19. Advice for Indie writers from Indie publishers

If you’re considering going the self-publishing route, go to this article full of insights from writers who have been there. And then go to my website for how I can help writers publish strong books. Here’s an excerpt from Self-Publishing Stars Speak Out by Betty Kelly Sargent:

“Before you do it, take time to understand why you’re doing it, to research your opinions, and to hire experts if needed to help you achieve your goals. Take enough time to produce a product that’s worth your reader’s time and money.” Jane Friedman

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
20. A shout-out to the Idaho Writer’s League

Idaho logoI just returned from doing two workshops at the Idaho Writers’ League 2014 conference in Idaho Falls, ID, and want to express my thanks and appreciation for being a part of the event.

I did my Crafting a Killer First Page and 3 Keys to Killer Storytelling workshops, and the writers who attended were sharp and talented. I had a great time talking writing with them—these events are always stimulating to me and I came away with ideas for the writing craft book I’m working on.

The conference was well-organized and featured professional speakers—I was very well cared for and felt quite welcome. I was lucky enough to be asked to come back next year, and I gladly said yes.

So, if you’re in the Idaho area, check out the Idaho Writer’s League—good folks.

For what it’s worth.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
21. Flogometer for Carolyn—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Carolyn sends the prologue and first chapter of Dangerous, YA thriller. The full narrative follows the break.

It’s hot as blazes and we’re out picking berries in the woods out by Donner Woods Road when my older sister confesses the worst possible news ever about her love life.

"I'm dating Geoffrey Whittington, the Third, one of the richest men in town," Cort, short for Cortland, pushes her straw hat down over her golden curls and gives me a look of pride.

She’s got to be kidding. Not again. I pull my shirt off and tie it around the waist of my two-piece bathing suit with a determined yank. I hold myself back from shouting, and say in as normal of a voice as I can manage, "Are you crazy? Didn't you learn anything from the fiasco with that thief you were dating last month?"

“He only took the jewels his aunt had promised him in her will. Stop being so melodramatic. He wasn’t a thief.”

I take a deep breath and force myself to say in a calm voice, “You have to stop choosing boyfriends based on their bank accounts. Besides, the rich guy’s got to be too old for you.”

“He is not. I’m almost eighteen and he’s only twenty-five. Mom and Dad have at least that many years difference between them.”

“Yes, but Dad doesn’t kill people.” I bang on the side of my berry bucket in a rhythm to the Jaws theme.

She drops a berry into my pail as if she’s giving to the poor. “Come on. When are you (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Carolyn's first page?

I definitely like the voice and the writing is good and clean. But there’s little tension for me in this page. There was something on page 2 that, if the cuts shown in the notes below are done, could increase the stakes a little. It would insert into this paragraph:

“Yes, but Dad doesn’t kill people. Rumor is your new boyfriend set fire to Parson Johnson’s barn and he has a lab in his basement where he experiments with animals."

That would help. So would the info, also on page 2, that the protagonist thinks of herself as a detective. Let me add that I would try to get the character’s name on the first page, too. It can be as easy as: “Oh, Cameo, he only took the jewels his aunt . . . etc.

There’s a good bit of set-up here that I suspect could wait until later. Carolyn tries to hook us with the “worst possible news” notion, but that’s not all that powerful. On the next page, Cameo jumps in the river and something grabs her ankle--now that begins to sound like a thriller. That piqued my interest. Maybe try starting a little later and cut the set-up. Notes:

 It’s hot as blazes and we’re out picking berries in the woods out by Donner Woods Road when my older sister confesses the worst possible news ever about her love life.

"I'm dating Geoffrey Whittington, the Third, one of the richest men in town," Cort, short for Cortland, pushes her straw hat down over her golden curls and gives me a look of pride. You can work in the source of the nickname later, perhaps by having the protagonist use it. She wouldn’t ordinarily be thinking of something like this at this time, it’s the author, not the character tossing this bit of info in.

She’s got to be kidding. Not again. I pull my shirt off and tie it around the waist of my two-piece bathing suit with a determined yank. I hold myself back from shouting, and say in as normal of a voice as I can manage, "Are you crazy? Didn't you learn anything from the fiasco with that thief you were dating last month?"

“He only took the jewels his aunt had promised him in her will. Stop being so melodramatic. He wasn’t a thief.

I take a deep breath and force myself to say in a calm voice, “You have to stop choosing boyfriends based on their bank accounts. Besides, the rich guy’s got to be too old for you.” You’ve already told us she’s using a normal voice.

“He is not. I’m almost eighteen and he’s only twenty-five. Mom and Dad have at least that many years difference between them.”

“Yes, but Dad doesn’t kill people.” I bang on the side of my berry bucket in a rhythm to the Jaws theme. The reference to killing people comes out of the blue—unmotivated, it seems like an accusation, but Cort doesn’t even react to the “kill” part, so it must not mean anything. But it could have. I didn’t think the bucket banging contributed, and there’s better stuff to get on the first page.

She drops a berry into my pail as if she’s giving to the poor. “Come on. When are you (snip) Seems to me humming the Jaws theme would be more appropriate--what it its rhythm?

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Carolyn

 

Continued:

going to give up this childhood dream that you’re some kind of detective?”

“Never. Check out their criminal records first, I say. Rumor is your new boyfriend set fire to Parson Johnson’s barn and he has a lab in his basement where he experiments with animals."

Cort stops picking berries and pulls her full lips into a pout. "Rumors. Who believes them? If you had one ounce of romance in your soul, you wouldn't say such things about a wonderful man like Geoff." Her sappy smile and dewy eyes tell me she's a goner again.

She poses in the shade of a cottonwood tree like a movie star. In that white sundress, with the late afternoon sun shining down through the leaves, she looks almost angelic.

Something snaps in the brush near the path and I turn to see who it is.

Goose bumps jump up my arms. Nobody there—just high bushes and forty-foot trees shrouding our path and leaves crunching under my feet. It's creepy to think somebody could be watching us.

Before I can rush to the edge of our tiny South Carolina river and kick off my flip flops, Cort calls to me: "Cameo! Don't jump."

So like my older sister to get everything totally wrong.

After squirming out of my jean cutoffs, I push back my messy brown hair, suck in my gut, and pretend my sixteen-year-old figure's as good as my sister's. It's depressing that she's like a size zero, when I'm the one who's always dieting.

"It's okay," I tell her. "I know where the rocks are."

I can almost taste that cool water and feel it washing over my parched body. Without another word, I dive deep into the river, anxious to get away from Cort and her take on the finer points of Geoffrey Whittington—at least for a few minutes.

 A luscious wetness covers and soothes me until something large swims in my direction. The pitch black underwater makes it impossible to see what it is. Something in my gut warns me whatever it is isn't friendly, and I swing into a fast breast stroke in the other direction.

The water below my feet sends chills up my body. A rough current tumbles me along the river bottom into a sunken tree. Something large bumps into my leg.

Oh God, alligators live here.

My inner compass is totally screwed up now, giving me no idea of which way to swim to find Cort. Adrenaline rushes through my body and I battle up from the muddy river bottom.

Something grabs my legs from behind.

This is not a fish.

For sure, this is not an alligator.

Water fills my nose and burns in my eyes. Lungs nearly exploding, I twist one leg free, kick against solid muscle, and am released. Up out of the water I leap and find myself next to shore, gasping for air.

Hanging onto a tree by the river bank, Cort stretches her free hand toward me.

Choking and kicking my legs, I grab her wrist and she pulls me up onto shore.

I flop on my back on the rocky ground and snort in some breaths.

She yanks my hair out of my eyes, and stares at me, brows down, lips up in a why-do-you-keep-doing-crazy-things? look. "You were down there forever. I didn't think you'd ever come up. What happened?"

 I gulp for air, not sure I know what happened. I could have dreamed being held down until I nearly drowned, but I doubt it.

"You shouldn't go swimming here. The tides are too dangerous." Cort puckers her face into a disparaging squint. If Cort has one thing down, it's being disparaging, but even then, she's got that blonde pretty thing going for her.

When I finally get enough air to speak, I sit up and stare into her corn-flower-blue eyes. "Somebody was down there. A guy. He tried to—"

She places one hand on the waist of her sundress, and stamps her sandaled foot. "Don't start with your fantasies. You're always dreaming up some kind of adventure."

I grab my jean cut-offs and don't argue because I'm always on the losing end with her. Instead, I bang on the side of my head with the palm of my hand to get the water out of my ear, and wonder if my parents would notice she was missing if I pushed her into the water and walked home. I shove my legs into my shorts. Nah, I couldn't do that, no matter how mad she makes me.

She is my sister, and we've been raised to protect each other from all outside-of-the-family forces. Inside family forces—well, that's an entirely different thing."Come on, let's go. Mom will have a cow if we're not home in time for supper."

She grabs the bucket of berries we'd been picking for dessert and we start off.

On the walk home, I try to tell her what happened underwater, but she keeps interrupting me with questions. "Should I wear my pink or my yellow dress tonight? I mean, the yellow one fits me better, but the pink, well, Geoff says that favors my beautiful skin."

I could care less if she wears a clown suit as long as she doesn't tell our parents what happened. If she does, I'll get grounded or worse, just because I dove into the river. According to them, well-bred young ladies don't dive into rivers.

The image of Cort's boyfriend forces its way into my brain. Now I remember him. I've seen the guy downtown, driving around in a red convertible, laughing in that sadistic way he has. For some reason, I think he could have been the one under the water, trying to drown me.

Of course, that's totally silly. Maybe I'm just suffering from post traumatic stress or something from half-drowning. Still, Cort's boyfriend's always around when barns burn down mysteriously or pet animals disappear. I even get an image of him torturing a tiny terrier in his basement laboratory. That makes me totally sick to my stomach.

                                                         ***

Thank God, Cort doesn't breathe a word to our parents when we get home. Of course, she wouldn't, she's all about Geoffrey, the Great.

Mom greets us at the door, perfect blonde hair framing her smiling face. Cort got her looks; I got Dad's. She grabs the berries I push in her direction. "You girls did good, but you're a little late for me to make pie." She ushers us into the kitchen to help set the table and serve oven-baked BBQ ribs and biscuits with gravy.

At dinner, Daddy with his white shirt sleeves rolled up and tie loosened raises a bushy eyebrow after Cort goes on and on about her new beau. I give him a secret smile, knowing he's not totally taken in.

After we've cleared the table and I do the dishes, I make a point of peering out from the kitchen when Geoffrey, the Great, appears at the front door. He is handsome in a dangerous kind of way with black hair brushed back, intense brown eyes, and a tall, muscular body. 

I help Mom with the dishes and then try to read, but my mind keeps circling back to what happened under the water in the river today. There was a man. I’m certain.

Cort comes home late all breathless and wide-eyed. She’s got her lipstick on, so maybe he didn’t kiss her. That, or she reapplied it to pass Mom’s scrutiny at the door.

I figure Geoff’s bamboozled her totally, but I have to make another attempt to get her to break it off. I try to put as much sisterly concern in my voice as I can. “So, how was your date?”

She kicks off her shoes and nearly swoons while she’s taking off her dress. “Fantastic. Better than that. He is so polite, so gallant, so wonderful. And the restaurant he took me to. Fabulous French food served by waiters who actually speak French. Divine.”

“Umm hmm. I’m sure it was fantabulous, but what about his lab and guns? Did he show them to you?”

She scowls at me, and stomps over to her bed. “Of course not. A gentleman never brings a lady to his house so early in a relationship.”

Whew! I’m glad she’s still thinking it’s early in the relationship, but a little nauseated that he’s being so normal. How am I ever going to convince her he’s a murderer unless she sees him for what he is?

According to her he’s nothing but charming, polite, and oh-so-sexy.

When I make another attempt to tell her to break it off, she lies down in her bed and falls asleep. I pull the covers over her and go back to my bed.

I spend most of the night trying to come up with a plan, but nothing jells. What am I going to do about my sister? It feels as if the clock is ticking.

 

Add a Comment
22. Remember sentence diagramming?

DiagramMaybe you weren’t taught to diagram sentences when you were a kid, but I was. And I suspect that, in addition to an inherent knack for language, those structural lessons became imbedded and are still very useful today.

For those who did experience diagramming, or for those who didn’t but are interested in sharpening your grasp of the language—or have children who could use some insights—here’s an article on good old-fashioned sentence diagramming: This Old Grammar Trick Still Works! How To Diagram A Sentence.

Add a Comment
23. Flogometer for Kelsey—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. None in the queue for next week. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Kelsey sends the prologue and first chapter of Blood Walkers, which reads like a YA fantasy to me. The full narrative follows the break.

The young witch skimmed her fingertips across the bowl of blood. She muttered an incantation and wherever she touched the blood it turned black. When the entire surface shone like midnight, she dumped it into another bowl filled with flowers. The petals withered but did not completely shrivel into themselves like last time. They were supposed to turn to dust.

Bryn wiped her hand with a wet rag then flung it across the room. She grabbed at the crown of her tangled hair, swearing under her breath.

“By the goddess!”

The crystal clock above her bed tinkled twelve times.  It was time for the midday meal in the great hall. Bryn wouldn’t have to put on a smile to hide the failure weighing down on her shoulders since she had never before had a reason to be cheerful in her life.

She sat down on a worn, backless bench at a long wooden table with other witches her age. She grabbed a piece of grainy bread and ladled thick soup into her bowl. She dipped her bread in. The seedy taste mingled with the sweet and smoky flavour of the soup. 

“Did you hear the news today?” Syam asked. She was an acquaintance of everyone in the coven, even Bryn.

“No.” Bryn said, staring at her soup.

Syam turned to eye her; she clearly hadn’t been talking to Bryn.

Were you compelled to turn Kelsey's first page?

We’re introduced to a likeable character in an effective way, but the tension quickly fades to having lunch for what’s happening in the now of the story. There was a level of overwriting—the use of micro-detail that doesn’t bear on story—that foreshadows problems with the narrative craft ahead. The rest of the chapter, except for the very last paragraph which launches a cliffhanger, is set-up and world-building, but there’s no real jeopardy for Bryn nor are story questions with consequences raised. I suggest starting as close to the incident as you can, which I suspect happens in the next chapter. I think Kelsey also need to take pains to make sure that she differentiates this world with that of Harry Potter, which is also a school for witches and has a great hall with benches, etc. My notes:

The young witch Bryn skimmed her fingertips across the bowl of blood. She muttered an incantation and wherever she touched the blood it turned black. When the entire surface shone like midnight, she dumped it into another bowl filled with flowers. The petals withered but did not completely shrivel into themselves like last time. They were supposed to turn to dust. Good opening in many ways, characterizes the protagonist and lets us in on the magic. “Young” is a relative word and, since we don’t know young compared to what, it’s essentially meaningless. In the world of witches, forty could be young. Look for another way to suggest her age. Also, this stops short of setting the scene in terms of letting us know where she is. It could be as simple as an opening phrase such as: In the coven laboratory, Bryn skimmed her fingertips . . . etc. Also, since her actions pretty much shows her witchiness, I’d start with her name.

Bryn wiped her hand with a wet rag then flung it across the room. She grabbed at the crown of her tangled hair, swearing swore under her breath. Grabbing at the crown of her hair is excess detail that doesn’t move the story. Keep it simple on the opening page. We don’t need to know the state of her hair, and it doesn’t affect the story.

“By the goddess!”

The crystal clock above her bed tinkled twelve times. It was time for the midday meal in the great hall. Bryn wouldn’t have to put on a smile to hide the failure weighing down on her shoulders since she had never before had a reason to be cheerful in her life.

She In the hall, she sat down on a worn, backless bench at a long wooden table with other witches her age. She grabbed a piece of grainy bread and ladled thick soup into her bowl. She dipped her bread in. The seedy taste mingled with the sweet and smoky flavour of the soup.  I see this description of her food as overwriting. Description should have something to do with characterization or the story, even in setting the scene. This doesn’t clear that hurdle. Needed a little transition at the opening of the paragraph.

“Did you hear the news today?” Syam asked. She was an acquaintance of everyone in the coven, even Bryn. Rather than use precious words asking, why not just state the news—if, that it, it advances the story. Syam’s level of knowing people doesn’t seem relevant to any kind of story issue at this point. If you want to characterize her, find another way. For example, what if Bryn is jealous of Syam’s popularity with the other witch and warlock students?

“No.” Bryn said, staring at her soup.

Syam turned to eye her; she clearly hadn’t been talking to Bryn.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Kelsey

 

(continued)

“I did,” Maven said, leaning toward Syam. “It’s just plain rude is what it is! They’re practically in our territory now.”

“I know,” Syam replied. “I don’t know what the Mistress is thinking, not reinforcing our borders or even sending word to the next coven.”

“Shh! Don’t talking like that,” Maven whispered. “You never know who’s listening.”

Bryn smirked into her soup. She ate in silence while listening to the other girls prattle on.

After lunch Bryn went to her mother’s chambers for their afternoon tea. Her mother was already waiting by a pot and two steaming cups on delicate saucers. The thin cups were spider-webbed with cracks.

Bryn sat across from her mother in a heavy oak chair desperately in need of a cushion. She would never be the graceful one. The fair skin, dark red hair, and deep blue eyes that seemed to touch her soul were a stark contrast. Bryn crossed her ankles and folded her hands in her lap like her mother, waiting to reach for tea once she had.

“Are you going to practice outside today?” Her mother asked.

“No I was supposed to work with Maven today on fixing some of the water supply tanks.”

Her mother waved her hand through the air as if gently dispersing unfavorable perfume. “I’ve had that cancelled.” She re-crossed her ankles. “I actually have you working on some lessons for the next two days. There are some new things I want you to practice.”

“You want me to try more difficult spells?” Bryn asked, sitting straighter in her chair.

“Not necessarily more difficult,” replied her mother. “But different.”

Bryn slumped.

“Use what you have Bryn,” her mother said. “I have confidence in you.”

Bryn looked up in surprise.

“These spells must be done under the cover of a willow forest.” She handed Bryn a thin volume.

Bryn turned the odd leather bound book over in her hands.  A faint willow was scratched into the cover.

“Take as much time as you need,” her mother said softly. “Two days should be enough time to discover where you stand with these spells.”

Her mother stood with arms outstretched. Bryn stood and was drawn into a tight hug. “Always take what is precious to you, but let go of what means the most.”

Bryn thought she saw her mother’s eyes get misty. Her mother waved her away and Bryn left for her own room. She picked up speed as she made her way down the hallway and was nearly running when she threw herself through the doorway.

She packed her small wooden bowl and some spare clothes into a pack. She added some crystals in a rainbow of colours and various animal bones, necessary for some spells.

She crept out of the confines of her coven’s caves in the dead of night, cloaked by a moonless sky. At first she meandered down the main path through the forest but soon thought better of it. She wandered in and out of trees, hopefully toward the less travelled heart of the forest.

As she walked through the trees at the peak of midnight, the start of the witching hours, she heard a rustle in the undergrowth. Bryn looked over her shoulder and saw two glowing, yellow-amber eyes. The sound of the soft padding of paws on the earth moved toward her.

Add a Comment
24. Flogometer for Jack—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. If you’d like a fresh look at your opening chapter or prologue, please email your submission to me re the directions at the bottom of this post.


The Flogometer challenge: can you craft a first page that compels me to turn to the next page? Caveat: Please keep in mind that this is entirely subjective.

Note: all the Flogometer posts are here.

What's a first page in publishingland? In a properly formatted novel manuscript (double-spaced, 1-inch margins, 12-point type, etc.) there should be about 16 or 17 lines on the first page (first pages of chapters/prologues start about 1/3 of the way down the page). Directions for submissions are below—they include a request to post the rest of the chapter, but that’s optional.

A word about the line-editing in these posts: it’s “one-pass” editing, and I don’t try to address everything, which is why I appreciate the comments from the FtQ tribe. In a paid edit, I go through each manuscript three times.

Storytelling Checklist

Before you rip into today’s submission, consider this list of 6 vital storytelling ingredients from my book, Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells. While it's not a requirement that all of these elements must be on the first page, they can be, and I think you have the best chance of hooking a reader if they are.

Evaluate the submission—and your own first page—in terms of whether or not it includes each of these ingredients, and how well it executes them. The one vital ingredient not listed is professional-caliber writing because that is a must for every page, a given.

  • Story questions
  • Tension (in the reader, not just the characters)
  • Voice
  • Clarity
  • Scene-setting
  • Character

Jack sends the prologue and first chapter of Amethyst: Stocks & Mods Book One. The full narrative follows the break.

The story of how my sister took over the world probably starts with a brawl in a bar, eighty years ago. Not a brawl my sister was involved in, naturally, for she was only nine years old at the time. But Moira was the reason I was there, in that bar, and my being there is why Yvonne Lambert was there.

To tell you about Moira, I have to tell you Yvonne’s story, too. And not just because it was Yvonne who started the brawl. And not just because Yvonne and I fell in love.

This meeting in the bar, followed by the brawl, was my and Yvonne’s first date. We called it that after we were together, anyway, both appreciating the irony of a “first date” that resulted in minor injuries, a night in jail and my banishment from civilization.

It was on Aldrin, specifically its inland mountain resort town Montessecchi. Yvonne had a spacecraft she was willing to hire out for twelve months. So were a lot of other people with spacecraft, but this trip would be hell and gone from anyplace else, and would also be illegal. From what little I knew of her before we met -- reputation algorithm, her vid advertising her ship for hire -- Yvonne seemed like she would be open to the idea. In fact, I half expected her to be enthusiastic about it. The illegal part, at least.

Aldrin back then was a lot like it is now: a vacation destination for the filthy rich. Its reason for being was its four spectacular resorts, attracting a wealthy transient population.

Were you compelled to turn Jack's first page?

This opening page promises a lot of fun to me. The voice is strong and inviting, the prose is clear and clean, and the story suggested by the very first line sounds like one I want to read. While it “breaks” many of the guidelines for an opening page, does that matter if it’s compelling? It doesn't.

The narrative does slip into a little backstory and set-up that I think could be pruned somewhat, and I would find a way to avoid a clear signal of set-up happening on the first page as it is. There’s a lot of conversation regarding the protagonist’s plan, and I think it could also be trimmed, but it’s interesting stuff that drew me deeper and deeper into the story. Other than a tiny comma issue here and there, I don’t have any notes on this one, but I do recommend that you read on. Thanks, Jack, for some fun on a Friday.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Submitting to the Flogometer:

Email the following in an attachment (.doc, .docx, or .rtf preferred, no PDFs):

  1. your title
  2. your complete 1st chapter or prologue plus 1st chapter
  3. Please include in your email permission to post it on FtQ.
  4. Note: I’m adding a copyright notice for the writer at the end of the post. I’ll use just the first name unless I’m told I can use the full name.
  5. Also, please tell me if it’s okay to post the rest of the chapter so people can turn the page.
  6. And, optionally, include your permission to use it as an example in a book on writing craft if that's okay.
  7. If you’re in a hurry, I’ve done “private floggings,” $50 for a first chapter.
  8. If you rewrite while you wait for your turn, it’s okay with me to update the submission.

Flogging the Quill © 2014 Ray Rhamey, story © 2014 Jack

 

(continued)

Permanent residents were blue collar workers, most of whose livelihood involved supporting the resorts and their customers. My parents, my sister and I -- we were in the “wealthy transient” category -- spent a few months every other year at Montessecchi. Truthfully, before age nineteen I had never given any thought to the natives on Aldrin. If you’ve never been to one, you would be surprised at how smoothly a resort can run without anybody doing any visible work.

To give you an idea of how well-off my parents were: I had no idea where they got or how they made money. To this day, I can’t tell you concisely what it was that Padraig and Melissa Galvin did.

We were Stock, of course. Back then, if you were Stock, it almost went without saying that you were wealthy. That’s something that has changed since eighty years ago.

I had never been to Montessecchi -- the town, as opposed to the resort -- and Yvonne had never been to the resort. Rigidly self-reliant, constantly agitated, with no patience for leisure, I don’t know what she would have done with herself in a resort. Or what the resort would have done with her. So in a way, by meeting in Pat’s, the bar, we were meeting on her turf.

It was a lot darker on the inside than out, and when I came in out of the low evening sun my eyes (being Stock) had to adjust. The place was brimming with loud, rough people just off work, most of them only just down off the mountain. Voices were raised to be heard over other voices, the ones that weren’t raised because the speaker was half drunk already. The place smelled like peanut shells and body odor. You couldn’t have walked five feet without having to maneuver around somebody.

Growing up, a roomful of off-the-shelf Mods always looked to me like copy after copy of the same person. Not that I was in a roomful of Mods all that often.

Off-the-shelf Mods back then, in general, and in Pat’s, in particular, were right around the same height, weight and body type as others of their gender -- and you had to squint to see the difference between the genders. Their complexions ran the gamut from coffee with one cream to coffee with three creams. Dark hair. Bland, unremarkable facial structure and features. Amethyst-purple eyes -- that was the law. All of it came in the same box with disease resistance, improved cardio and pulmonary, 20/5 vision, all the in utero improvements the Government picked up the tab for.

The upshot of all this was that in a working-class bar at happy hour, I was conspicuous. I was gawky, pasty, and I was the wrong size and shape, on top of being obviously nervous.

I didn’t know if I had arrived before or after Yvonne, but I soon spotted her. She stood out, too, for very different reasons. Yvonne was a Mod, but not like the seventy-five percent of humanity that nineteen-year-old me couldn’t tell apart.

Yvonne was military grade.

She had been engineered thirty years earlier to serve as a Marine on Tereshkova once she was old enough. Tereshkova: a huge, mostly water world, baked by lethal radiation.

Her hair was blond enough to pass as white, and she had a bluish tint to her skin, spattered with thousands (I could much later confirm) of lighter flecks, which she called her “reverse freckles.” It was coloring that meant Tereshkova’s radiation didn’t cook her. She was shorter than off-the-shelf Mods, and thicker, for a lower center of gravity – dimensions that meant Tereshkova’s gravity didn’t crush her.

Despite her size she didn’t seem shrunken, compared to everybody else. Right away you could see she had unusual physical strength, and the potential for the surprise violence of a coiled spring. It was like she had been packed into too small a container.

Today, it might take some effort to spot her in a crowded tap room. Back then, she was like a flash reflection of sunlight off ice.

She was seated at a tiny, two-person table closer to the entrance than the back, facing me, watching me look for her. She smiled a pudgy smile as I approached.

I had rehearsed our entire conversation a dozen times -- I’m not the extemporaneous type. But I realized to my horror that I hadn’t decided what the very first words I would say to her would be: “Ms. Lambert?” “Corporal Lambert?” “Yvonne?” I blurted out the first one. One side of her mouth curled upwards and she said, “Mr. Galvin.” I told her just Galvin -- everybody called me Galvin, unless their last name was also Galvin.

I pulled out the chair opposite her, but froze halfway down. I’m sure I looked like somebody who suddenly remembered something I’d almost forgotten. That’s what I was. Yvonne was puzzled, and cocked her head a little. I extended my right arm toward her, stiffly formally, as for a handshake. She smiled and extended her own.

I gripped her hand firmly and said, “Shepard, pension, research, resort, disinter, fairy godmother, agency, bank, obstacle, refund, Morrisonite.” Yvonne mimed a solemn frown and nodded, as though I’d introduced myself as the Prince of Whatever.

My ears were hot and I’m sure red as beets, for I had not only almost forgotten to do that, but I had also neglected to explain in advance. I pawed around for a piece of paper in my breast pocket, one that I was supposed to have shown her before the handshake/nonsense words bit. I found it, took it out, and with conspicuous inconspicuousness I pushed it toward her on the table. It said,

 WE NEED TO EXCHANGE CIPHERS

 Which we had done, and so the tense was wrong. Believe me, I was keenly aware of each little thing that wasn’t going as well as rehearsal. Yvonne glanced at the note, fished a pen out of her bag, wrote on a paper napkin and pushed it to my side. (I had finally sat down.)

 I KNOW

 I was thrown off; of course, it wouldn’t have taken much. The important thing was that we could talk, and what we said would be recorded, analyzed, synthesized -- it was a public place, and back then, that’s what happened in public places -- but certain words that would have flagged a Government techie to take a closer listen would be replaced by Shepard, pension, research and so on. The physical exchange, through our “handshake,” meant that our Cereboosts would make us say, out loud, the replacement words instead of the ones I wanted replaced, but we would understand one another.

Yvonne’s nonchalance was startling because nobody I knew had ever used that kind of tech, besides myself. I would learn to appreciate more and more in the years to come that I didn’t know that wide a variety of people at nineteen.

“How did you --” I had to ask, sputtering before I could get it out.

She smiled again. Yvonne didn’t have a disarming smile, and never a smug one. Her smile was utilitarian, almost always used solely for the purposes smiles were invented. For instance, at that moment it was involuntary, and reflected amusement. “Not my first…” she said, and pointed back and forth to the words on my note, CIPHER and EXCHANGE.

The more ill-at-ease and out of my element I seemed, the better chance Yvonne would take me seriously. I told myself that, anyway. Would I go through all this for something that wasn’t important?

“Nice place,” she said, making a show of looking around. “We’re in Stock vacationland, and you pick a bar that’s lousy with Mods.”

“No one here is likely to run to the Government [agency, is what my Cereboost made me say out loud] with what they overhear,” I said.

I always felt guilty when I met a Mod for the first time, being part of a family that had a ridiculous amount of money and plenty of influence, including with the Government. The thought embarrassed me, and my ears bloomed again. Yvonne rescued me by getting right down to business.

“Where do you want to go?”

“Laika.” Shepard, is what I said out loud.

“What’s there?”

“Nothing, right now. In a year or so there will be three thousand settlers [pensioners] living there.”

“Including you?”

I did need her to take me seriously, that was true. I had thought about saying “yes” to this question, was I going to Laika myself. But I thought I had a better chance of getting her to trust me if I told her the truth. “No.”

“So you’re some kind of broker?”

In time I would explain to Yvonne why I got involved with the “Laika 3000” project -- because of Moira -- and Yvonne, being Yvonne, would understand that that was half the truth, that what I was really doing was sticking it to my parents, like most late-teens do, and in such a way as to not actually jeopardize all the goodies I got for being a Stock in a Stock family. This being our “first date,” I dodged. I had to raise my voice over an adjacent table of six that had gotten boisterous. “This has been planned for more than two years, and I’ve been involved since the beginning.” A little defensive.

“What’s been planned? I mean, right, three thousand settlers, but why them, and why there?”

This part, I had rehearsed over and over. “It’s a wildcat colony. [Fairy godmother.] People who would rather be out from under the Government’s thumb than live off its scraps.”

“Wildcat colonies don’t work.” Yvonne had helped clean one up as a Marine: it involved letting the colonists clear the land, build a rudimentary infrastructure, and just start to get comfortable, then arresting and imprisoning them all. Then the Government settled new people there, subject to its rules, and under its watchful eye, and stamp of approval.

That was the clinical description, anyway. Yvonne’s experience “cleaning up” a wildcat colony on Tereshkova was not clinical. She herself had been directly guilty of no more than indifference to the dignity of the wildcat colonists. But it was the kind of indifference that when you’re older makes you wonder how you were ever at peace with who you were, and makes you worried that somewhere inside, you’re still that person.

“This one will work. No one’s been to Laika in seventy-five years.”

“They haven’t had a wildcat colony to go arrest.” Disinter.

I was in a groove. “It’s weeks out of the way from anywhere. It’s not even useful for military purposes.”

Yvonne was not yet convinced that I was an expert on military matters. “Until you clean the place up and make it presentable.”

“Three thousand people. We’re keeping it that small on purpose. If it were twenty or thirty thousand, then the Government might find some use for it. They won’t bother.”

“How big do you think wildcat colonies usually are?”

I bloomed, and shrugged.

“What kind of people?”

“I’m sorry?”

“These settlers. Who are they?”

“Mods. Off-the-shelf, government subsidized.”

“That’s ninety-five percent of humanity.”

“Ninety-one and a half are Mods, that’s what you’re thinking of. Only seventy-five percent are Government subsidized. Three thousand of them want to go live on Laika.”

“Just Mods, huh? Nothing else in common?”

“Mods who don’t think they gave up their basic human rights when their parents decided to make them healthier, stronger and smarter.”

“How many criminals?”

Jesus, I thought, having slipped out of this groove as quickly as I always seemed to. This conversation was ten times easier when it was just me having it with myself. “None.”

A raised eyebrow.

“None! None are... violent criminals.”

An eye roll.

“Look, there are a lot more than three thousand people interested in going. If you have done anything that physically harmed another person, you don’t make the cut. Period.”

“I’ve killed people, and you want to pay me to be involved.”

“Not...” I made a frustrated sound. “Not military. Criminals. Military gets you to the front of the list.”

“Is that a good idea for a bunch of people who don’t like authority?”

“You have to have -- you have to be serious about what we’re doing. To be considered at all. If you are, and if you have military or relevant civilian experience with, you know, survival, infrastructure, organization, then you... ”

“Can kill as many people as you want?”

Here I ground my teeth and shook my head. Maybe I ground my teeth and shook my head the last time and made a frustrated sound here. I don’t remember. But Yvonne started to feel sorry for me at that point. And I didn’t only learn that well after the fact, I could tell then and there. When Yvonne smelled your blood, she was ruthless, and mine was all over the place. Yet I could see her face soften. She strategically retreated.

She only felt a little sorry for me, though -- she wasn’t going to spend a year of her life being an accessory to the crime of establishing a wildcat colony on a forbidden planet if we weren’t serious. Nevertheless, she called off the dogs.

“When do you want to leave?”

“September.”

“Laika is...” She looked up, figuring. “... five months....”

“Twenty weeks, but yeah.”

She glared at me. Not for the last time. “Twenty weeks, then. I can carry forty people for twenty weeks, not including me and two or three crew. That’s not a huge bite out of three thousand.”

“We’re looking at forty- to fifty-person ships now because we’ve got a bunch of Watson carriers and one-hundred- to two-hundred-person craft committed already. We’ll be about fifteen to twenty spacecraft, all told.”

This was good news, in Yvonne’s effort to decide if we were -- if I was -- serious. Still: “A bunch and about? How do you do math with numbers like that?”

Now I glared. For close to the last time. “Three Watsons, four-fifty apiece. Six other craft that average one-eighty. One hundred fifty on three other smaller craft, like yours. That’s two thousand, five hundred eighty. Working on three other one-fifty-some-person ships, at least one of which we’ll get. We’re buying another, for which we may need to hire a pilot, who can then keep you company on the ride home, if you want. And four other people are having conversations right now similar to this one with other captains of ships your size. Then we’ll have more of them if we need to. The math works out.”

That it did. “I pick the forty.”

As she said this, my chair was violently jostled, and I almost spilled onto the floor. The noise the table of six was making was getting louder, and one of the six had rammed his chair into mine whilst getting up.

“What was that?”

“I pick the forty people that go on my spacecraft.”

“No.”

My refusal impressed her, I think. She would have to insist on some form of vetting, but that wouldn’t hold anything up, at this point. “My contract will have the number 40 in it, bold and in bright red.” She was having to shout, now. “Person number 41 does not board.”

“Not a problem.”

“Under any circumstances. Forty will be crowded, but comfortable. I’m not spending five months of my life elbowing my way through fifty people stacked one on top of the other.”

At this I nodded solemnly, looking her square in the eye. It would end up being fifty, we both anticipated, when this or that ship fell through at the last minute. Yvonne was so certain of it that her cost analysis of this proposal would include the 50 percent increase in her fee for the 25 percent increase in people right off the bat. So, about that fee…

My chair was rammed again, this time by an arm. The Mod who did it loomed over me, a little unsteadily but none the smaller for it, and shouted a faux apology in a mocking, sing-song voice: “Sorry, Stock boy. Am I ruining your date?” He was drunk (already!), and leveled a menacing stare at Yvonne, whom he likely took for Stock, too, on account of her unusual shape and color.

So she showed him her eyes. Mods back then, as I’ve said, were required to have eyes colored an amethyst shade of purple, and this was no less true for custom Mods like Yvonne. Hers were a little lighter than normal, a sort of pastel shade, in kind with the rest of her coloring, but there was no mistaking their purpleness.

Showing the drunk she was a Mod may or may not have diffused the situation, but Yvonne had decided to do so by pointing to her eye with her middle finger, the other three curled down. There was no mistaking that, either.

A couple of the drunk’s friends were up now, too, and one grabbed my chair and shook it. This time, I did tumble out of it.

Yvonne stood, almost casually. It was my turn to strategically retreat, by which I mean I remained on the greasy floor of Pat’s.

“You don’t like Stocks? Aren’t you on kind of the wrong planet?” She addressed none of the three in particular.

One replied, sizing her up, “Aren’t you kind of a freak?”

“That’s what we called ourselves, in the 11th Artillery Regiment.” This was not true: they called themselves Bluebirds. But be that as it may. I was frozen on the floor, my arm comically (it seems to me now) up to block anything coming at my head. I gawked at Yvonne, and it occurred to me to wonder whether letting someone who didn’t back down from potential bar brawls fly forty people to Laika was wise.

“They let you in the Army?” one of the drunk Mods (there were now five, at least, up and hovering) spat. “For what, Fun Size? 'Cause you could blow the soldiers standing up?”

Yvonne’s expression never wavered. “Marines.”

The drunk started to blurt what was sure to be another hilarious put-down, but he never got it out, because Yvonne punched him in the face, hard enough to loosen at least two teeth.

The din of the tavern had died right before that, as everybody’s attention was pulled toward the disagreement. Now it erupted, and Yvonne was set upon by at least three drunks, but only temporarily: they were off her, and sprawled on the floor, almost before they could make fists. I scrabbled away, still on the floor, backwards. Like a crab, I remember thinking.

One of the drunks Yvonne had set down had put a shoulder into someone at another table on his way to the floor. That table (of three), likely predisposed to take the side of the “normal” Mods, all things being equal, nonetheless picked out the drunks to pair off with and start beating. Yvonne had made it obvious that all things weren’t equal.

Maybe a dozen others surged toward the brawl from behind me, and I was thumped and battered by knees and shins. I finally worked my way upright and behind a post supporting the ceiling, where I could peek around to watch. Yvonne already had a bruise blooming under her right eye– with her pigment, she liked to say, she bruised if somebody sneezed on her. But she was far from the worst for wear. She pounded anybody who found themselves in front of her with such dispatch that for a few moments, she actually ran out of people to beat.

Around her, forearms and fists pushed their way at and around heads. Silverware and plates and glasses clattered to the floor as tables were shoved and upended. Waiters and waitresses cowered behind the bar, but someone who might have been a manager was trying to shout everybody calm. It wasn’t working. This went on for maybe five minutes.

Then all at once the surge of people seemed to reverse and come back towards me, and I ducked behind the post out of its way. Brawlers who were ambulatory and not tangled with anybody made haste for a rear exit, as were those few patrons who had been uninvolved in the melee. I soon saw why: three Justice cops in combat gear had arrived at the entrance and were pulling brawlers apart, occasionally zapping them with stunners, though they seemed to prefer using their armored limbs and legal impunity to subdue.

As I tried to shrink all the way behind my post more cops arrived, and more customers, brawlers and otherwise, tried to escape out the back. One such fell sideways as he went by me, and knocked me back down to the floor. There I decided to stay, again, this time covering my head with both arms.

The cops hadn’t quite subdued everybody when I was yanked up by my arm to stand. It was one of the cops, who got a look at me, realized I was Stock, and roughly escorted me toward the front entrance, shouldering a colleague and a couple of restrained brawlers out of our way. As I was propelled forward I was able to look back to see Yvonne bent over a table by a policeman, who had wrenched her arms behind her back. Her face was to me, and she grinned when she caught my eye. She shouted something I couldn’t hear or lip-read -- later, she told me it was “nine hundred credits per person per light year!”-- and the cop restraining her jostled her to shut her up.

Then I and the policeman were outside. The cop let go of me, and even held up his hands, palms forward, as if to apologize and say he meant no harm. He jerked his head the other direction, away from the tavern. “You ought to get out of here,” he said. He hesitated, seeming to hope I wouldn’t argue or, worse, yell at him for treating me roughly, then he turned and loped back in to the tap room.

I stood staring at the entrance for a bit. I was as convinced as I ever had been that 3,000 Laika settlers had the right idea, getting away from all this.

Add a Comment
25. Announcing a sorta new FtQ book

Outofprint

Yep, I've sold out the first printing of Flogging the Quill, Crafting a Novel that Sells and, rather than reprint, I'm coming out with a new-and-improved version.

In November, Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling updates and expands the content of the old FtQ. The book is completely reorganized, the original content polished and expanded, and new material has been added.

But wait, there's more!

  • Print format: 5.5" x 8.5" trade paperback, 320 pages (not the 8.5" x 11" of FtQ)
  • Ebook formats: will be available in Kindle and epub

Insterested in pre-ordering for a discounted price? Tell me if you're interested in pre-ordering the print edition--I would set up discounted prices for books purchased through my website. I'm not sure about the ebooks yet as I'm considering doing the Amazon Select program for promotional reasons and couldn't sell ebooks myself for 90 days.

To refresh yourself as to the nature and quality of this book, review the reviews for the original FtQ here.

Add a Comment

View Next 25 Posts