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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.
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1. Flogometer for Karyne—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed—just one for next week 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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Karyne sends the first chapter of Magic Despised. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

It always started with a spell. Something simple, like a cup of ale. But her power had its limits. Every time they asked for magic, Julana knew how it would end.

“Be a dear and fetch us some stew,” Luna said.

Julana paused, arms raised to remove her apron. The blue sky teased her from the tiny window. So much for a free afternoon. It wasn't worth refusing them. When she was fourteen they killed her pet goat because she rebelled. It would take longer than three years to get over that lesson. Luna shifted on the wooden settee covered with straw pillows and narrowed her eyes. Did the pillows really aid Luna’s comfort or was her large backside cushion enough?

“Yes, Aunt Luna,” Julana said. She tied her apron back in place and made her way across the main living area to the kitchen. Luna wasn't really her aunt, but in order to keep up the facade the Klups insisted Julana practice at home.

“And Julana…” Alazer’s deep voice stopped her in her tracks. She didn’t turn to face him; she knew what he would say. “Be sure you use magic. There’s no reason for you to make us wait all night.”

Julana’s stomach dropped. “Yes, sir.” It was a test. Why did they always test her limits? They had just as much magic as she did. That never changed. And unlike her, they enjoyed using it.

Were you compelled to turn Karyne's first page? Were you compelled to turn Karyne's first page?

I do like the writing and the voice, and there is tension in the scene. Yet there’s not much in the way of story questions raised, nor a sense of jeopardy to her or consequences. The next page has a greater sense of that and, considering that in fantasy an author is often granted time to set up the world, it might have done the trick. Here’s the stuff that would be nice to see on the first page:

The stew was easy enough. She drew energy from her blood to summon water from the well. The sight of water soaring through the air made her grimace. If anyone happened to see, they would all be hanged for witchcraft.

There is a clarity issue here, though—I thought the well was outside, and it may be, so I thought this was happening there. But a little later she goes outside, so the water is coming into the kitchen from outside. That isn’t clear, and needs to be. Having it soar through the kitchen window rather than the air is all it would take.

The voice and the world are good, but, since this opening could be stronger, I’m giving it an almost. But read on, there are interesting things to come and clear and serious danger to her ahead—and you’re going to despise the “aunt” and “uncle,” bad guys through and through. Notes:

It always started with a spell. Something simple, like a cup of ale. But her power had its limits. Every time they asked for magic, Julana knew how it would end. But the reader doesn’t, so this doesn’t mean much. This is an opportunity to introduce tension and jeopardy. For example, what it this sentence ended this way: Julana knew how it would end—with her blood. Wouldn’t that crank up the tension a little?

“Be a dear and fetch us some stew,” Luna said.

Julana paused, arms raised to remove her apron. The blue sky teased her from the tiny window. So much for a free afternoon. It wasn't worth refusing them. When she was fourteen they had killed her pet goat because she rebelled. It would take longer than three years to get over that lesson. Luna shifted on the wooden settee covered with straw pillows and narrowed her eyes. Did the pillows really aid Lunas comfort or was her large backside cushion enough? A few things here. I didn’t feel that her wearing an apron contributed sufficiently to story or character. “It wasn’t worth refusing them” sounds like she’s being inconvenienced, but the following line suggests far more. Instead, how about something to the effect that it was dangerous to refuse them? I cut the description of Luna because I’d rather have a little more setting of the scene. Are they in a one-room hut? Farmhouse?

“Yes, Aunt Luna,” Julana said. She tied her apron back in place and made her way across the main living area to the kitchen. Luna wasn't really her aunt, but in order to keep up the facade the Klups insisted Julana practice at home. Don’t need the apron.

“And Julana…” Alazer’s deep voice stopped her in her tracks. She didn’t turn to face him; she knew what he would say. “Be sure you use magic. There’s no reason for you to make us wait all night.” “stopped her in her tracks” is a cliché, look for a fresh way to show it.

Julana’s stomach dropped. “Yes, sir.” It was a test. Why did they always test her limits? They had just as much magic as she did. That never changed. And unlike her, they enjoyed using it.

 

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 Karyne

 

 (continued)

Was it really worth it to the Klups? That same energy brought the water to a boil. The cupboards were well stocked with carrots and potatoes and Julana sighed in relief. Very little magic was needed.

“Where is the meat? We want venison stew,” Alazer said. He pushed away the bowl she served, his mouth twisted in a scowl. “Honestly, you can be so dense.”

“Sorry, Uncle Alazer,” Julana said. Tears pricked her eyes, but not over his reaction. She would have to make an unecessary kill. His beefy hand shot out to grab her wrist and the familiar sense of invasion swept over her. His tracking spell.

“Be back before the sun’s sleep.”

She pulled her cloak around her shoulders and grabbed her bow and quiver. A blast of cold air hit her face, but she found it refreshing. The sun defied the wind and enveloped her in its rays. In a few weeks it woud be warm enough to leave her cloak behind.

A twinge of pain flashed across her foot. Her time was limited by his spell. The Klups had been her guardians for as long as she could remember. More like her prison guards. They used their magic to control her, but they used her magic to get what they really wanted: money, power, revenge. It didn't matter they were only requesting venison stew this time. She'd seen them use her magic for unspeakable things, and she refused to be caught in their web of desire. She would never use magic by choice.

It only took moments to reach the forest's edge. The shade folded around her as she stepped between the trees. She strapped on her armguard and pulled an arrow from her quiver. With a sigh, she nocked the arrow and anchored her hand at her cheek.

She closed her eyes.

The loss of vision encouraged her other senses to take over. Crisp mountain air with fresh pine scent flooded every breath. Birds twittered and trees creaked. Warmth surged through Julana's veins as she called the creature in her mind. She hated that they trusted her. Soft footfalls crunched in the remaining snow. Tears snuck past Julana's lids and crept down her cheeks as she loosed her arrow.

The arrow met its mark. She didn't need to look to know for certain. She couldn't bear to look. Instead, she studied the fresh green foliage poking through the slush as she approached the fallen doe. She dropped to her knees and laid her cheek across its still chest.

"Forgive me," she whispered. "Today should not have been your day. There was no need. May the Stars bless you for your sacrifice."

Julana propped her bow against a tree. Her hands shook. She was reaching the limits of her magic, but she drew the power back to her heart anyway and flooded it out to her muscles. With a slight groan, she lifted the deer in her arms and carried it back to the house. With the last of her magic, she skinned, portioned, and cooked the venison. She wouldn't let the deer's sacrifice go to waste. Conflicted relief flooded through her. Her magic was drained and it would take time for her blood to draw more energy from the sun. They couldn't force her to use her magic at this point. But there were other things they could do.

"That's more like it," Alazer said. He inhaled the gamey steam but didn't bother taking a bite. He set the wooden bowl next to his cup. "I should like some entertainment with my meal."

Luna rose from her chair and made her way to the table. "I should like some new clothes," she muttered.

"Fine, whichever you'd like to do first." He waved his hand as though the generous choice should put Julana at ease.

"I've used all my magic. You know my limits," Julana said.

"Foolish girl," Luna said. "You know those aren't really your limits." Her lip curled.

Julana shuddered. This was where the test always ended.

"Hold out your hand, Julana," Alazer stood, his face passive. She tried to match it, but her eyes darted between her wrist and the knife in his hand. Her own hand was like lead as she lifted it, palm up. "Now your other hand."

She frowned and met his unrelenting gaze. He'd never asked for both before. How much blood would he need? In the past, when they took her starblood and used it to strenghten their own magic, it left her too weak to move. If they took more, would she survive? She clenched her jaw and raised her other arm. To her surprise, he placed the knife in her open hand. Uncertainty settled in her chest.

"What am I…I don't understand," she whispered.

"It's time you learned to do these things on your own," Alazer said. "It's not like we enjoy drawing your blood. It's not kind for you to make us bear the burden every time." The lie only solidified Julana's hesitation. They enjoyed it far too much.

Luna's eyes narrowed. "Our soup will be cold if you don't hurry." Greed leeched from her words.

The knife clacked against the stone floor before Julana realized she'd dropped it. She took a step back and shook her head. Alazer closed the distance between them.

"You do not say 'no' to us, girl." His voice was soft, but the hard glint of his eyes made Julana's stomach clench.

"It can't be right," she whispered. "The Stars would never ask—“

"What would you know about what the Stars would want? When is the last time you communed with one?" Luna's sneer set Julana on edge.

“Just because they don’t meet with us face to face doesn’t mean—“

“It means plenty!” Luna raised an arm and Julana flinched, but instead of being struck, the knife flew back into her hand, nicking her finger. Once they decided to use their magic, her time was short. Blood trickled into her palm and panic set in. Alazer’s grim face brightened at the sight. She wanted to drop the knife again, but instead her bloody hand tightened around the hilt of the knife against her will.

“No!” she said. She clawed at the grip with her free hand, but Alazer already channeled the magic from her blood. Within moments she would go from his puppet to a puddle of blood. “Stars release me. Stars protect me.” She muttered the words over and over. But her grip only tightened and her attempts to remove the knife put her free wrist in perfect striking distance.

The cool metal sliced her skin. Julana gasped as blood flowed down her arm and the pain hit a moment later. Alazer and Luna rushed forward, inhuman desire crossing their faces. Alazer released Julana’s hand from his control and once again the knife clattered to the ground. But it was too late. They caught her blood in their hands and squealed like children catching candy thrown from the sweet shop. Eventually they would come to their senses and collect the blood in a jar. After all, it needed to reenergize in the sun. But then it would be theirs to use, to magnify their own power. To steal, to control, to wound, to kill. Magic was a temptation that led them astray. Her knees buckled and for the hundredth time she hoped the cut was fatal. That she would never be used for their selfish gain again.

Spots danced in her vision and hope flooded her soul. They'd never taken this much blood before. With her eyes closed, the flashes were almost like Stars streaking across the night sky. The way she always envisioned them in her dreams. Something firm pressed against her wrist. “That’s enough, Alazer,” Luna’s muddled words saddened Julana, but she couldn’t remember why.

#

Julana woke with a kink in her neck and her mouth dry as cotton. She was slumped against the wall of the sitting room. Blood covered her blouse and skirt and she groaned at the sight of more on the floor. Of course they would leave her lying in the mess. Why would they put her in her loft just for her to climb back down to clean up? Especially after she’d lost so much blood. They probably thought they'd been kind. Bandages barely clung to her oozing wrist. It was a wonder the saturated scraps stopped the bleeding.

She sucked a breath in through her teeth as she rose and tested her limbs, her balance, her vision. She was weak, but capable enough to do her job by Alazer’s standards. The Klups were nowhere to be found, but if history was repeating itself, they were passed out on their bed, drunk from their success at whatever deed they deemed worthy of magic. Out of habit she tested the front door. A small shock spread through her already weak body and she held back a cry.

The disappointment that knifed through her was embarrassing. Of course he set a perimeter spell. In the six years since her magic surfaced, Alazer had only forgotten a perimeter spell once. Once. She was fourteen and just as scared of the world as she was of her guardians. Alazer woke with a moan, shouted the name Nessa, and ran out to find Julana sitting on the front step in indecision. It was the only time she’d seen true fear in his eyes. She regretted that hesitation every day of her life. And wondered about that name just as often.

  She was surprised it was past the sun’s morn. This was the longest she'd been unconscious after they took her blood. How much did they use? Five shaky steps took her to their room. Two monstrous lumps rose and fell beneath the disheveled covers. She sighed. The rest of the room bore evidence of their celebration. Food and drink for an army rested on the table near the door. Jewelry fit for Cherans and silks spun for nobles spilled from the trunks that lined their walls. There was hardly space to walk around the bed because their thievery had been so complete. Bile rose in her throat at her unwilling role.

It could be hours before they rose. She shut their door and leaned back against it. Their house was surprisingly modest, but that was a front to hide their means of survival. The rest of the living space lay before her in one open room. The kitchen held food and water she desperately needed, but her stomach still hadn’t settled. The ladder to her right led up to her loft. The space was hers, but she only slept in it. The thought of climbing to her bed was exhausting. Instead she turned to the sitting area on her left.

Her feet were heavy as she made her way to the bookshelves. To a visitor they appeared to be cupboards that might hold linens or dishes. Instead they were filled with Vendaran folklore and Thlieven textbooks that her guardians collected. They'd stolen enough goods from the wealthy; there was bound to be a new book. And those were always placed immediately on their shelves for safekeeping. She flung the doors open and gazed at the precious bindings. Books were reserved for the priests and noble. And even the noble mostly collected them to show off their wealth. She ran a hand along the familiar volumes. She would never condone the actions of the Klups, but she loved the books. Familiar guilt crept beneath her skin. They took these books using her magic.

There. A tiny new book rested between Histories of Lentans and Songs for the Stars. She pulled it out and studied the Thlieven words: Maps of the Great Land. She frowned at it for a moment. She’d only heard The Great Land referenced in the History of the Stars, a book that seemed more legend than truth. She opened the book to a center page and let out a gasp.

Color like she’d never seen before bled on the pages. Drawings with exquisite detail filled every corner. And sure enough, there was a single continent pictured. One great land that was shared between all the people. Could it be true? Her mind filled with the image of eager brown eyes and a lopsided grin. Cyrus would be thrilled at this new find. She bit her lip and glanced back at the bedroom door. There was only one way to get it to him. It would take a fair amount of luck and a lot of work, but she regularly depended on both.

By the second half of the sun’s rise she'd cleaned the blood, bandaged her wound, and prepared food. She quenched her own thirst and hunger, but made sure there was plenty left for the Klups. The weariness faded with the added nourishment, and a walk in the sun would finish her recovery. She swung her cloak around the fresh blouse and skirt she’d donned and tucked the book of maps in the inside pocket. She held her breath and pushed open the bedroom door.

"Uncle?” she whispered. She prayed to the Stars that he would only wake enough to grant her request.

No response.

“Uncle Alazer?” she tried again a little louder.

A grunt from the bed made her wince. “What?”

“I wish to receive the priest’s blessing at the Stargazer.”

Another grunt.

“I would seek atonement for the blood magic.”

He sat up and squinted at her. “If you speak of our magic to the priest you know what he’ll do. And you know what Ill do.” Of course she knew. They told her on a daily basis they would kill her if she revealed their magic, unless they thought the magistrates would make it more agonizing by deeming it witchcraft.

“Yes, Uncle. I would speak of it only to the Stars.”

“The Stars aren’t even out to gaze upon right now,” he muttered. He pinched the bridge of his nose with his fat fingers. “Very well.” He waved his hand at her and she felt a slight lift in her heels as he extended her leash enough for her to gain entrance at the house of worship. Relief flooded through her veins and she rushed out the door before he could change his mind. It was a small freedom he afforded her on a regular basis. She would never understand why such a wish was granted. And she would never dare question it.

The walk to the Stargazer was a few miles. Julana didn’t mind, even in her weakened state. The longer she was in the sun, the more her health improved. There was another one in town that was closer, but Alazer preferred her to stay out of sight as much as possible. Perhaps he wouldn’t be so afraid of the public if he didn’t leave signs of their mutilation. She gave a rueful glance at her bandage. It would have been better to heal it with magic, but as usual, she couldn’t bear to use magic if she wasn’t forced to.

She couldn’t keep the smile off her face when she crested the last hill before Galden Valley’s Stargazer. Much of the valley was covered in snow, but the perimeter of the Stargazer was kept meticulously clear by the priest-in-training. The building was made of simple stones. Several small rooms were enclosed and held the rooms of the current priests and their few servants. The largest room of all was the Stargazer itself, and its roof was left wide open to give worshippers a constant view of the heavens. A man in a priest’s robe worked outside, pushing snow off the path to the front door. A shock of red hair peeked out from beneath his hood. Cyrus.

Julana broke into a run and let the slope into the valley carry her the rest of the way. The events of the prior evening still haunted her, but every step closer to the Stargazer, and Cyrus, lightened her load. Her cloak flapped behind her and the hood fell, letting her long hair spill out. She gripped the book in her hand, and remembered to pull the sleeve of her blouse over her bandaged wrist just before colliding into Cyrus’ open arms.

“The earth comes to life and teases me with fresh dirt and green sprigs.” He brushed her brown locks before stepping back to look into her eyes. It was his standard greeting ever since he decided the growth of the valley’s foliage was a reflection of the depth of her eyes. As her green eyes fluctuated, so did the trees. At first it made them laugh, but over the last month it had carried a sentimentality that made Julana uneasy. Even though they'd spent the last two years growing up together, he was still a priest-in-training. He was like a brother.

"Fire drew me in so I must quench my thirst." She tugged his hair back before taking the customary drink of water at the gate. Everyone that came to worship the stars drank the water blessed by the Chosen priests. The rare ones that actually communed with the Stars. Or so they said.

"It's good to see you, Jules," Cyrus said.

Julana smiled. “I have something for you." His amber eyes lit up and an infectious grin split his freckled face.

“You come bearing gifts? For me? What about the Stars?” he said with mock rebuke.

She punched him in the shoulder with her good hand and relinquished the book. “You can only look at it for the day.” His face was already slack from shock as he thumbed through the colorful drawings. She eased passed him and headed to the atrium of the Stargazer. Entering the place of worship was not something she took lightly. Her wound burned and itched with her guilt as she stepped over the threshold.

It was said the Stargazers on the lands of the noble had glass roofs, to keep out the elements. But Julana couldn’t help wondering if that hindered the nobles' worship. How could they see through a pile of snow? Or sense the Stars' presence? Fresh air kissed her lips and soft sounds of the valley’s creatures met her ears. These were the things that would please the Stars. Their creations.

The sun neared its peak, which meant there were no Stars out to worship. But Julana still knelt to pray. She uttered words of confession and shame. A green stem grew from the dirt floor by her knees and Julana held her breath. Had it been there when she entered? It was too early for much growth, but within the Stargazer's atrium, anything could happen. She bit her lip and glanced around. With her in the Stargazer, anything could happen. She closed her eyes in frustration and resumed her prayers.

She was twelve when she first made a flower grow. She'd thought it was such a fun coincidence that she wished for a daisy and then found one growing by her foot. Luna's eyes took on a greedy glint when she asked for Julana to wish for another. And another. They told her she had magic, and the magic resided in her starblood.

Now, Julana peeked between her lashes and saw yellow petals unfolding. She squeezed her eyes shut. It was all supposed to be legend. She'd read of the Vendaran creatures that were half-human, half-stars in their books, but everyone else spoke of them as folklore. Everything had changed that day. It was the only day the Klups willingly answered her questions about magic.

"The sun energizes your blood and your blood's energy supplies whatever you will it to," Alazer had said. It was limited, but they watched her as if one day it wouldn't be. As if one day she would unlock the key to controlling it.

That was also the first day they took her blood.

"Just a smidge to enhance our own magic," Luna assured her. Suddenly the consistent high yield from their crops, and the unending supply of money made sense. All those years they'd been using magic to meet their needs. Julana had squirmed under the weight of the discovery. The deception. She cried as they bottled her blood, but she'd been too overwhelmed to resist. The next morning she discovered they used the power to seek revenge on a merchant they claimed cheated them. Most of his belongings filled their room and his oldest child was dead.         

The horror of it washed over her anew in the atrium and fears of the dark spirits left her cold. In the last year she'd read more of the histories and texts thanks to Cyrus' work at teaching her Thlieven. The blood magic invited the presence of dark spirits, and Julana feared it was too late for her to make amends with the Stars for the use of her blood.

Without warning, the image of Cyrus’ lifeless body floating just out of reach danced across her vision. She paused in her prayers, eyes open wide. The recurring nightmare plagued her. For over a week she'd had the same dream. But why would she think of it now? It meant nothing.

The daisy was in full bloom at her elbow. She continued to pray, her lips moving even faster.

The sun was well past its peak before she rose again. Her cheeks were stiff with tear stains and her heart felt lighter with the forgiveness she sought. Cyrus would never disturb her worship, but he would be desperate to discuss his findings. She rushed back out to the grounds.

“Where in Rystahn did you get this?” he asked, his voice filled with awe.

“Where else?” she muttered. Cyrus knew her guardians had questionable means of income, but he also knew better than to ask for details. And as long as he was in the dark about her magic, he was safe. “What have you learned?” She turned the question back to him to avoid discussing her guardians. He could go on for hours about Vendaran history and the legends all priests valued. Although she’d never met one quite as obsessed as Cyrus.

“These maps…” he shook his head. “They’re just…”

She laughed. “Find your tongue, Cyrus.”

“They show the Great Land before the Divide. Before the barriers were put in place.”

She sobered a bit. She had assumed as much, but it was hard to believe. “Could they just be someone’s guess?” she asked.

“I don’t think so.” He sat on a bench and opened the book. She hid her arm behind her cloak and peered over his shoulder. “These markings are consistent with the original Songs for the Stars.” He pointed at symbols bordering the same map she’d studied earlier.

“That’s impossible,” she said. That would place the text’s origins before the Divide, which wasn’t even a certain historical event. According to the folklore in the Klups’ books, the humans used to live in the Great Land, among the fabled Vendarans, Lentans, Giants, and Littles. The Stars grew concerned over the wars and treachery, so they separated the people. The Great Land itself was divided into portions for each group, and barriers were set in place for their protection. Hardly anyone believed in such stories, but the magic running in Julana’s blood was proof that Vendarans existed. So despite her resistance, she was forced to believe. Cyrus’ knee bounced with excitement beneath his robes. He needed no proof. He’d been a believer long before she knew him, and things like this only whet the appetite of his curiosity.

“Why do you have no faith? You come here to worship, but when there is evidence right before your eyes, you scoff.” His words were gentle, but it was an ongoing debate. She supposed the side of him that trained to be a priest couldn’t resist.

She sighed. “I don’t know. I wish I had your faith.”

He turned to face her, his boyish grin lightening the mood. “But then you wouldn’t bring me such fascinating books, because we would rely only on our hope. I like having the best of both worlds.” He studied her a moment longer and she grew uncomfortable with his scrutiny. “You look tired,” he said.

She gave a laugh. “That’s never the right thing to say to a girl. You might as well say I look ugly.” She didn’t meet his gaze as she sat next to him.

He didn’t laugh back. “Brother Keef said his offer still stands.”

Julana played with the cuff of her sleeve. “I haven’t forgotten it,” she said. “I’m just not sure it’s possible.”

Cyrus snorted. “What does that mean? You come of age in two weeks, you enter the service as a priestess. What’s not possible?” His words should have brought her hope, but a deep sadness coated her insides. She didn't know what the Klups had planned after she came of age, but it wouldn't include letting her out of their grasp.

“It’s hard to explain.” She cringed, knowing he’d be insulted.

“Fine! Don’t even bother trying.” He stood and ran a hand through his hair. His hood fell back but he didn’t seem to notice. “Forgive me, Julana. I shouldn't raise my voice."

She stifled a laugh. Even after he completed his training she was certain he would be a loud and opinionated priest.

He paced and his hands twisted in agitation. "You realize that we’re trying to help you? That maybe this is the Stars answer to your prayers? You don’t tell me what the Klups do to you, but you come here with such sorrow in your eyes, and I’ve heard you pray for escape.”

Julana stilled. What else had he heard in her prayers?

“You come here day in and day out. It’s a natural suggestion for a woman with such devotion and no marriage prospects.” His face turned red. He glanced over his shoulder and this time Julana couldn't hold back her smile. Brother Keef was forever warning Cyrus to tame his tongue.

“No need to worry. I’m the only one who heard your shocking statement. How do you know I don’t have any marriage prospects? It’s quite possible my guardians have already made some arrangement. They’re under no obligation to give me warning.”

Cyrus paused, brow furrowed and lips turned down. “That would never be good news for you. Not if they made the arrangement.” His voice was soft. It took her a moment to realize he was afraid for her. He’d met the Klups a handful of times and saw the way they treated her in public. It took nearly a week for him to calm down after each occurrence. She couldn’t imagine how he would react if he knew the depth of their abuse. 

“Well I’m not worried. They like having a personal slave too much to sell me off to a rich, lonely, old man.” She gave a light laugh and ran her fingers through her hair. Cyrus froze at the same instant Julana glimpsed bright red in the corner of her eye. Her bandage.

She moved to cover it, but he was there in an instant and she was too slow. “What is this?” Cyrus ground out each word, his grasp firm but gentle on her arm.

“It’s nothing. I just—“ the words caught in her throat as he removed the dressing. There was no way to explain away such a deliberate cut. She should have used magic to heal and hide it.

“Another accident?” His eyes burned with anger. “Don’t lie to me, Jules!” His whispered words made her flinch. She focused on the front of his robes. The drab brown was considered a sign of his choice to take a humble position, despite the fact that priests were among the elite. It always brought out the warmth in the eyes she was so carefully avoiding.

“I can’t speak of it,” she finally whispered back. She was tired of lying to him about her injuries, and this time she wasn’t able to hide the severity. His fists were clenched as she clumsily rewrapped the wound and hid it beneath her cuff.

“Brother Keef gave me another option for you,” Cyrus said. His normally playful voice was strained. “He said I could marry you.”

Julana’s eyes flew to his. “What? You’re a priest!”

Cyrus rushed on, as though afraid he wouldn’t have time to explain it all. “It doesn’t matter. He showed me records of priests that were married. It’s fallen out of practice, but there’s no sin in it. The Stars relish companionship, so they would not deny it of their servants, even if we have made it our own strange custom to avoid it. There were even records of priests that had married priestesses. You would only be two years behind me in your training. It would be a good match.”

“Even if all that were true, I would not ask it of you,” Julana said. He would die at the hands of the Klups, by the magic of her blood if she made any attempt to follow through on his suggestion.

“Well then it’s a good thing the man traditionally does the asking.” His eyes danced with mirth. How could he be so blissfully ignorant? She sighed. How could she keep him that way, forever?

“Cyrus, you don’t love me.”

“Of course I love you!” His brows furrowed.

“Not the way a man should love a woman.” Her face heated. She never expected to have this discussion with her only friend. And favorite priest.

“It's true we're better friends than lovers, Jules, but it could grow. At least it could for me.” He placed a hand under her chin, as though testing a more intimate proximity. She felt like a deer before her flying arrows.

“And what if it’s not enough?” she whispered. Marriage would not hold her guardians at bay. This discussion was pointless. But Cyrus took her words the wrong way.

“If it doesn’t grow the way I anticipate, then we maintain a marriage of companionship. A priest and priestess that serve the Stars for life under the same roof.”

She shook her head, choking back a sob. His kindness tore her in two, and the secrets she kept threatened to spill over. Why hadn’t Brother Keef minded his own business?

His hands moved to her upper arms, his grip more urgent than usual. “Can we at least seek out the Stars before you dismiss such a suggestion? We have several days before you're of age to marry without your guardians' consent.” He was hurt.

“It’s not the thought of being with you that deters me,” Julana said. That wasn’t entirely true. She loved him like a brother, and treating him any other way wouldn’t feel right. But the real concern was the Klups.

“Then what is it?”

“They would kill you,” she whispered. Her heart quickened. She’d never spoken of the lengths they would go or the depths of her fears.

“All the more reason we should seek out the Stars.” He pulled her into the atrium and they knelt in the center. After their discussion, Julana found herself uncomfortable. They’d prayed together before, but not often. Cyrus spoke with ease, beseeching the Stars for wisdom, guidance, and protection. Her heart broke over his sincerity, and the knowledge of the extent he was willing to go for her safety. Perhaps he really did love her.

He paused in his prayer, offering her the chance to speak. She opened her mouth, but couldn’t find the right words. Doubt plagued her like it never had before. Surely the Stars were there and cared for her. But she wanted answers. She was tired of praying to the Stars without any real hope of hearing back from them. “Show me,” she whispered. “Please just show me what to do.”

Light flashed in the room and she and Cyrus rose in shock. Julana's heart pounded and her eyes attempted to adjust. Cyrus placed himself in front of her as the golden figure of a woman materialized before them. The rest of the room dimmed in her presence, or perhaps she drew the light into her magnificent glow. It hurt Julana's eyes to look, but the pain couldn't draw her gaze away. They were communing with a Star.

 

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2. Words that mean something totally different when you're a writer

Found a link to and a sample of "29 Words that Mean Something Totally Different When You're a Writer" on agent Janet Reid's blog. Lots of fun--go here.

A sample:

23. “Editing.”

Editing.
 
Thinkstock

What it means: The process of correcting and modifying a manuscript with the intention of improving it.
What it means when you’re a writer: Crying into your keyboard because everything is shit.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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3. Flogometer for Carol—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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Carol sends a first chapter (title unknown). The rest of the chapter is after the break.

The waves drove her under. The roiling water tumbled her. Her hands tore at it, but the green liquid was endless. Salt strangled her throat. Her lungs burned, screaming for air. Her brain began to float inside her skull, as her body floundered in the watery tomb. Something yanked her limp arm.

“JO!”

Jo’s eyes popped open. Her body lurched forward and her hands flew up. The seat belt locked. Bright blue and green flooded her vision. It took a few seconds to remember where she was.

The girl beside her was giggling, jostling, trying to keep the car steady on the road. “I’m sorry, Jo,” she apologized through her laughter. “I couldn’t help myself.”

Jo could feel the skin on her cheeks and temples burning. She gathered her hair up in a finger ponytail behind her head, pretending that was the reason she had raised her hands. “I must’ve dozed off for a second.”

“A second? You were snoring! Were you having that dream again?”

“No,” she lied. She let her hair go. “Guess I stayed up too late last night.” She didn’t tell her friend why.

“So, let’s see…where were we? Oh yah, about Galen…” Mischief glinted in the corner of (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Carol's first page?

So we open with the dreaded dream sequence—for some, that is. I don’t have a problem with that (I’ve done it) as long as it’s short (this is) and it immediately relates in some way to what’s happening (this doesn’t). So, as it is, it’s four lines that ultimately fail in the task of helping to get the reader to turn the page. The writing and voice are good, the style is relaxed—maybe too relaxed. The “finger ponytail” line doesn’t actually contribute. More than that, there are no real story questions raised here. Two presumably young women are about to dish about a guy. How compelling is that? For this reader, not.

The rest of the chapter works to lay out back story and to build a sense of dread in Jo about the coming weekend, but her dread isn't founded on anything that has actually happened, just on looks and how she thinks about what she sees. I think this story starts too soon. Get her to the cabin and have something happen that promises trouble. In other words, get to where the story begins, not to where the set-up begins. Am I wrong? See what you think. Notes:

The waves drove her under. The roiling water tumbled her. Her hands tore at it, but the green liquid was endless. Salt strangled her throat. Her lungs burned, screaming for air. Her brain began to float inside her skull, as her body floundered in the watery tomb. Something yanked her limp arm.

“JO!”

Jo’s eyes popped open. Her body She lurched forward and her hands flew up. The seat belt locked. Bright blue and green flooded her vision. It took a few seconds to remember where she was. I’m not in favor of having bodies or body parts do things when it’s the person who does them.

The girl beside her was giggling Dove giggled, jostling, trying swerving to keep the car steady on the road. “I’m sorry, Jo,” she apologized through her laughter. “I couldn’t help myself.” POV slip—“the girl” is her friend and she wouldn’t think of her as “the girl.” This is the author’s POV, which takes us a step away from the character’s. Same reason I changed "trying" to "swerving"--one implies intent, the other is an action.

Jo could feel the skin on her cheeks and temples burning. She gathered her hair up in a finger ponytail behind her head, pretending that was the reason she had raised her hands. “I must’ve dozed off for a second.”  While a natural-enough reaction, this action beat really isn’t necessary, doesn’t advance story, and takes up two of the first-page lines you have to hook the reader.

“A second? You were snoring! Were you having that dream again?”

“No,” she lied. She let her hair go. “Guess I stayed up too late last night.” She didn’t tell her friend why. She didn’t let the reader know why either, which is a bit of a cheat. As it is, this line has little meaning, so why include it?

“So, let’s see…where were we? Oh yah, about Galen…” Mischief glinted in the corner of (snip)

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-Blue-Stone

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 Carol

(continued)

. . . Dove’s squinted right eye.

Jo looked up into the edges of her bangs. “What about him?” Her mouth drooped. She made no effort to hide her distaste of the topic.

“Does anybody know where he’s from?”

“He won’t say.” She drummed her fingers on the vinyl armrest and stared into the clear sky beyond the windshield.

Dove sighed. “I wonder what he does for a living.”

“Probably works for the mafia.”

“Jo!”

“Well, he looks the type, doesn’t he?”

“I’m not sure. What does that type look like?”

“You know…sulky, secretive, looks like he would kill you in a heartbeat.”

“And Colorado has a big mob presence?”

“He could be here on vacation.”

Dove shook her head. “Don’t be hateful. You know, I think he’s dreamy, but don’t tell Lary I said that.” A corner of her mouth rose up and she winked playfully.

Jo’s mouth puckered and twisted to one side. She shook her head. “There’s something not right about him, Dove.” Her eyes narrowed.

“You crazy.”

“Come on—he won’t tell us anything about himself—and every time we see him, he’s dressed in black.”

You wear a lot of black.”

“It’s slimming—he looks like he just came from a sacrifice.”

“Jo!” Dove shook her head. “Listen, Galen’s not evil. He’s just…troubled.” 

“Hmph.” Jo rolled her eyes.

 “He is hot though.”

“If you say so.”

 “He’s like, movie-star handsome.”

“Ugh. Please…”

“And that voice.” Dove sighed dramatically.

“Dove, you’re sick.”

“I could listen to it all day.”

Jo dipped her chin. Her eyes looked up at her friend and she said sarcastically, “That would be really hard to do, since he never says more than two words.”

“He’s the brooding, silent type.”

“He’s the silent killer type.”

Dove “tsk’d” and combed her fingers through her chocolate-colored hair. It shimmered with the light coming in through the sunroof. “Come on, wouldn’t you love to play in that thick hair?”

“I’d rather chew glass.”

 Dove laughed, and then said playfully, “I think he gives Mike a run for his money.”

Jo doubled over, pretending to vomit, stretching the seat belt as far as it would go. “That’ll be the day!” She huffed and snapped back in her seat. “Like a demon can give an angel a run—I can’t believe you said that!” Her face scrunched in fake anger and not-so-fake disgust.

Dove snickered, but Jo wasn’t amused. Her head was filled with images of Mike:  his sweet face and sun-colored hair. She smiled, then scowled when Galen popped into the picture: dark and villainous. “Tell me again why he got invited.”

“I’m not sure how that came about.” Dove took a deep breath. “Galen’s all right, Jo.”

Jo shook her head. “I’m telling you, no good will come from him being with us.” She twirled a few strands of gold hair around her finger and kicked off her neon-green flip flops. “Ok, he’s sorta great lookin’, but there’s something seriously wrong with him. He never smiles. And he glares.”

“What?”

“He glares—with those creepy grey eyes. I keep catching him lookin’ at me, like he wants to murder me.” She narrowed her eyes for effect.

“Jo—”

“Well, he’s weird, and I don’t like him—and who starts their name with a G and pronounces it with a J?”

“Oh, I don’t know…maybe George, or Geoff, or—”

“Ok, Ok—stupid remark.”

“Very.”

Jo wrinkled her nose and tapped her thumb against her front teeth. She wished she could take back that last comment. It was petty and she felt foolish. She leaned her head back on the headrest and gazed at the vivid green world outside the window. The earth was stuffed with grass, trees and brush. The mountain was coated with bristly dark green pines. Her favorite trees were the tall cottonwoods, billowing with shiny green leafs, releasing soft pieces of white cotton that sailed on currents of summer air, and the aspen, with their ivory colored bark and small leaves that shook in the breeze like tambourine discs.

She should have felt happy, at least content. It was summer—finally. She was with her best friend, about to experience a long weekend with Mike and some good friends—sans one. But she didn’t feel happy. Something wasn’t right.

The AC blew softly on her face. It fanned Dove’s perfume around the car, a scent that reminded her of strawberries. She wondered what the guys were talking about in the Chevy truck ahead of them. She could see Mike’s blonde head in the driver’s seat, Lary’s auburn head on the passenger side, and the two brownish heads of Doug and Ben in the back seat. Doug’s would be the one bobbing up and down, because he could never sit still. She wondered what tales of manly endeavors they were telling—or were they talking about girls? She sighed and dared to wonder if her name would come up in that kind of conversation—from Mike’s mouth, of course.

Mike’s truck slowed and turned off the highway. They followed him onto a two-lane county road. The asphalt was uneven, a faded black, cracked and full of potholes, as if it had been forgotten. The dividing lines of the road were almost non-existent. The flaky, greyish-yellow paint only showed up here and there, but it hardly mattered, since there wasn’t any traffic. There hadn’t been for a while now, not since entering an area called Bliss National Forest.

Jo did not feel blissful. She hunched down in her seat when the inside of the car suddenly darkened. The pine trees lining this roadway were so close together and tall they blocked the sun. She couldn’t help the feeling like they were being swallowed. Her chest was tight. To take her mind off this, she focused her gaze on the back window of Mike’s truck, on his blonde head and his masculine shoulders. Please be looking back at me, she thought.

Jo took a deep breath. “I’m wonderin’ how things are gonna go, now.”  She saw Dove glance at her. “I mean, you’re gonna be with Lary, April will be with that Galen, Mike will be scaling the mountain, and I’m gonna be left alone with Doug and Ben.”

“Jo, let me straighten you out,” Dove began. “First, April has no interest in Galen romantically. Second, I’m not going to desert you. But I think this is going to be the perfect weekend for you and Mike to spend some time together.”

Jo’s heart leapt at the thought of being with Mike for three days—and nights. But, then she frowned. “Yah, but Mike has never paid any attention to me. Why would he start now?”

“Because—”

“Because, he’s a captive audience?”

“Wow…you’re really on one today.” Dove’s voice was low and full of disapproval.

Jo felt warmth building in her cheeks again. “Sorry. I’m really being a whiner, huh?” She frowned.

Dove was quiet, but looked over at her friend with a gentle smile.

One side of Jo’s mouth tried to smile back. “He just doesn’t seem to be interested.”

“Well, this is your chance to let him see another side of you.”

“I don’t have another side. This is all there is.” Boring job, boring life, boring girl, she thought. “I just wish I could have an adventure—that something exciting would happen—something just a tiny bit dangerous, maybe. Then I’d have something to talk about.” She turned her head to gaze out the window. Sunlight glowed in bright yellow stripes between the tree trunks.

“Let me get this straight:  you want to endanger your life just to impress some guy?”

Jo pondered it for a second. “No, of course not.” Her shoulders slumped. She leaned and her head fell against the cool glass of her window. She closed her eyes to the dark, thin tree trucks passing by like the bars of a jail cell. “I just wish things would change. I wish I had a purpose and…Mike.”

Dove was quiet again.

Jolifted her head from the glass. Ugh. She grimaced at the sight of her reflection in the pane: dish-water blonde hair, eyebrows that needed waxing, swooped bangs that were too long. For the millionth time, she flicked them away from her eyes—eyes some people had told her were very pretty, eyes of indeterminate color. Big deal. Just like my indeterminate purpose.

 She looked up at the top of the window and saw Dove’s image beside her:  mellow, beautiful Dove:  crystal blue eyes and thick, dark hair. She had the slightest of overbites and a dimple in her chin. But underneath this obvious beauty was a beautiful soul that drew the displaced and broken to it, like a magnet.

Jo closed her eyes. Please, Lord, let something wonderful happen this weekend, like, maybe Mike will notice me. Then she threw in, and please help me stop whining.

 She twisted around to look back at April’s car. April’s hand came off the steering wheel and waved to her. Galen sat expressionless in the seat next to her, but Jo was convinced he had narrowed his eyes at her.

“He’s doing it again,” she said.

“Who’s doing what?”

“Galen. He’s glaring at me.” Jo smiled as she waved at April. Her smile vanished the instant she looked at Galen. His imperious gaze shot through the glass. She could almost feel his contempt. She sat back in her seat. Her chest tightened again. She closed her eyes and wished with all her heart that the “black plague” was not with them. Maybe he was the reason for the way she felt about this trip, why she had been awake for most of the night.

“You know, Galen can’t be all that bad. He’s very nice to April,” Dove commented.

Jo rolled her eyes. “Everyone’s nice to April.” She spoke with affection of her frail friend. April reminded Jo of ‘flower children’ she had seen in old movies:  strawberry-blonde curls flowing loosely; clothes, light and airy, draping her slender frame. Jo frowned as she thought of April’s sunny nature trapped in the same vehicle with Galen and his sour demeanor.

“We just need to get to know him,” Dove insisted. “I think there’s somethin’ goin’ on in his life, and he just can’t get past it.”

“Like crime?”

“Stop it,” Dove scolded, but lightheartedly. “He must have wanted to come with us for some reason.”

“Yah, to murder us.”

“Stop that,” Dove scolded again. “He needs our friendship. We need to accept him and show him God’s love.”

She was right, but Jo couldn’t help herself. “Well, I still wish he wasn’t coming and I wish April was with us and you didn’t have to go back early.”

“Then he’d be riding with us too.”

Jo groaned.

 Dove gasped. “Hey! You might get to ride with him on the way back!”

Jo’s mouth fell open and she shook her head wildly.

Dove giggled. But then she said more thoughtfully, “Well, here’s a silly thought:  maybe you two will find a way to be friends on this trip.”

“Dove, I’ve tried. He’s got a burr up his hinny about me.”

These words caused Dove to snort with laughter and the car to veer to side of the road. The brake lights on Mike’s truck came on. April honked.

Jo laughed at Dove’s reaction, and then the humorous moment passed. “Anyway, he doesn’t want to be friends, and that’s fine with me.”

“Well, we’ll all be in the same cabin for a few days. It could happen.”

“If anything’s going to happen, I’m prayin’ it happens with Mike.”

“I am too,” her friend said kindly and reached over to pat her leg. “You know, Jo, just be yourself. He’ll see it, and…he’ll love you. I know he will.”

“But, ‘myself’ is—” Jo shook her head. “Oh, let’s not rehash that again. I wish you didn’t have to go back early to study.” And then she added, “You’re so lucky to know what you want to be.”

“It wasn’t hard. I’ve wanted to be a nurse all my life. You’ll figure it out, Jo. God’ll put something on your heart.”

 Jo leaned her head back and closed her eyes. The car’s engine whined in the thin air, the stripes of sunlight flashed over her eyelids.

“Listen, Jo…” Dove began delivering a lecture/uplifting message, some kind of wordy balm for Jo’s despairing heart. There was something said about “Mr. Right”…“God has the right one”…“If it’s meant to be”…

Jo pretended to listen, but she was thinking to herself things she couldn’t even tell Dove. Like how she felt she could disappear and no one would care; her dismay that not one of the guys at church had asked her out, since she had joined. Not one. Though there was only one she really wanted to. She felt almost invisible, even in her circle of friends.

 “…so let’s toss the pity pills, huh? He’s going to see you in a new light, and he’s going to fall in love with you—I just know it.” Dove threw encouraging looks while she talked.

The radio had been playing in the background. Now it was just static. Jo reached over and turned it off. She looked up at her friend. “Dove, don’t you get tired of me feeling sorry for myself and whining all the time?”

Dove shook her head and grinned. “You’ve spent plenty of nights listening to my whining.”

They turned a corner and the close-put trees thinned out and opened up the view to the land. Jo’s eyes squinted at the glow of the sun and the sparkling, endless green. Beautiful. Still, in her gut, something wasn’t right. She chocked it up to the Black Plague, and maybe what she saw coming toward them.

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4. Win a vampire kitty-cat

Front Patch 200WEmily has a blog called Kitty Cat Chronicles, and when she came across The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles, she contacted me for an ebook to review. I sent her one, and her review is here.

More than that, she’s running a drawing to give away a free ebook copy. So I hope you’ll visit her blog and enter to win.

Here’s an excerpt from her review:

“The book jumps right into the action from the get-go, which I appreciated. The story starts with Patch, the cat narrator, being turned into a vampire, who then goes on to share all the adventures and troubles he runs into as he tries to adjust to his new lifestyle. He makes several friends (and enemies) throughout his journey, including his new "associate" Amy, a freshly turned "vee" who has an ambitious streak. The cast of characters includes a seven-foot tall vampire with a flair for the dramatic, a pair of opportunistic vampire lawyer twins, an extremely wealthy and corrupt human mob-boss, an extremist preacher turned vampire, and a weasely journalist who is out to catch the newest "it" story. These characters will have you laughing, groaning, and rolling your eyes for sure. They keep you on your toes too!”

Emily had some Photoshop fun turning her own cats into vampires, too. Her review catches the spirit of The Vampire Kitty-cat Chronicles--it's for fun!

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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5. Flogometer for Mike—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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Mike sends the first chapter for Dog Island . The rest of the chapter is after the break.

According to the United States Geological Survey, the event on the first day of February, 1995, lasted two minutes and twenty-seven seconds. The epicenter was listed as Latitude 30-25’23” N, Longitude 088-33’07” W. That put it twelve miles out from the gulf coast of Mississippi. It was just west of Horn Island in the chain of barrier islands that separated the waters of the Mississippi Sound from the Gulf of Mexico proper.

They called it an unclassified seismic anomaly. People on the gulf coast just called it the earthquake. Some believed it was a prelude to the terror that followed soon after.

As preludes go, it’s hard to beat an earthquake, but there were others who would tell you candidly that the real prelude was two years earlier. The day Manny showed up.

#

The park was scheduled to die in the morning. It would be a lingering death; there were four acres to kill.

By the end of the week, probably. Tristan Graaf stood eating frozen yogurt from a Styrofoam cup as he regarded the hulking, yellow executioners. Smelling of machine oil and diesel fuel, they were lined up like a squad of sentries, as if given an opportunity the prisoner could somehow flee.

With his almost-not-limping gate, he headed south on the well manicured St. Augustine (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Mike's first page?

Hmm. The writing is clear and clean (well, maybe a little tidying of punctuation). And, even though the opening segment is not the kind of scene that I prefer, it did give a sense of reality to the story to come, and that’s good. And it ended with a good hook—there is terror to come, and Manny has something to do with it. So I eagerly kept reading.

But then we don’t, it appears, continue with the story of terror and Manny. We go to Tristan eating yogurt as he contemplates what I guess are bulldozers (it wouldn’t hurt to be more specific in some way so we can visualize what he’s seeing, even if it’s a detail such as “their blades lowered and ready to scrape . . . etc.”). While the “death” of a park is unfortunate, it doesn’t seem like a terror, and where’s Manny? The tension sags and flickers out in the second half of the page—no drama in yogurt consumption and contemplation. This got an almost from me—the opening segment was a yes, the second part a no, so it didn’t really have the strength to compel a page turn.

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 Mike

Design-NobodyKnows

(continued)

. . . grass. Horizontal rays from the sinking sun that made him shade his eyes bathed the palm trees and last minute visitors with a warm orange light.

The park sat on a massive concrete structure that was the gulf side border of Southern Star Marina. With the thirty-four acre marina between it and the shore, the park had a world class, panoramic view of the sound.

The Marina was in the shape of a rectangle with the west side pulled away, leaving a space in the upper northwest corner for the entrance channel. The east wall supported a two lane driveway that led to the park. Parking spaces along the driveway served the boat slips that lined the inside of the wall. The driveway on the west wall led to the harbor master's office, a fueling and service station, and a million candle power lighthouse.

Since he was four years old, Tris visited the park every week with his granddad. When Tris was older, his granddad pointed out different parts of the structure and told him marvelous stories about how it was built, the men he worked with building it, and the raucous adventures they had over the months from 1965 until it was finished two years later.

He looked past the marina to the empty lot on the other side of Beach Boulevard. The Southern Star Hotel had stood there until it burned down in 1990, a year after his granddad died. A much younger granddad had also helped build it in 1949, the year he met and married Laut Mom--what the family called his grandmother. Granddad was thirty and she was twenty-one.

#

"I just don't see the difference. They have volleyball at Southern and UNO. You could get a job there."

"And they have football in England, but they don't wear helmets," Olivia Ross said to her dad.

Avery Ross gave his daughter a quizzical look.

“It's irrelevant, Dad.” She made an impatient gesture; they had gone down this road so many times. “UCLA offered me a job. Southern and UNO didn't."

While earning a degree in physical therapy at LSU, she gained national recognition as a member of the volleyball team. LSU made it to the national final four her senior year, and during the tournament she got to know some of the UCLA players and coaches.

They tied up after a short cruise around the sound. Now, they stood facing each other on the Wild Weasel, a thirty-five foot converted Duffy lobster boat. The cruise was Avery’s idea. He wanted to give it one more shot.

The lull in the argument gave them a chance to retreat to neutral corners, sitting opposite each other on the bench seats.

Olivia watched headlights coming and red taillights going on the driveway. She understood her father's struggle. If she left for the west coast, he worried that she might not come back. The illusion that she was still his little girl would finally be shattered.

Avery studied the flickering "E" on the red neon EL CAPITAN that adorned the casino barge. He knew he was being foolish, but he couldn’t help himself. He was scared.

"So, bottom line, are you forbidding me to go?" Olivia smiled slightly. It was a familiar scene played out numerous times since she had turned eighteen. It was their tradition. She reached out with both hands and took his.

"You know you don't need a job," he said softly. He looked down as a smile that mirrored his daughter's came unbidden.

It was over. That was part of the tradition too. If he forbade her to go, his twenty-three year old daughter would seriously consider accepting his wishes. But he never once played that card, and both knew he wouldn’t now.

"An assistant coaching position at UCLA will look great on my resume. How can I pass that up?"

"I know."

She squeezed his hands. "It’s a chance to get me out of your hair for a while, and come on, it's California for Pete's sake."

A voice said, "Yeah, she looks like a California girl to me." It came from a bearded stranger carrying a red gym bag. He stepped onto the Wild Weasel from the pier followed by another man with a long beard. The second man held a gun.

#

Tristan’s roots on the gulf coast ran deep. His eclectic family tree read like a who’s who of the nationalities and ethnicities that forged the new world, back to the pirate Laurens de Graafe, who helped found the original settlement called Biloxi in 1699.

He wore a large, black wooden cross around his neck. He was told that it had been passed down through the generations from the reformed pirate himself——along with a treasure map he had never been shown.

But the park was a tangible part of his own history. He grieved for its loss.

The headlights of more late visitors came up from the entrance on Beach Boulevard. After a hopeless public campaign to keep the park, they were here to pay their last respects. They crept past the line of boat slips as the security lights buzzed and flickered in the dusk.

Tris turned and headed back to his car. His view of the shore was obscured by the gigantic box that was the El Capitan Casino barge, anchored where the slips for large sailing vessels used to be.

In a few months it would be the third casino to open for business on the Mississippi gulf coast. The patrons would need someplace to park, so, acting out the protest song from the sixties, they were about to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.

Full night arrived by the time Tris got in his car and headed down the drive toward Beach Boulevard. He glanced out at the dark outlines of boats in their slips under the formed concrete awnings. One by one in rapid succession, they briefly flashed as the lighthouse beam swept by.

#

Olivia thought they looked like the bearded brothers on an old cough drop box. She and her father stood up.

"Who are you?" Avery said. He gently pushed Olivia behind him.

"Just two friendly guys in need of a boat ride," the one holding the gun said. They were both wearing dirty coveralls and mud streaked Hunting boots.

"You want us to take you somewhere?" Olivia asked.

"Brilliant deduction, honey. Yeah, Gaillard Island."

"Gaillard Island?" Avery said. "Why?"

"That’s not your business."

"That’s in the middle of Mobile Bay. Even if we wanted to, we don't have the fuel to--"

"We're not asking." The man with the gun pointed to the west side of the marina. "There's a service area next to the lighthouse. You can gas up over there."

"Start the boat and let's get going. Now," The bagman said.

"Hey! Hey you!" Another voice in the night joined the conversation. "Tol' you two b'fore, stay off my boat."

They all turned to watch as the newcomer came aboard the already crowded boat. He was pointing at Avery and Olivia and seemed oblivious to the gun. He was tall, broad-shouldered, with a deep tan complexion. His shoulder length dreadlocks, and Jamaican accent pegged him for an islander. He swayed a bit as if the boat was in choppy seas and not tied up in a slip.

The gunman pointed his weapon at the unwelcome newcomer. "Hey, where the hell you think you're goin'?" The Jamaican moved next to the man holding the gym bag and put his arm around him. He shook his finger at Avery and Olivia.

"This is the sec--no third, third time I caught them on my boat." The Jamaican’s expression invited his new friends to be as indignant as he was. They looked on with confused fascination.

"Hey buddy, watch yourself," the gunman continued to aim at the Jamaican. "You wanna die tonight?"

"Ha!" The Jamaican slapped his thigh and stepped closer to the gunman. He still had his arm around the bagman, who staggered as he was pulled along. "I like you, mon--mons. I take you guys anywhere you wanna go."

The bagman stepped out from under the Jamaican's arm and pushed him away. Caught off balance, the Jamaican stumbled closer to Olivia and Avery.

Avery said, "What the hell? You're drunk--"

"You shaddup, mon." The Jamaican pointed at Avery and took a step. He stumbled and pushed Avery into Olivia. The momentum forced all three to move to the starboard side of the boat. "Stay here," The Jamaican whispered, then he turned to the gunman. "Sokay I get these assholes off my boat? Then I take you to Gal--where you said."

"No." The gunman pointed his weapon at Avery and Olivia. "They stay on the boat." He swung the gun around and aimed it at the Jamaican. "Get away from them and get over there." The gunman indicated the stern. "Move slow and careful."

"Sokay mon, sokay," said the Jamaican. He held his palms out and grinned as he swayed from his left foot to his right, then he backed unsteadily toward the stern.

The gunman turned and pointed the gun at Olivia and Avery. "Do you know this jackass?"

"Well," Avery said.

"I tol' you mon--"

"Shut up, you!" The gunman swung his weapon around and pointed straight at the Jamaican's chest. His finger was white around the trigger.

"Just shoot him and let's get goin'," the bagman said.

"Wait!" Avery looked at the Jamaican sheepishly. "I'm sorry," he said, then turned to the gunman. "He always hides his key in the same place." Olivia stared at him with raised eyebrows. "We just couldn't resist taking a little spin in your boat. Didn’t think you’d show up tonight."

The bagman's face was red. "What the hell is this bullshi--"

"I put the key back where I got it," Avery continued.

"Everybody shut up!" the gunman said.

"I don't see it here." The Jamaican had his back turned to them, looking over the transom. "Hey wait, what's this shit?"

"What?" The bagman stepped closer.

The gunman still kept his distance and tried to watch both the Jamaican and Avery, pointing the gun at one, then the other.

"Hey guys, guys, c'mere." The Jamaican, still looking down over the transom, made an exaggerated beckoning gesture with his arm. "Look at my engine. They got some crap all over my engine."

The two would-be boatjackers moved closer. "What's wrong?"

The Jamaican straightened up and looked at the gunman. He was on the verge of tears. He gestured vaguely toward the stern rail. "Look. Look what they done!" He took a couple of sobbing breaths.

The gunman stepped closer, trying to see over the transom, while the Jamaican rested his arms on the stern rail and laid his head on them, moaning something unintelligible.

The exasperated gunman was ready to shoot them all and try to drive the boat himself, but he was concerned that there might really be something wrong.

He moved next to the Jamaican and bent over the rail, trying to see into the darkness below. He lifted his head to ask if there was a flashlight, but instead, the Jamaican made three swift moves and the gunman said, "Oof!" as he jackknifed over the short rail and into the waters of the marina.

"Does he know how to swim?"

The remaining boatjacker stepped back and held the bag defensively in front of his body as the Jamaican pointed a semi-automatic at him.

At that moment two powerful flashlights lit up the scene.

A female voice said, "Police, don't move!"

A male voice said, "That's the worst Jamaican accent I ever heard, Tris."

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6. Magnificently awful opening lines you’ve gotta see

The results of the 2014 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for creating the worst opening sentences possible for various categories of novels is here. You owe it to yourself to go for a fun read.

Here’s an example that I particularly liked, and it’s not even a winner (you see runners-up, too):

Hard-boiled private eye Smith Calloway had a sinking feeling as he walked into the chaotic crime scene, for there, as expected, was the body dressed in a monk’s habit; there was the stuffed cream-colored pony next to the crisp apple strudel; there was the doorbell, the set of sleigh bells, and even the schnitzel with noodles – all proclaiming that the Von Trappist Killer had struck again.

Seriously, you students of fiction writing, take a moment for some excellent writing, as awful as it is.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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7. Flogometer for Linda—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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Linda sends the prologue and first chapter for Mona Tari. The rest of the prologue and chapter is after the break.

Prologue

“May I warm myself?”

It was a simple question spoken with a softness of youth, yet the words clung to the air like the fine droplets of mist on this cold autumn evening. The old shepherd looked up at his newly arrived guest with suspicion. “Please,” he said as he stretched out his hand inviting his guest to sit opposite him. His ancient voice masked the fear that lay beneath. The shepherd grabbed a few more sticks and added them to the flames of his small campfire, wanting to get a better look at his new companion.

The figure that stood at the edged of the firelight looked more like a shadow formed from the mist than a man. The coat of the mare that stood behind the shadow bore the molted coloring of storm clouds. The old man listened to the nearby baaing of his sheep intermixed with the occasional bark of one of his dogs. All was normal with his animals. None of them seemed to be aware of the presence of his guest. But why should they? He knew the Mona-Tari was here for him and him alone. He pulled his tattered cloak tighter around his body, feeling the icy breath of death upon his neck. After all these years of working his sheep in the shadow of the mountains, his judgment day had come.

The visitor squatted down and held out black-gloved hands towards the flames. The firelight played games by casting shadows upon the smooth, unlined face of the traveler. It was (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Linda's first page?

Chapter 1

Jacob Lander glanced at the door, half hoping, half waiting for it to open and his son to walk through with that silly grin on his face. He was all too aware this trivial action had become habitual. It had been two months since Malcolm’s disappearance, and Jacob wondered at what point he would stop the waiting. He knew he would never give up hope.

The third-generation proprietor of the Halfway There Inn manned his post at the tavern’s counter drawing drafts of ale for his customers, one he occupied for the past twenty years. He stood sentry on one side of the door that led to his family’s private quarters, and a large stone hearth stood on the other side. Jacob wore his winter garment, a uniform of a well-mended short tunic over a pale shirt. The tunic was dark brown and the shirt un-dyed, both woolen. Leather straps crisscrossed Jacob's baggy breeches from knee to foot. Where the cowhide breeches ended, crudely made shoes began. Accentuating his face was a neatly trimmed beard and thinning blond locks pulled tightly back and bound to resemble the pommel of a saddle. A course apron of hemp protected his shirt and tunic from spills so he might get a few more days’ wear from his garments between washings.

The occupied tables of the inn skewed to one end of the room closest to the large fireplace. The burning logs in the fieldstone hearth cast a yellow glow over the nearest patrons. Wood sizzled and crackled as the flames consumed its meal of dried hardwoods while the (snip)

Would you turn the page with this opening?

I definitely like the writing and the voice (though there is an occasional typo such as “edged” that Linda needs to be careful about before submitting her work). I enjoy reading fantasy (and editing it, too), and Millie captures the feel of a good epic fantasy with her descriptions and narrative. The prologue is a real scene, the way prologues ought to be, and opened with enough story question to get me to turn the page. Note to Millie: since the scene in Chapter 1 directly follows the Prologue’s scene in the same world and time, I suggest that you make it Chapter 1. Many people (and agents) skip prologues, and yours is really the opening scene of what follows.

Without the prologue/chapter 1, I’m not so certain that I would have turned the page. The opening paragraph raises a good story question, but then the narrative goes to long description given from the author’s point of view, not the character's. This isn’t uncommon in epic fantasy, but why not make it experiential description from within the character’s point of view? The chapter, for this reader, had charm, but it the rest of it wasn't about the disappearance of Malcolm, the story question that was raised. Eventually the person who was the “ghost” is there, and she is part of Malcom's disappearance story, so the narrative ties back into the prologue, but there’s not much in the way of tension to my way of reading. Yes, epic fantasy often eases its way into a story, but I urge Linda to get more of the actual story into the first chapter. Unless the story about the horses affects the actual story, it’s just a pleasant way of passing time but brings the story to a halt. So this page gets a no from me.

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 Linda

Design-MotherDaughter

 

(prologue continued)

the face of eternal youth. A short stalk of wavy, black hair slipped from beneath the hood.

Their skin is the color of their mountain home, and they wrap themselves in the clouds that hide the mountain’s summit. Their eyes may be as black as coal or as green as emeralds found within the deep cavernous belly of the underworld. Be especially wary between dusk and dawn when they leave their mountain chambers and roam the earth to judge the hearts of men. The words raced through the old man’s mind. He knew the legends well. Although the shepherd could not see the color of the traveler’s eyes, he could tell that the tones of the traveler’s face matched the hues of the earth.

The youth smiled and spoke as if listening to the old shepherd’s thoughts. “Relax, I’m not a ghost. I don’t even believe in ghosts. I was trying to make it to the Halfway There Inn before dark.” The traveler looked towards the horizon where the thick mass of clouds blotted out the setting sun. “But it looks like I will have to find it in the dark. All this rain these past few days has slowed me down considerably.”

The gaze from the youth was too direct; the shepherd looked away, and the deep furrows of his brow grew deeper. They may bear the face as soft as an angel’s or be has hard as the mountain’s core. This face was truly angelic. He could assign no age to it. Yet his visitor didn’t speak the way he had expected a Mona-Tari to speak. You are being a fool, Joseph, an old fool. It’s only a lad from one of the southern kingdoms. “You don’t believe in ghosts?” the shepherd asked with a slight quiver in his voice.

His guest grinned. “Don’t tell me a wise man such as you believes in them?”

The old man had seen many youths in his day, scattered out into the winds like seeds from the milkweed looking for a place to put down roots. They often shared his fire or a day on the road, but this one was different, out-of-place. “The young would be best served if they respected the wisdom of the old. There are reasons for beliefs, and those beliefs are not to be trifled with. If you plan to do much wandering in this land, then I suggest you respect the Mona-Tari.” The shepherd placed a small, black pot of soaked beans on the fire to heat. “You have heard of the tale of the Mona-Tari, haven’t you?”

The eyes of the traveler remained fixed on the old man as if reading him, not a word was spoken. The old man shivered. He looked down at his pot and gave the beans a stir.

Mona-Tari. Once that thought entered his mind, the shepherd couldn’t dislodge it. This is just a boy. The world is full of wandering boys. “You’re not from these parts, are you?” he said as he looked up at his companion. The traveler seemed amused at the question. It was rare to see anyone of the darker race roaming these hills. It is just a boy who doesn’t know or doesn’t understand. You should at least warn him of the dangers.

The old shepherd cleared his throat. “Long ago, before my time, before the time of my grandfather, and my grandfather’s grandfather, was a time known as the old kingdom. If you look hard, you will see the scattered remains from that ancient world. It is said that terrible wars took place, where one region of our fair land fought viciously with the other regions. The wars raged through the centuries. Finally, one king stood victorious and united all of the lands under his banner.

“When wars end, you would think peace begins, but this is not so. The first to die in battle are the brave and honorable leaving behind the cowards and the criminals. War sees families destroyed, bodies of fallen warriors scattered upon the fields, and plagues that steal our children. War sees violence between soldiers, but violence of the innocent continues long after peace has been proclaimed. The people of the land petitioned their king to save them from the acts of their neighbors. They said if the king could make honest men safe, they would recover the lands, and the king would regain his wealth. The king heard his people’s petition and sent special knights into the countryside, the Mona-Tari.

“The knights who rode out from the bowels of the mountain were not like any knights you see today. They did not wear suits of shiny armor nor chain mail for protection. They did not ride out in the open with their banners waving but kept to the shadows. The moon served as their light and the stars served as their eyes. They were everywhere yet nowhere. Some say they were born of the gods of the ancient kingdom. Others say the king made a deal with the Lord of the Underworld to send forth his legion of demons to collect the evil souls. Others say they were forged in the fiery depths of the eastern mountains just like their weapons.”

“Their weapons?” The eyes of the traveler were intense and unyielding in their gaze. The flames from the fire reflected in them, making them appear to be illuminated by their own internal fire. The shepherd stared at them for a moment then abruptly looked away.

“It is said that their weapons, like their masters, are not like any you have ever seen. The blades of the Mona-Tari’s knives glow with a brilliant blue flame, a blue that is the color of the hottest fire used to forge them and of the coldest ice used to quench them." He slowly gave his beans another stir.

 “So out from the mountain’s bowels the knights rode. There were no courts, there were no petitions, there was no escaping their judgment. When you met one of the Mona-Tari, he looked into your soul and passed judgment. If he found you to be corrupt, he would cut you down with a single stroke of his blue sword; the innocent would pass unharmed. No one was above the Mona-Tari’s scrutiny, not even the royal family. Our saying ‘there is no justice when mercy is granted to evil’ comes from this period.”

“I take it their methods were harsh but effective,” said the traveler.

“They were harsh as well as effective. The good at heart need no laws to keep them honest. The corrupt need laws to establish boundaries and punishment to keep them in those boundaries. It is fear that keeps the hardest of men within those boundaries, and the existence of the knights from the mountains kept the hardest heart in fear. Within a few years, the people were at peace, and the lands became prosperous. With peace restored, the people became fearful of the very knights sent to protect them. They petitioned the king once again to remove the knights from their midst.”

“I don’t understand,” said the youth. “After restoring peace, the people should have been happy to have the knights in their presence.”

“With the murderers and rapists purged from the lands, what other of man’s sins would the Mona-Tari feel the need cleans? All men have stains upon their souls, and no one was sure just how closely their souls would be searched. So they asked the Mona-Tari to leave. The people felt they were ready to govern their own lives.

“The king again granted their request and sent the Mona-Tari back into the mountains from which they came. The king warned his people that if they returned to their evil ways, he would summon the knights once again to ride the countryside.”

The old man finished his tale and gave his pot a final stir. He reached behind him and picked up a plate. Scooping half of the contents out of the pot, he passed the plate forward to his guest.

The young traveler looked down at the meal. The quantity of beans in its entirety was hardly enough to feed a grown man, and half of that wouldn’t feed a child. The traveler accepted the offering. “But all that happened in the ancient kingdom. I don’t understand how anyone could fear them now. Those knights are long dead.”

“No!” The sharpness of the single word made the youth jump. “Those knights still live. They still walk within the shadows of their mountain home protecting it from all who trespass and waiting for the king’s command to ride again.”

“Then you've seen them?”

“I have not seen them but I have seen their work.”

The traveler chewed slowly, listening to every word.

“For over sixty years I have grazed these lands and have walked hundreds of times between Ester and Rolm. You are young. You can’t understand. Your life offers just a mere glimpse of the world around you. I have lived too long and welcome the day when some memories fade away. I have not seen the ghost knights but I have seen the bodies of the condemned along the roadside.”

“Bodies? What bodies?” The traveler’s words sounded like a gasp.

The old shepherd chuckled. He finally caught a respectful note in his young companion’s attention. “The bodies of the condemned, the bodies of the highwaymen who have robbed one traveler too many. It’s not difficult to tell the work of the Mona-Tari, they strike with a single blow. Any seasoned merchant or traveler will tell you that a battered body and empty pockets is the work of a highwayman, but a body with a single wound and untouched pockets is the work of the Mona-Tari.”

“Have you seen any bodies lately?”

“It has been over a year since I last saw the handiwork of the ghost knights. This road has not needed their protection since. And that inn you seek, it is said that it falls under the protection of the knights.” The old man leaned forward, closer to the flames. The traveler did likewise to receive a special sort of confidence.

“When I was a boy tending my father’s flock, I had heard a story about Ellis Lander’s young wife being attacked by two men. Ellis was the first proprietor and builder of the Halfway There. A Mona-Tari, who was as dark as a mountain's core with eyes as green as moss, appeared out of nowhere, and killed both men. The woman was hysterical, as you would expect. She ran out of the inn and into the field to fetch her husband, but when they returned, the Moni-Tari was gone as well as the bodies of her attackers. The only proof the woman had to her story was the blood that remained on the floor. The woman said the Mona-Tari’s knives looked like bolts of blue lightning as he struck down each man.”

The old man’s voice lowered. His companion leaned all the closer to the flames to hear. “What happened next was even stranger. Ellis decided to pack up his belongings and abandoning his dream. Living two days journey from any town was not safe for his wife. As he was making his decision to leave, he heard a wagon pull up. It was his parents. The father claimed that a thought popped into his head about turning his own tavern over to Ellis’ brother and coming up to the Halfway There to help out; a decision that was made after he heard about the attack from a dark stranger with green eyes.” The old man jabbed his finger at his listener to bring home his point. “The ghost visited the father and put that idea into his head; you can be sure of that. From that day on, the Lander family has always given special hospitality to any of the people of the darker race as their gratitude to the man who saved Ellis’ wife. In return for their hospitality, the Mona-Tari protects the home and those within.”

The young traveler sat back and was silent for a moment. “I’ve not heard that story.”

“I’ve not heard it spoken since I was young. But if you look at the floor towards the center of the tavern, you can still see the stain where blood had spilled.”

The traveler was lost in momentary thought, which the shepherd could not interpret. “Thank you for your kindness,” the traveler said at last, passing back the plate with the offering consumed. “And thank you for your story. It gives me much to think about.” The visitor stood and paused for a moment with a hand resting on a hidden blade beneath the folds of cloth - a blade that shone with the iridescent blue of the hottest fire and of the coldest ice.

The old shepherd watched as the traveler and horse dissolved into the evening mist. The soft thud of the horse’s hooves continued without body for a moment or two longer. Soon only the soft sound of the sheep remained. The old man’s tense muscles relaxed and his smile displayed black stumps where teeth once stood. He had passed his judgment. The shepherd looked down at the empty plate and saw a small coin shining inside, a tribute for the storyteller. It was an odd token for a phantom to leave, and he wondered again if perhaps he wasn't being foolish.

(Chapter 1 in full)

Jacob Lander glanced at the door, half hoping, half waiting for it to open and his son to walk through with that silly grin on his face. He was all too aware this trivial action had become habitual. It had been two months since Malcolm’s disappearance, and Jacob wondered at what point he would stop the waiting. He knew he would never give up hope.

The third-generation proprietor of the Halfway There Inn manned his post at the tavern’s counter drawing drafts of ale for his customers, one he occupied for the past twenty years. He stood sentry on one side of the door that led to his family’s private quarters, and a large stone hearth stood on the other side. Jacob wore his winter garment, a uniform of a well-mended short tunic over a pale shirt. The tunic was dark brown and the shirt un-dyed, both woolen. Leather straps crisscrossed Jacob's baggy breeches from knee to foot. Where the cowhide breeches ended, crudely made shoes began. Accentuating his face was a neatly trimmed beard and thinning blond locks pulled tightly back and bound to resemble the pommel of a saddle. A course apron of hemp protected his shirt and tunic from spills so he might get a few more days’ wear from his garments between washings.

The occupied tables of the inn skewed to one end of the room closest to the large fireplace. The burning logs in the fieldstone hearth cast a yellow glow over the nearest patrons. Wood sizzled and crackled as the flames consumed its meal of dried hardwoods while the hickory and oak incense filtered through the room. Lanterns hung on the large beams that rose from the hand-hewed plank floor, and shrinking candles dotted the tables. Patrons played cards at some of the tables while stories told at others.

Jacob didn’t need to hear the conversations to know what they were saying. Farmers talked about the weather, prices they hoped to get at market, and next year’s crops. The merchants discussed ships and new commodities they discovered. The young soldiers talked of home, girls, and displays of courage, as green-sleeved boys understood the nature of courage. Laughter erupted at the table with the young soldiers.

Jacob took a closer look at their faces. They were the faces of his son, young and inexperienced in the ways of the world. Jacob wondered if perhaps Malcolm was right now sitting in some tavern, laughing with new friends, and wearing a fresh made uniform of the king's service. He shook off that thought. Deep down he knew that wasn't the case. The boy was of age, if Malcolm wanted to join the service, he just had to say so. He didn't have to put the family through a week of misery before his abrupt disappearance. It was Malcolm's fight with Amita that ignited a fury that Jacob didn’t know the boy was capable of. When Malcolm picked up that ax, Jacob was grateful the boy headed for the woodpile feeling certain he could have just as easily lodged that ax head into someone's body. Just whose, he couldn't say.

His son never said what his fight with Amita was about, but what he did say he said loudly and harshly. “You can never understand what I'm going through, nobody can.” How many times had sons said that to their fathers, usually concerning a woman. “You are not my father, this is not my home.”Those words stung. Falling on a hornet's nest would have been less painful. Those were the last words Malcolm said to him before packing his few belongings and vanishing.

It was two days travel to either Ester or Rolm without so much as a farmhouse in between. No one coming from either direction saw him. Jacob had asked the trappers who lived farther up the mountains, and none of them had seen him. Jacob sent word to his relatives in Ester and his wife's family in Rolm to watch for the boy. Jacob went so far as to ask them to check the jailhouses considering Malcolm's state of mind. So many eyes he cast out into the world and all of them blind.

 “I tell you, Jacob, Zeb Nostrum has got to be the luckiest man in the kingdom,” said Lanir Hollowtail, a man with yellowing eyes and wasting body, a drifter by trade. The sudden outburst from Lanir jolted Jacob’s attention back to his friends standing at the counter nursing their ales.

Jacob looked at his long time friend. Lanir knew everyone, and better yet, everyone’s business, which he was willing to share for a drink. When Lanir flutters into Jacob’s establishment, Jacob always gave him odd jobs to do for food and drink, making sure Lanir ate a hearty meal before he imbibed. “Just what did Zeb do this time that was so lucky?” Jacob was only partially engaged with the discussions from his friends. The other parts of his brain were busy keeping track of his customers and waiting for that outside door to open.

 “He bought an old horse from that mule trader Clemmins.”

“He bought a horse from Clemmins?” said an older man with whiskers as bristly as pigs' hair. “Sounds to me like old Zeb was crazy not lucky.”

“You’ll think old Zeb even crazier when you hear this tale.” Lanir looked up at Jacob and tapped his tankard with two fingers. Jacob shook his head slightly indicating Lanir had hit his limit for the work he had done. Lanir frowned but continued the story.

Jacob scanned the tables for indications of refills or growing hostilities but found the place peaceful. The candles on the tables had melted halfway down to the nub. It was a good night with a respectful crowd. Jacob hadn't realized how much he had come to depend on Malcolm to calm disputes before they became physical and end them when they did. He turned his attention back to Lanir.

“Zeb said the mule trader had set up a temporary business just outside of Ester.”

“I bet it was temporary,” injected the bristled-bearded man.

“Quiet Nate, I want to here this story,” said another man at the counter, younger than the others. “Go on, Lanir.”

“Like I was saying, Zeb was walking past Clemmin’s stock when he looks over and sees this mare in the corral standing off by itself. It was an old broken-down thing with a bad sway to its back and scars on its hide. He could tell it had a harsh life.”

“Haven’t we all.”

“Quiet, Nate,” said the younger man.

“Zeb looked at that mare and said the mare spoke to him.”

“Just what does a mare say when it talks?”

The younger man was about hush Nate again then wondered the same thing. “What does a horse say?”

“Probably it was Clemmins standing behind Zeb saying 'buy me, buy me,’” said Nate. All of the men laughed, but Lanir.

“It wasn’t like that. Zeb said that when that mare looked at him, he could feel its spirit talking to him, a spirit that was in pain. Zeb always was one with a kind heart towards animals, so he decides to buy the mare and turn it out to pasture. Zeb says he has plenty of pastureland to spare and he could at least let the horse live out its life in peace and comfort. He figured it didn’t have that much longer to live anyway.”

“So, let me guess,” said Nate. “He fattened it up, ran it in a race, and won a purse.”

“Nothing like that,” replied Lanir. “The horse died, as expected.”

“Lanir, I don’t see anything lucky about that,” said Nate.

“Well, the mare lived longer than Zeb had expected and died after it foaled. As it turned out, the old mare was carrying cargo when he bought her. Zeb said she must have given everything she had to produce that foal, and what a foal it is. I don’t know what brute of a horse sired that one, but Zeb has one hell of a budding stallion - big barrel chest, sturdy legs, hell of a foal. You can’t buy that kind of horse for what he paid for the mare.

“Zeb always was a lucky man,” said Nate. Holding up his tankard he said, “To Zeb.”

“To Zeb,” they all repeated.

“May his luck never run out.”

“Hear, hear.”

“Nor my tankard,” added Lanir.

“Don’t any of you sorry bastards drink to that,” said Jacob. He suddenly felt a swirl of icy air circle his body and crawl up his spine. It was a dark omen, and Jacob shuddered. He looked at the door and saw no one. He looked at the tables for any new faces. The faces were the same but the mood had altered. It was as if someone had snuffed out a cheerful little candle leaving behind a gray whiff of smoke curling upwards. The men were leaning over their tables talking quietly with occasional short glances thrown to a table in dark corner.

Jacob had to look hard to see the shadow within the shadows, a shadow that sat silent and foreboding. It was not hard to guess what thought played on everyone’s mind. “Excuse me, gentlemen, I seem to have a late night guest,” he said to his friends. Jacob wiped his hands on his apron. Nate muttered an oath as Jacob stepped out from behind the counter.

All tongues were still and all eyes followed Jacob as he walked to the table. The innkeeper wiped his hands again to remove the sweat that was forming on his palms. Jacob had waited nearly two months for good news about his son to enter his establishment, but the arrival of this solitary traveler did not herald good news. A hand squeezed his heart as he neared the figure. Word of his son had arrived.

The gray cloak and scarf-wrapped face made the traveler appear to be shrouded in mist. High black leather boots gave way to black woolen breeches. Black leather gloves fit like a second skin, and not an inch of true skin could be seen. However, Jacob knew the color of this particular knight, having seen this apparition many times before.

“Welcome, my friend,” Jacob said aloud for the benefit of his patrons. He placed his hands upon the table and leaned forward, obstructing the view of the traveler from the others. The hooded figured slowly rotated its face towards the innkeeper and looked at him through eyes as weary as the ages. Jacob could feel its pain. “It’s a miserable night to be out and about, my friend. You didn’t meet any ghosts on the road, I hope,” he said aloud for his customers’ sake, trying to remove the tension that was constricting the room.

The apparition pulled the scarf down exposing its face. The corners of its mouth inched upwards. “No, but you might ask the shepherd when he passes through here tomorrow.”

Jacob’s eyes narrowed on the apparition. "Amita," he said firmly, disapproving of her antics.

“Don’t look at me like that,” Amita said in a low voice that didn’t carry beyond the borders of the table. “I told the man I wasn’t a ghost. I told the man I didn’t believe in ghosts. Does he listen to me? No. He’d rather scare himself with some silly legend. I even ate a little of his food just to prove I wasn’t a ghost. Felt guilty about it too. That didn’t help. Ghosts don’t eat. Why would ghosts need to eat?”

Jacob dropped his head. Normally the comical expressions that accompanied this girl's rants always amused him no matter what his mood, but not tonight. He felt certain the next time she showed up, Malcolm would be trotting at her heels.
            "Besides," Amita continued, "it's not safe for a girl to travel alone on the road. You know that. But a Mona-Tari, a man wouldn't come within three leagues of one of those ghosts."

Jacob sighed. “That may be, but you’re making my guests nervous. . . They’ve stopped drinking. How about if you pack yourself up, march yourself out that door, and come in through the back. Martha has turned in for the night, but I believe you’ll find a biscuit or two on the shelf. If you scrape the bottom of the pot, you’ll find enough warm stew to fill a bowl. You can sleep with Chloe tonight. If she’s hogging the bed, just shove her over."

Amita's lips formed into a warm smile. A smile Jacob felt could warm his inn on the coldest day without the aid of a fire. The smile quickly faded. "Mr. Lander, I don't see Malcolm. Don't tell me he's still angry with me."

Jacob was about to speak then stopped. He was expecting answers not questions from this girl. He looked into Amita's eyes. There was so much confusion in them. Jacob decided that this was not the time or place to discuss what happened between his son and this wanderer. He waited two months for word of his son and decided he could wait a few more hours. “We’ll talk in the morning, Amita. Tonight, you need some rest.” With a silent nod, Amita hid her face and left.

Jacob’s thoughts followed Amita out the door. Ghost knight my arse. If Malcolm had any sense, he would have wedded and bedded that girl the last time she blew through here. He turned his attention back his customers. All eyes were on him. “What’s a matter with you garden lilies, you’d think you’ve seen a ghost or something.” The jovial delivery of his words was forced, and it showed. “The man only wanted permission to sleep in the barn. Imagine, asking permission to sleep in the barn.”

A few of the patrons turned guiltily away. Jacob always found it odd that a man would spend money on ale but not a bed.

Jacob returned to his station and noticed the tankards of his three friends fuller than when he left. Before he could say anything, the dogs in his private quarters erupted in a frenzy.

“Ah, Jacob,” Lanir said nervously over the commotion. “You wouldn’t happen to mind if I sleep inside tonight?”

Jacob smiled. With a ghost outside, a few more of his customers will be shelling out a coin or two to sleep inside. “Of course, Lanir, provided you pick up the tables.”

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8. Flogometer for Millie—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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Millie sends the first chapter for Thomasyn, which sorta looks like a YA fantasy to me. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

I didn’t want to go back. The desire within me to run, to escape, was all-consuming and beat within me like some great war drum. It was a throbbing pulse, a screaming thought. One foot after the other - It would be so easy.

A clap of thunder lashed the sky overhead, and the world rumbled. I shuddered as the air grew suddenly close, as if curling itself around me.

Not so easy, the world taunted. Not so easy for you.

I sighed aloud, and the wind moaned with me; its mournful wail echoed out over the land, and bent the reeds under its force. The long-grass’s answer was a whispering rustle, which rippled away into the distance. The marshes of Felmist were, to me, the most precious place in all of Elechion. Others found its deceptive nature and eerie fog disturbing - Something to be feared, not loved. But I, a daughter of Felmist, was of an opposite mind. The marsh was true to its kin, and all that knew it well. No man or woman that called this solitary, lonesome Hold their home would get lost. Only those venturing into the impenetrable mist with no knowledge of the land were at risk. All too common were the disappearances, the drownings, the mysterious cries in the night. But my folk were a hardy, stubborn people. And my family were even more so.

I was truly proud of our land, as proud as any Sunliette ever was. Our family had (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Millie's first page?

I do like the writing (except for some comma faults) and the voice in this opening. The first few paragraphs had a sense of drama (I would cut “It was a throbbing pulse, a screaming thought.” For me the great war drum did the trick.), but then the narrative devolved into exposition and backstory.

Too bad—as you’ll discover if you read on, she’s about to encounter a boy who is a hated enemy. That really ought to be on the first page. I think this starts too early—see what happens if you open with her first encounter with the hated enemy—that’s where the story starts, and I’d like to read that. A promising beginning, just get to the story. We readers want to be involved in something happening that directly and immediately threatens the character with some consequence that she doesn’t want to come about.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-black wings

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 Millie

(continued)

ruled Felmist for as long as time told. And yet I longed for my freedom; for a life unfettered by duty, unbound by responsibility, obligation. But the daughter of a Lord was not gifted such a luxury, and was instead expected to do as she was told. Be compliant, obedient. Be a Lady. The wind tugged at my hair, urging me to go with it.

Run, it murmured. Run away, Thomasyn. Run away. A soft snort wrenched me back into the world, and a nose nudged my shoulder. I looked around, and lifted a palm to stroke the black muzzle.

“I know.” I whispered, as the horse looked expectantly into my face. It was time to go, and Thrift knew it. He was eager to be back within the warmth and comfort of his stable, unhindered by the howling gale and the white-grey mist that slowly, silently, was creeping down from the horizon. Riding high above the clouds, the slim sliver of silver that was the moon shone through the blackness of the night. It was, perhaps, unwise of me to venture out on my own so late. But Father didn’t know about it - And as long as it remained that way, he could not put a stop to my late-night excursions. They were all I had outside of my life as a Lady, and were what I often felt kept me sane. Out in the open air, beneath the watchful stars, I could be free for a short time. But a short time only. I turned, keeping hold of the horse’s reins, and stood by the saddle. It was a while before I could force my leg into the stirrup, to swing myself up. But when I did, Thrift knew where we were headed. Without real guidance, the stallion leapt into a canter for the keep. But I was reluctant to return home, and for once I had a legitimate reason. Tomorrow morning for the first time in centuries we, the Sunliettes of Felmist, would meet with our hated enemy - The family with whom we had feuded for an age: The Starmires of Riversmeet.

Though separated by only the vast marshes of my homeland and a forest, our families had been warring for a myriad of years; ferocious, bloody wars that had ended in many, many deaths. With each new generation arose new conflict. With each new conflict arose new grief. And now, after so many years of hatred, one of them was coming here. What my Father thought he could achieve by meeting with this Starmire, I could scarcely fathom. From what I’d gathered, he was but a boy. A boy whose Grandfather killed my Uncle.

My hands tightened instinctively on the leather of the reins, and Thrift flicked his ears back at me. The rhythm of the saddle beneath me lulled me back into thought as the great grey, looming walls of Felmist towered above. I had been just a small child at the time, but I remembered him well - Lord Alasdair, brother to my Father and eldest son of our long-dead Grandfather, was slaughtered in battle by none other than the Lord of Riversmeet himself. But the tide of war was treacherous, and even as my Uncle fell so too did Lord Trewin Starmire. Both slain by the other’s hand. It was then that my Father, Lord Torin Sunliette, took up his brother’s position as ruler and protector of the Hold. At exactly the same time Addric, the late Lord Trewin’s only son, was made ruler of Riversmeet. And so began the feud, anew. Many battles ensued, too many of which had come close to ending my Father’s life. Though men on both sides perished, no victor could be found. That was where my story as Lady Thomasyn Sunliette, began.

I was the fourth child of Lord Torin and Lady Helenais - Their first daughter. My eldest brother, Rhidian, was seven years older than me. Next came Parthalan and then Caird, the youngest of the three sons. And finally there was Sisselanne, my dear little sister. There was not a sweeter thing alive. Though she had yet to come of age and taste the bitter spite of womanhood, I had vowed to protect her. The love we shared for one another, and for our brothers, was unrivalled.

As for Mother and Father, I was hesitant to say much. I loved them, of course, and would do whatever they bid me do. But deep down, I knew. I knew my part in their scheme - My part in the feud. I, eldest Sunliette daughter, was a valuable piece on the board.

We passed under the shadow of the ancient stone walls. Instantly, Thrift and I melted into the darkness; his coat, black as night, vanished into nothingness as we neared the wall. If anyone had seen us, they would have thought it a trick of the light. They always did. I halted Thrift just outside the gate - The gate that I knew was there, even though I could not see it; the gate I knew would be unlocked because I had left it so; the gate that was my portal to the outside world. In a few seconds, I had jumped silently from Thrift’s back and was leading him through the concealed little archway. It was an abandoned passage, abandoned because the key was believed to have been lost long ago.

True, I thought as I slipped the rusted-iron thing from my pocket to lock it back up again. But it was also found. I lead Thrift over the grass behind the stable block. Upon the soft ground, he made no noise. I was just as silent-footed, eyes roaming the keep for any sign of life. Not a flicker disturbed the night. I untacked the stallion quickly and quietly, and once he was safely in his stall I leant over the door to scratch behind his ears. He gazed at me with wide, trusting, liquid-black eyes.

“See you tomorrow.” I whispered, and lay a kiss on his nose. Then I swerved and hurried back to the keep - Where, hopefully, the family would still be asleep. The Gods only knew what Father would do if he ever found out.

Instead of going up through the grand main entrance to my home, for that was a fine way to get caught, I slid around the corner of the grassy courtyard to the kitchens. The cooks, maids and servants would all be long-gone by now, and the rooms would be empty. I could slide through unnoticed.

When I reached the door closest and peered in, I was pleased to see that my prediction had been correct. Not a soul inhabited the kitchens at this hour. I crept in silently, flooded by the smell of rich bread and other cooked fineries. The clay-oven fire smouldered, slowly baking the batch of breads, cakes and other morsels shoved inside. An assortment of birds had been strung from the rafters in preparation of tomorrow’s feast; pheasants, partridges, pigeons and quail. Hares, too, and an array of smoked fish. As I passed, a tray of delicate-looking sweetmeats caught my eye. A rich aroma of honey arose from the browned-off buns, topped with nuts. Glancing somewhat guiltily around, I pinched a couple from their place. One for me, and one for Sissy. Then I snuck out of the pantry and into the bottom of a spiral staircase.

The air was dank and musty; good for preserving things, I supposed. The stale taste of it was bitter on my tongue. I looked up the long, winding tower that circled above me - An endless count of steps that would eventually lead me to mine and my sister’s chambers. I sighed. I didn’t care to think how many times I’d climbed this hated stairwell, though it was the price I’d had to pay for being born a girl, and not the fourth son I was meant to be. Contrary to how romantic it sounded, Sissy and I had acquired the highest room of the tallest tower. And that meant climbing all three hundred steps to get there; not that I hadn’t gotten used to it in all of eighteen years. I set foot to the first step, and began the endless ascent upwards.

After seven entire flights of stairs, I finally came to the right door. Treading carefully over the floorboards, I nudged the latch and the door cracked open. Then, tiptoeing inside, I closed it behind me with no sound whatsoever and stood still with my back against the solid wood. I breathed out quietly, and then set to work undressing.

The sweetmeats I stowed safely away until morning. I shrugged the woolen cloak I had worn from my shoulders and folded it into my wardrobe. My muddied riding boots, for I would not even dream of wearing my finer shoes, I propped up near the door. Katrina, our handmaid, would see to them in the morning. Then I shed my dress and underclothes and exchanged them for a nightgown. The free-flowing white material hugged my skin, and warded off the cold bite of the air. I looked over at one of the two beds in the room.

My sister lay curled beneath the bedclothes, one arm tucked beneath her pillow. I smiled. She looked so lovely, and so innocent. I dreaded the day she would have to face what I’d faced alone - What our Mother had insisted was every woman’s mandatory craft. I tiptoed to her bed, and tucked the stray strand of honey-gold hair that had come free back behind her ear. She stirred, blinking blearily.

“Thomasyn?” She mumbled, laden with sleep.

“It’s me,” I murmured. Then I bent down to kiss her forehead with all the weight of a feather.

“Go back to sleep.” I whispered, and she nodded - Already slipping back into the realm of dreams, where duty did not exist. Where no feuds and no wars occurred. Where no Starmire would ever dare to come.

A sudden wind whistled past the windows, blowing back the oak shutters with an eerie moan that ruptured the stillness of the room. Moonlight pooled on the floor through the gap, tinting it silver. I frowned, and went over to push them shut again. The cold floor bit my toes. The gust pouring in from the window chilled me and made my skin crawl. I reached for the shutter, when something caught my eye. I blinked. There, paler and more opalescent that the moon itself, glided a magnificent bird; larger than any I’d seen before. Contrary to my original intentions, I pulled the shutter open further so that I and all of the room basked in luminous light. I gazed out in wonder, watching as the swan flew with such grace and majesty through the black, starlit sea that was the sky. Its vast white wings cut the air as it soared toward the moon, melting into the night.

Snapping out of my ensorcellment, I hurriedly pushed the shutter back into place and darkness once again blanketed the room. Then I turned and fled into bed, suddenly cold, and drew the blankets up over my shoulders. I stared into the darkness.

A swan was the ultimate symbol of love; my folk would say that such a sighting held a hidden meaning, that it was not mere chance I had seen the bird of beauty and soul itself. It was superstition, of course. What did the symbol of love have to do with me? Steeped in tales of mystery and passion though the swan may be, I was not about to fall prey to silly stories. And yet some tiny part of me did wonder at its truth.

I lay awake for a long while, head alive with thoughts too energized to be put to rest. Questions beleaguered me. The thought of so many people coming to our home made me uneasy, to say the least. That a Starmire was among them only worsened the idea. What if he meant us all ill? After all, what could he hope to gain out of a peaceful meeting? It was surely just a ruse to cause untold chaos within Felmist. The results of a conflict right here in our very home were utterly unthinkable. I would not welcome him. In fact, I’d sooner ensure his stay was quite miserable. Whatever Father ordered me to do for this Starmire, my hatred would still boil deep down inside of me. For what he and his family had done to ours, I would never forgive.

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

Millie sends the first chapter for Thomasyn, which sorta looks like a YA fantasy to me. The rest of the chapter is after the break.

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9. Comma, comma, comma to me

Found a terrific article on comma usage—I plan to bookmark this page because the examples are very helpful in coaching on comma clarity. It’s Confused by the Comma? Here’s Your Guide, by Rob Reinalda. Take a look and see how you’re doing with comma usage—the most common errors I see in editing novels are in comma usage. For some folks it just doesn’t come naturally.

For example, which of these is correct?

The dog barked at the cat, and for no apparent reason, ate a cantaloupe.

The dog barked at the cat and, for no apparent reason, ate a cantaloupe.

Hey, I could use some more submissions for the Flogometer, so please send something along.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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10. Flogometer for Rebecca—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed—the queue is empty, nothing 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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Rebecca sends the prologue and first chapter for A Secret in the Cellar, a YA/middle-grade novel.

Prologue (the whole thing, just 2 lines over 17)

Pimm rested in the dead, frozen grass on the hillside, her emerald eyes gazing at the full moon.  Its eerie, bluish light reflected on the slight skiff of snow that had fallen earlier in the day. She held very still and breathed deeply, drawing cold, enchanted air into her lungs, allowing the magic of the moon to tingle across her skin and soak into her bones. Her thoughts turned to her family, far away in Ireland, and she wondered if they would also spend time this night absorbing the moon's power. A tear slipped from one eye and trickled back into her long silvery hair. On nights like this, she missed her family terribly. Pimm had not seen them for over a hundred years.

The burst of magic that accompanied each full moon was fleeting, and could not sustain her for long. Christmas was coming, but Pimm feared even that magical night would not fill her enough to last another year. For a while now - decades, actually – she’d felt herself becoming soft around the edges, unfocused, like she was disappearing bit, by bit, by bit. Lately the feeling had become much stronger, and she knew her time was growing short. She longed to return to her family, to breathe the Irish air again before her existence ended.

Why had she ever come here? More than a century ago, the West had seemed a grand adventure, cowboys and horses, blue skies and wide-open spaces, so exciting and different than the endless green of her homeland. Pimm laughed softly, bitterly. Some adventure. She laughed again, louder. Why not? The tinkling sound carried on the night air across open farmland, but no one would hear her. For these people, she did not exist. She should have stayed in Ireland. This place was poison to a pixie.

Were you compelled to turn Rebecca's first page?

I like the writing a lot, and the story values as well. An intriguing opening. Since many people skip prologues, you might consider making this the first chapter even though it’s short. You had sent it in italics, and I recommend that you avoid that—hard to read. The only craft issues were small POV breaks when she thinks of her eye and hair colors. I turned this page.

Chapter 1

“I’m totally serious! I heard bells coming from the cemetery.” I tried to convince my best friend I had heard ghost bells chiming through the air the night before.

“No way. There were no bells, you’re just nuts. Hey, it’s your stop.”

I grabbed my backpack and moved to the front of the bus. “Bye, Jazz. I’ll call my mom and ask if I can ride my bike over to your house after I do my homework.” As I waved goodbye, Jazz held up her cell phone up and mouthed, ‘Call me.’ Nodding, I stepped off the bus and ran through the crunchy leaves toward our place, a tired old farmhouse with peeling white paint where I had to share the upstairs bedroom with my older sister, Millie. Mom had cheered it up by painting the front door a bright red. We couldn’t afford enough paint for the whole house, but Mom always made sure the door looked good and welcoming. At this time of year she added Christmas lights around the windows and evergreen wreaths on the porch railing. Behind me, I heard the bus pull back onto the road, rumbling to the next house a full mile and a half away.

I jumped up the steps to the porch and threw open the door to find my mom and Millie sitting at the round kitchen table. They matched each other, with long black hair, medium brown skin, and dark brown eyes. My mom's eyes are large and round, while Millie's are a little slanted, which is typical of kids who have Down's Syndrome. I also have long black hair, but my skin is a light brown and my eyes are green, like my dad's.

Would you turn the page with this opening?

Without the prologue and the connection to bells/pixie laughter, I don’t think I would turn this page--there's no tension and no story question. It’s all set-up, as is the rest of the chapter. We end it without a clear story question or a suggestion of trouble ahead for the protagonist, nor is there a sign of how/when she might encounter the pixie. I think there’s a promise of a good story here and the writing is strong, but you need to get to where the actual story starts much sooner. On this first page, if possible. You can fill in the background and set-up stuff as you go. So this is an almost for me. The rest of the chapter follows the break.

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 Rebecca

Design-observer http://www.floggingthequill.com/design-observer.jpg

 

(continued)

My mom wears her hair in a twist on the back of her head, with a headband to keep any of it from escaping. Today the band sat on the table in front of her, and her head rested on her hand. Little tendrils fell onto her forehead, and she looked tired. Mom and Millie were never home at this time of day. I usually had the house to myself for a couple of hours after school, but, hey, the warm air smelled of bread and Mexican hot chocolate. I wasn’t about to complain.

“Hi, Mom. Hi, Millie. What’s going on?” I headed to the kitchen for a snack.

“Rocio, mi hija, how was your day?” Mom asked. A steaming cup and a doughnut sat in front of each of them.

After filling my own cup from the pan on the stove and snagging a doughnut from the box, I sat between them. “Good. I aced the math test and we had burritos for lunch. That equals an excellent day in my book.” I took a bite of my snack and sipped my chocolate. “How come you guys are home?” I mumbled around my food. Then I really looked at my mom for the first time. Her eyebrows quirked in a worried way, and she held her mug of chocolate with both hands, as if she needed something warm to comfort her. “Is everything okay?” I asked.

Mom smiled and her face smoothed. I wasn’t supposed to have seen the worry. “Yes, we’re fine. Millie, are you done with your drink?” Millie tipped the last of her chocolate into her mouth and nodded. “Could you take your cup to the sink and rinse it out, por favor? Then it’s reading time for you.”

Millie pushed her chair away from the table, awkwardly grabbed her plate and mug with her short fingers, and scooted around my chair.

“After reading, will you play a game with me, Rocky?” she asked, on her way to the sink.

Rocky is what my friends and Millie call me. My full name is Maria Rocio Bustamante Solaz. When I was in second grade, the girl sitting next to me looked at the nametag on my desk and said, “Rock-ee-oh. That’s a weird name, especially for a girl.”

“My name is Rocio,” I said, “Roh-see-oh. Not Rock-ee-oh.”

“Well, that looks like Rock-ee-oh to me, so I’ll call you Rocky.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“I’m Jasmine.”

“Fine. I’ll call you Jazz.”

That’s how my best friend and I met, and we’ve been Rocky and Jazz ever since.

Millie looked at me with brown puppy-dog eyes. I couldn’t resist. “Sure, Millie. You want to play Clue? I can help you mark down your cards, if you need it.”

She frowned and rubbed her nose with the flat of her hand. “I want to play checkers, okay?”

I sighed loudly, but smiled so Millie would know I was teasing. “Fine, we’ll do checkers.”

Mom and I both listened to Millie clomp up the stairs to our room. I finished my doughnut, drank the last of my hot chocolate, then looked at Mom. “So, what’s up?”

She massaged the spot between her eyebrows with her index finger, and I wondered if she had a headache. She met my eyes and replied, “You’re not going to like this.”

My stomach did a gymnastic tumbling run. Holy cow, what was the problem? Were we moving? Did my dad lose his job? Was someone sick? Was Mom pregnant? No way. Now that Millie was in a different school than me, I was just starting to have my own life. I did not want to start over with a baby brother or sister. “What exactly am I not gonna like?” I asked, suspicion in my voice.

“Millie’s teacher called me today. There’s no more money for Millie to have therapy after school. They wouldn’t even take her today, so I had to take time off. You know your dad’s not working many hours at his job right now, and we can’t afford for me to miss any work. Mi amor, I need you to start watching Millie after school every day, until I can get home.”

Yeah, Millie's older than me, but she can’t really take care of herself, even though she is thirteen. I’m twelve, but I’ve always felt like the big sister. I love her, but sometimes I get really tired of always being responsible for her - like now.

Still, I turned my whiny “Moooooooom” into “Mooooooookay, I guess I can do that,” when I saw her face. My dad’s been working in another state for a couple of months now, leaving Mom to take care of everything. She doesn’t know, but sometimes I watch her sleep on the couch when she’s too tired to make it to bed after working all day, then taking care of Millie and me without any help. This afternoon, she looked extra tired.

“Really?”

“Really, really,” I said, quoting our favorite line from Shrek.

Gracias, mi amor. I know this is a lot to ask, and we might be able to figure out something else after a while. Right now I’m so frustrated I can’t think of another solution. You know I have to work.”

“Yeah, I know, Mom. Look, it’s okay. I’ll get my homework done while Millie’s reading, then we’ll play checkers. Maybe I can scramble some eggs for dinner.”

Mom pushed her chair back, then hugged me and kissed my cheek. “You’re such a good girl, Rocio. Thank you.”

She grabbed her purse and keys and headed to the door. “I’ll be back about 5:30.”

“I know. See you then,” I said. I watched her drive down the lane and turn left toward

town. Then I grabbed the phone to call Jazz and tell her our after-school plans were off, for good.

Add a Comment
11. Flogometer for Marlene—are you compelled to turn the page?

Hey, this is the 800th “flogging” I’ve done since I started doing this on FtQ. If you have a moment, how about using Comments to tell me what, if anything, you get from reading them. Is there an aspect of your writing that FtQ has helped you with?


Submissions Needed—only one left 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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Marlene sends the prologue and first chapter for Elemental Fire , which is either a YA or middle grade novel.

I stood as the school bus rumbled toward the end of our rutted road. The substitute driver frowned in the mirror, and I struggled not to glare back at him. He ran his finger down the list taped to the dash. “Last stop. Have a good evening, Brooklyn.”

The glare won. Hearing my full name topped off an already miserable day. “My name is Brook,” I mumbled. Stomping down the steps, I flung my bag over my shoulder, then ran across the road.

The steering whined as the driver navigated the tight turn, hemmed in by tall pines and the fence of our horse pasture. Finding Dad was the only thing on my mind. How could he?

I’d rather have listened to our history teacher drone on about the Lost Nation than hear the intercom voice call me to the shrink’s office. Mr. Rowdy’s latest theory was that the tribe had lived in the valley Dad’s ancestors settled before they all disappeared. If so, they’d left behind nothing but ghosts. Still, easier to ignore that nutjob than the insinuation that I was the mental case in front of everybody. My friends already treated me like a china doll that would shatter if they looked sideways at me.

I clenched my fists as I stared up at the old white house. Not much chance Dad would be inside like a normal parent, but since I wasn’t allowed in the lab without an invitation, I didn’t need to get in trouble for interrupting some precious physics experiment. I wanted to be the one doing the yelling.

Were you compelled to turn Marlene's first page?

I love getting clean, clear writing like this. A good, clear voice, too. I liked the character and the way she is introduced, and there’s a sense of clear conflict with her father coming up. So I gave this a page turn. Interesting things happen in the chapter, but there are a couple of things I’d like to see. First is a clearer indication of the character’s age. This could be done by slipping in a mention of the level of school—for example, “the high school’s shrink” or “the middle school’s shrink,” etc. The second is that, for me, the chapter ended without a strong story question that relates directly to the protagonist. While the mysterious tornado clearly sets something up, I wanted more of its impact on her life, what jeopardy its appearance and disappearance means to her life. A little more in the first chapter, please. The chapter continues after the fold--what do you think?

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-MotherDaughter

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 Marlene

(continued)

I dropped my books on the kitchen table and peeked into the dark parlor. Dad had turned the once-elegant Victorian room into his office, where he could write his reports surrounded by stacks of books and some of his more delicate circuits. Mom’s decorative touches were buried under four months and sixteen days’ worth of paperwork and dust.

His office chair sat empty.

A whinny floated from the pasture as I exited the house. “I’m getting there, Vienna,” I called to the bay mare standing at the gate. “Business first.”

I pushed the sliding door sideways, just enough to slip into the old apple shed. We used this part as a garage while Dad’s shop was in the stone-walled section in the back. The Jeep was parked between piles of abandoned projects, things that would never get done without Mom’s prodding. I ran my palm across the cold hood. He’d probably been holed up all day.

He wouldn’t be happy with my intrusion, but then I wasn’t happy with his. Apparently he’d surfaced long enough to call the school and suggest I spend more time with the school shrink. Ms. Weatherby wasn’t really a psychologist. Her office door labelled her a guidance counselor, but for the poor girl who’d lost her mother, she tried to play the role of someone with a real degree.

At least she tried—between overusing the word “we” when asking about “me” and trying to hug me. Dad didn’t. He just foisted the responsibility on the school and hid in his workshop.

I’d accepted my role in Mom’s death. Had he?

I twisted the knob and shoved the lab door open an inch. Cold air and white light from the fluorescents flowed out. I knocked. No answer.

“Dad?” Still nothing.

I shoved the heavy steel door another few inches. “Sorry to bust in, but we…” I stepped into the shop. No Dad. Mom would have nagged him for leaving the lights on.

A whirring noise on the counter to my left caught my attention. Amid metal arms bolted to magnifying glasses, laser tubes, and LED displays, a clock nestled in a jumble of wires. The second hand whizzed around the dial, urging me to leave before Dad found me. On a second glance, it couldn’t have been a clock. The Roman numerals only went to ten. Weird, but then his gadgets hadn’t topped our discussions for ages.

I shivered. The thick rock walls hadn’t allowed western New York’s early spring heat to permeate the room. Anchored to the wall across from the door, a spotless, stainless steel bench topped dozens of drawers and cabinets. At the far right end of the room, old stacks of apple crates, unused for decades, lay beyond Dad’s narrow cleaning focus.

Although I hadn’t been invited into the lab for several months, something struck me as different. The normally bare wall on the left end displayed several items that didn’t fit with the usual lab equipment. They didn’t rest on real shelves, just rocks that randomly stuck out farther than the others. A bowl, a vase?

Bam!

I flinched. That sounded like the porch door slamming. Dad must have been in the house all along. I switched off the lights, closed the door behind me, and peered out the side window.

Bam!

Oh, just the screen door blowing in the wind. Where was he? Figures, he’s not even around when I need to yell at him.  Maybe I’d calm down by riding Vienna.

As I turned toward the Jeep, a rectangle of light grew across the hood. My leaping heart threw extra force into my spin. Dad’s thin frame wearing a ridiculous Futurama tee now stood in the doorway. His head above robot Bender’s body. I would have laughed, but maybe a self-centered robot was the perfect uniform.

“Dad? Where’d you come from? I was just in there.” Oops.

Brown eyes gawked from behind thick lenses. His mouth opened and closed.

“Brook! You know you’re not allowed in the lab.” He stabbed a finger in my face with each word. “Just. Stay. Out.”

Seriously? He walks out of an empty room and I’m the one in trouble?

“Why did…?” The words died on my lips. Dad walked through the garage door without waiting for an explanation. An invisible fist squeezed my stomach like an orange in a juicer as the house door slammed. Damn him. But I probably would have chickened out without saying the things I really wanted to. Like why did he insist on living at the end of this twisty mountain road?

I fled to the barn. Where I could forget. Forget Dad, me, and constant war between blame and guilt. Only Vienna drove away the pain of losing Mom.

The mare nickered as I scrubbed the winter hair from her body, leaving it slightly more prepared for the coming hot and sticky summer. Bedtime memories of Mom’s stories of growing up on a Kentucky horse farm and my begging for a horse flitted through my mind. The horse-crazy gene was my only inheritance from her. Mom was petite, blonde, and blue-eyed, but Dad’s brown eyes, auburn hair, and tall, gangly build won the genetic battle. I tossed my head to flip the tight, red-brown braid over my shoulder. I didn’t need another reminder of Dad right now.

As Vienna’s shedding coat flew in the spring breeze, so did my heartache. My lips almost curled into a smile as she jostled my elbow, as eager to ride as I was.

“Some patience, maybe?” I lifted the English saddle onto her back, and for once, she didn’t sidestep. Vienna was my first horse and while no one would describe her as well-trained, she’d fulfilled the wishes whispered to my mother. A consolation prize one month after Mom’s car slid off the road on the way to pick me up from school.

Before she died, Mom had arranged the surprise for my fifteenth birthday. I’d hated the bay mare for about three minutes. But even from the grave, Mom’s life was wrapped around caring for me, and Vienna became everything missing in my life: Mom’s warm presence, an ear to whisper my desires, and even my complaints when Dad hid behind the locked door of his shop more often than not. Mom couldn’t finish the mare’s training with me, so Vienna and I were left to figure each other out on our own.

After tightening the girth, I pressed my forehead against Vienna’s. My fingers wound through her thick mane and found her favorite itchy spot. She leaned into my hand while her lower lip quivered. Dad’s mysterious appearance trickled away into the brilliant blue sky.

I scrambled onto the saddle. Vienna pranced down the driveway, ignoring all but the sharpest tugs on the reins. She sprang into a trot, and we wound our way through abandoned apple orchards. The vine-covered tree maze was more fun than any arena.

Vienna pulled to go faster. Her speed thrilled me. So what if I didn’t really know how to ride? I leaned forward and inhaled the rich smell of waxed leather and the clean scent of spring grass. I grinned as her ears twitched at shadowy stumps, a moss covered rock, or abandoned wood heaps.

Overgrown forest choked the final rows of twisted apple trees. I let the reins slide an inch through my fingers, telling Vienna it was okay to canter as we turned toward home. In the same instant she leapt forward, a shadow blanketed us. A roar like a locomotive rushed from the gnarled trees. Leaves, sticks, and an entire pine tree swirled past.

Vienna skittered to one side, then lunged forward. I slid sideways as my left foot bounced, losing its grip on the stirrup. I snatched a shorter hold on the reins. She yanked them back through my hands, winning our tug-of-war for the moment.

“Vienna, whoa! Whoa!” The fierce howling muffled my plea.

She slammed on the brakes, but it had nothing to do with my request. I thumped painfully against the pommel and Vienna’s upright neck. And stared.

A twisted tornado hung from nothing. It could have been a hundred feet away, but I felt like I could reach out and touch it. Blue sky above the black cloud looked painted on a canvas, not connected to the swirling mass. The angry finger writhed as it reached for the forest floor.

It didn’t connect with the ground, but branches flew through the air like feathers. The finger widened, now more a black, spinning bowl on a potter’s wheel. As if some god spun evil into stoneware.

The tornado didn’t seem to be moving in any direction, but it blocked our route through the relatively open orchard rows. As it grew wider, more limbs were sucked into the vortex.

I tore my horrified stare away and yanked Vienna’s head to the left and, with an unneeded jab to her sides, we bolted through the dense forest. Only my death grip on the reins and mane kept me in the saddle. Her speed threatened to leave me behind, branches plucked at my clothes and hair, the spinning storm tried to pull me into it.

Ahead, another blur grabbed my attention. A massive log blocked our path, nearly as wide as the space between the trees and it seemed to be growing larger. I closed my eyes and crouched into the saddle, grasping mane as a lifeline and squeezing my legs around her barrel, glad for once that I was tall. I prepared for a leap. She veered sideways instead, back toward the whirling storm. My eyes flew open. The ground seemed only inches away as I clung to her neck. Mane whipped my face. I swallowed a scream, afraid she’d leap so close to the tornado we’d be sucked in, pulled past the event horizon of a black hole.

As suddenly as it started, the crosswind died, the high-pitched whine diminished as if someone had flipped a switch. I wrenched myself back into the saddle and flailed my head from side to side, searching.

The tornado was gone.

Add a Comment
12. Now coming to you from Oregon

AshlandPart of the reason for no post on Monday is that I'm in the midst of a move to Ashland, Oregon, a lovely place we lived 20 years ago and are happy to return to. We're staying with friends while we look for a house (timing was such that we had to put our household into storage--bummer).

But I should be able to continue posting as usual--NOTE: could use some more chapters to flog, the queue is at two (this week's supply).

Go here to see what Ashland and the valley it's in look like. It's in southern Oregon and is a high desert climate, not the rainy climate people associate with Oregon.

See you tomorrow.

Ray

Add a Comment
13. Flogometer for Tara—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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Tara sends the prologue and first chapter for Omphalos.

Prologue:

Image: Walking closed fists with ghosts in my hands, I slowly extinguish their fires. Fabrics of all colors become dull in my grasp.

If the story would begin, it would be from all points on the star, all intercepts of the tetrahedron or rather, every existent and non-existent point on the sphere; in every node and every level of the quantum jump, and in all the breathless white noise of the in-between.

Hush.

Imagine the infinity of the circle, the colors of the sun, the dragon's breath, the fabrics of the world: an emotion lies in each.

Imagine a yellow.

The frequency of this yellow titillates the bone marrow, whispers to the butterflies between the ribcage, in that darkness, to come out.

Think ‘light’.

Blinding sun careening off the windowpane, pouring onto the floor.

Feel the pulse.

Thwump. Thwap. Thwump. Thwap. The pulse grows with each beat of the wings. The abdomen feels the pressure. The shell could crack, schism right down the center, pushing out dark, drawing in light. The beings themselves do not even understand. They simply pulse to the(snip)

Were you compelled to turn Tara's first page?

Chapter one: GAIA

When Apollo killed the python, I was not surprised. He had come flying out of the sun on his winged chariot with heavy jowls, a wrinkled brow, and scorched eyelashes.

I felt the winds change.

In the navel of the mountain so long—I, Gaia, the very first Oracle at Delphi, answering always the same questions—understood the time had come to leave Mount Parnassus.

His breasts, I laughed, will not be as much a comfort as my own. Let his loincloth speak for his worth!

I had my own chariot to find.

For all the time I had spent upon Mt. Parnassus, it was the newly ‘civilized’ men who exhausted me the most.

 

“I WILL VISIT THE ORACLE. STOP. I WILL ASK OF THE ORACLE THE MEANING OF LIFE. STOP. I WILL HAVE MY ANSWER. STOP. I WILL EMERGE FROM THE CAVE. STOP. I WILL LIVE IN KNOWLEDGE. STOP. I WILL NOT FEAR DEATH. STOP. DEATH IS NOT INEVITABLE. STOP. I WILL NOT FEAR DEATH. STOP. SEND MY MESSAGE BY CARRIER PIGEON.”

 

Claiming hardship and toil

claiming a battle (snip)

Would you turn the page with this opening?

Well, gods and goddesses are always interesting and promise a good story. This is one for me that the voice did the job of getting me to turn the page. But I think the prologue could be shorter and stronger. There were only 6 more lines in the prologue, and I think it would behoove Tara to trim the page to get them on as they make much more clear the opening of the chapter. The missing lines are:

dark, drawing in light. The beings themselves do not even understand. They simply pulse to the rhythm of the light.

The snake who ate the butterflies splits though her center, and sheds her skin. From the wet gel of her new pores, the creatures slip out, one by one, infinite colors and patterns drawn by the sun. All beings are released.

Herein lies the yellow.

As for the chapter, same thing—the voice and the gods. I’m interested in a story involving Apollo and Gaia, and the writing has style and quality. The second chapter appears to get us involved with an actual human, which is good. One thought: put the Gaia part in as part of the prologue so that the story starts with a person. And definitely keep working on this 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 Tara

Design-allahs revenge

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14. Flogometer for Kathleen—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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Kathleen sends the first chapter for Nothing Ever Adds Up. The rest of the chapter is below the fold.

The phone in her lap vibrated for the fifth time. Sandy checked the screen, certain it was FBI Special Agent in Charge Earl Pittman. She’d purposely let him go to voice mail four times in the last hour. She knew she had to answer it, but she’d never had the opportunity to speak in private. A few minutes ago, they’d pulled off Interstate 95 to get gas. Right now, Ellis was out at the pump. Here was her opportunity. Sandy quickly unfolded herself from the roadster, rounding the front of the car with long strides. She called out, “Ellis, I’m going for a pee.” She answered the phone as the convenience store door closed behind her.

“Where the hell are you, Walsh?” Pittman said.

He talked so loud she had to back the phone away from her ear. “I...we’re on our way to Miami. We’re driving...we just stopped a few minutes ago to get gas.” She looked between the beer posters taped on the plate glass window. The sun was at that irritating place in the sky halfway to sunset where you had to avert your eyes or risk blindness. Squinting through its glare, she saw Ellis insert the nozzle into the tank. “I think we’re...umm...somewhere in North Carolina.”

“I already know that from your phone’s GPS. Why are you going to Florida?”

“I’m still trying to get clarification on that. All she mentioned so far is that she has some personal business to take care of in Miami.” Pittman said nothing so Sandy continued, “Ellis (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Kathleen's first page?

I think the writing is just fine on this, so no notes there. But I do have a few issues. One is a clarity problem: in the last paragraph the narrator says “All she mentioned . . .” I assumed the “she” was some other character as the only other person in the scene is named Ellis, and that read as a man’s name to me. Turns out Ellis is a woman. I think there’s a problem here.

Second, much of the first page was spent on description of the store, signs, the sun . . . while setting the scene is important, all that’s important here is that they’re at a gas station. We all know what they look like.

And, third, partly because of the space the description takes, there’s not much of a story question here, thus very little tension. Turns out that the rest of the chapter is set-up and exposition. I think you need to start the story later. From the rest of the chapter, it looks like you have a good character and story—but will we get to it with this chapter?

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 Kathleen

Design-MotherDaughter

 

(continued)

asked, spur of the moment yesterday afternoon, if I could take a couple days off so she would have a driving companion. So this morning I pretended to call work, got it ‘okayed,’ and we left around nine-thirty.”

Pittman lowered his voice and she knew he spoke through clenched teeth and by now his face and shaved bald head were beet red. “Look Sandra Dee Walsh, I know this is your first solo undercover case. And you know you’re on probation. And we both know you’re required to check in with Randy at least once a day...” She held the phone away from her ear again because she knew he was gearing up to make more noise. “Especially if you’re leaving the state.” He drew a raspy breath and if it was even possible, he got louder, “You don’t Pretend to Call Work. You. Call. Me.”

Sandy’s chest tightened. Despite the frigid air blowing out of a pipe hanging above her, sweat poured down her forehead. Moisture dripped from her armpits and under her boobs. She didn’t take reprimands well, especially when she was in the wrong. Not getting clearance for travel was a huge mistake. Her judgment was clearly lacking. She was embarrassed. She rarely screwed up and never when she was working.

Pittman interrupted her self-flagellation, “I know it was the weekend, but you didn’t contact Randy either day. What gives with that? And your reports from last week were crap. Is the investigation of an Assistant US Attorney becoming a problem for you?”

She gulped air like a fish out of water. When she found her voice, it came out an octave higher than normal. “No, not a problem. I was with Ellis all weekend. I could...never get away long enough to call. She was always within earshot.”

“Okay, so you stayed the weekend. Did you forget how to text?”

Sandy hesitated. He’d gotten her there. “I...didn’t want her to be able to read my messages.”

“That’s really lame, Walsh,” he grumbled. “Get back on plan.” She heard his chair make that awful squeak each time he tipped back to prop his feet up on his desk. She hoped he wasn’t priming himself for a long conversation. “So what gives? It’s been almost a month. You should have nailed this lawyer by now.”

“It’s been hard…she doesn’t talk much.”

He sighed, “I know you have your own cockeyed way of getting things done. That’s why I recruited you. But I swear, if I have to assign someone to babysit you through this case, I’m going to send you back to your damn bean counting division.”

Sandy shuddered at the thought. She loved undercover work. “That won’t be necessary, sir. I’m sorry...it won’t happen again. I promise I’ll check in with Randy every day.” She mopped her sweaty face with her hair. “So...you’re clearing me to go to Florida?”

“I guess I’ll have to. You’re damn halfway there!”

“Thank you sir. I plan on having a long discussion with Ellis while we’re driving.” Although she didn’t have any concrete evidence, her gut urged her to add, “I have a strong feeling this trip has something to do with our case.”

What Pittman could never know was that she and Ellis had spent the last two days in bed, or within arm’s reach, and during those incredible forty-eight hours, she had devoted exactly zero time focusing on her job. Even if she had thought about work, she couldn’t imagine reporting that she was in the process of not just breaking, but shattering, the Agency’s major rule number one; do not get involved with the person of interest. Under no circumstances. Do not.          

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Pittman said, sounding calmer after Sandy’s scolding was apparently out of the way, “Randy says the phone number you gave us for Ellis Logan’s cell is set up. You can monitor her activity through your phone in real time or review it later...” His voice turned gruff again, “if…you ever get a minute alone. And Walsh, I will not be calling you again. Just do your job and...stay safe.”

 “Okay, I will on both...thanks.” Sandy saw Ellis approaching the store and ducked behind a tall rack of Hostess snack cakes. “Oops, she’s coming...gotta go.” She disconnected without hearing if Pittman said anything else. Now she’d probably be in trouble for hanging up on him. She blindly grabbed packages off the rack and headed for the register juggling what turned out to be Twinkies, and her personal favorite, Snowballs just as Ellis pushed through the door. Sandy hoped she didn’t look as flustered as she felt. She also really did have to pee.

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15. A question for you

How and when do you feel you should have a professional editor work on your manuscript?

Is it before submitting it to literary agents?

Or, if you’re self-publishing, before you publish?

Or never? Do you think that your own self-editing will do the job? Or do you have a friend or colleague who can do a professional-level editing job on your manuscript?

As M.J. Rose, bestselling author (not an editor) says, “If your goal is to sell books, get readers, and build word of mouth -- you absolutely need professional help. If Lee Child, Sara Gruen, Laura Lippman and Jennifer Weiner all get edited, can self-published authors afford not to do the same thing?”

M.J.’s answer is no. She started her career by self-publishing and the quality of her stories launched her as a bestseller.

Please give me your views in the comments.

Best,

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

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16. Flogometer for Naomi—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions Needed. The queue is empty 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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Naomi sends the first chapter for What Once Was Lost .

“Yo, buddy, d’you need a ride?”

The cabbie’s deep voice, his thick accent, and the mouthful of sandwich he was chewing made the question almost unintelligible. A waft of garlic breath and a greasy hand on his arm shook Desmond out of the shock induced by the frantic activity of the last few minutes. He’d think it all through later. Right now the priority was to not lose sight of the rapidly-dwindling lights on the ambulance that was speeding away.

“Yeah, I do,” he replied, turning to the cabbie. “Do you know where they’re taking him?”

“I heard the driver say Jefferson. Get in! I can have you there and doing paperwork before they’ll let you see him anyway.” The cabbie was grey and fat and wrinkled but he moved quickly to the car. He tossed the remains of his dinner onto the front seat and started the engine.

Between the short ride and the cabbie talking back to the stream of radio-chatter – something about the Phillies still having cold bats, and needing a franchise starting pitcher like they had in Steve Carlton – Desmond could muster only enough concentration to decide that this bright, noisy city wasn’t to be found on any shore he knew. The strange bank of fog that Fabian’s magic hadn’t been able to dispel must have been a portal from their home into this new world. He combed his fingers through his short, auburn curls are pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes.

Were you compelled to turn Naomi's first page?

Except for a couple of little things, the writing is good and clean. The page seems to be introducing us to a new world and a fantasy involving magic. So far so good . . . but all that detail and action involving the cab driver keeps us from the story. As you’ll see in the notes, there are only about four lines from this page that I would keep. The opening needs to be clarified and have some specifics about what’s happening that affects this character and his injured friend.

“Yo, buddy, d’you need a ride?”

The cabbie’s deep voice, his thick accent, and the mouthful of sandwich he was chewing made the question almost unintelligible. A waft of garlic breath and a greasy hand on his arm shook Desmond out of the shock induced by the frantic activity of the last few minutes. He’d think it all through later. Right now the priority was to not lose sight of the rapidly-dwindling lights on the ambulance that was speeding away. “rapidly dwindling” doesn’t use a hyphen, it’s not a compound adjective, it’s an adverb modifying an adjective. The reference to “the frantic activity of the last few minutes” is pretty useless since we don’t know what it is. Why not refer to loading Fabian into an ambulance? Or how he was hurt? You could have Desmond already in a cab following the ambulance with a brief summary of what caused this, or perhaps his worry about Fabian being unconscious and whatever else happened to him.

“Yeah, I do,” he replied, turning to the cabbie. “Do you know where they’re taking him?”

“I heard the driver say Jefferson. Get in! I can have you there and doing paperwork before they’ll let you see him anyway.” The cabbie was grey and fat and wrinkled but he moved quickly to the car. He tossed the remains of his dinner onto the front seat and started the engine.

Between the short ride and the cabbie talking back to the stream of radio-chatter – something about the Phillies still having cold bats, and needing a franchise starting pitcher like they had in Steve Carlton – Desmond could muster only enough concentration to decide that this bright, noisy city wasn’t to be found on any shore he knew. The strange bank of fog that Fabian’s magic hadn’t been able to dispel must have been a portal from their home into this new world. He combed his fingers through his short, auburn curls are and pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. The information about his hair is a brief break in point of view—he would not think of his hair in this way at this time. It’s the writer breaking in with info that we don’t really need just yet; it doesn’t affect the story.

Of this whole page, the only things that should be here are that he’s in a cab following the ambulance that Fabian is in and the part that’s in green above. The cab driver and the detailed description of a person who doesn’t figure into the story in a meaningful way is, IMO, a waste of words and space.

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 Naomi

Design-black wings

(continued)

“That’s eighteen-fifty.”

Desmond was almost afraid to look at what came out of his pocket, but the portal hadn’t left him completely unprepared: the colorful bills he knew from home had transformed into grey-green slips. The cabbie handed him a card along with some change and took off.

 The term ‘paperwork’ was a misnomer. Desmond wanted to craft a tale that was sufficiently vague to be believed without challenge, but the bored young woman behind the counter didn’t give him time. She spat questions at him and tapped his answers onto a keyboard.

“Patient’s name?”

“Fabian Cinque.”

“S-A-N-K-A-Y?”

“No, C-I-N-Q-U-E.”

“Date of birth?”

What indeed? Without any context for a lie, Desmond decided to speak the truth but the phrase that reached his ears – November 14, 1962 – was not the same as the one that had passed his lips. He hid his surprise and avoided the clerk’s eyes by quickly looking at the clock on the wall behind her. Chalk up another one for Magic.

“Address?”

“We’re uh, visiting from, uh, out of town. We only just arrived and haven’t checked in anywhere yet.”

“Home address, please.”

“Sorry. Stormhaven, Kingston.” This time, either there was no local equivalent to the truth or the spell was running out. The girl glared at him momentarily. Desmond met her eyes frankly and hoped she wouldn’t pursue the question.

She continued scrolling through the form.  “Your name?”

“Desmond Pritchard.”

“Relationship to the patient?”

Unwanted thoughts barged into Desmond’s mind. Stale? Neglected? Ending? He pushed them aside with the rest of what had to be pondered and spoke the word they never used at home, except privately. “Husband.”

The girl didn’t blink. “Insurance carrier?”

“Uh, none?”

That answer made her skip the next set of questions. “You can sit over there,” she said, gesturing vaguely with her chin. “Someone will come by to do his history.”

Desmond slumped into a rigid chair, closed his eyes and tried to ignore the anonymous din in the crowded room. The day had started innocently enough, with the decision to take advantage of a rare free day and escape for a day of sailing. The weather was fine and the picnic delicious, but eventually the idle chatter petered out into an uncomfortable silence that turned any attempt to fill it into an argument. As they headed home the fog had appeared from nowhere. That should have been the first warning: changes in weather didn’t catch the Magus of Islay unawares. Desmond manned the tiller with the expertise of long years of practice but the fog defied his every evasive maneuver. Fabian muttered in odd languages and twisted his fingers into arcane gestures until his hands fell to his sides and he said, in that odd voice that meant that a good part of his attention was still being spent on marshaling vast reserves of magical energy, that there wasn’t really a point. Their hands entwined reflexively as the fog mummified the boat; all sensation except that one point of contact vanished until they slid from the stupefying wraps of mist to bump against that strange wall.  Fabian had crumpled into a senseless heap as soon as he stepped to the shore – good thing there’d been a few people nearby, for someone to call an ambulance.

“Fabian SinKWEE. Is someone here with Fabian SinKWEE?” An earnest young man with a tablet looked around the room.

“Here.” Too weary to correct the pronunciation, Desmond groaned to his feet and followed the orderly through a set of double doors and into a curtained alcove. His heart twisted involuntarily at the sight of Fabian lying unconscious on the bed, dripping with wires and tubes. His answers to the new stream of questions – about diseases and conditions and family history – fell into the same rhythm as the beeping machines, until they were interrupted by an announcement that rang through the treatment area.

“Major MVA on 95, Chopper’s coming in with two and the busses are 6 minutes out with nine more.”

That caused a flurry of activity.  Two scrubs-clad women burst into the space.

“We’re gonna need every bed. Get this one up to Radiology, Neuro can take him from there.”

“You with him? Sign here for his belongings.” Desmond scribbled numbly on the paper that was thrust under his nose and a plastic bag containing familiar clothing was shoved into his shaking hands.

The nurses had the machines detached from the wall and the orderly was wheeling the bed away before Desmond could protest. He managed to catch one of the women by the arm.

“Where are they taking him?”

“Neurology, after a CAT scan. You might as well go home, at this hour they won’t let you up before morning.”

Home? I have no idea where we are, let alone how to get home. “We’re… travelling, and this was an unexpected stop. I need a place to stay.”

“Vanessa at the front door can point you in the right direction.” The nurse hurried off to join the scramble of preparations.

 

An hour later, Desmond collapsed onto the bed in room 217 of a mis-named hotel a few blocks away; the place was nothing like any inn he’d ever seen before, and certainly not a place he’d choose for a holiday. He didn’t expect to sleep but the next thing he knew it was morning. Over mostly-fresh pastries and decent coffee – At least some things are universal! – he tried to figure out how long the cash in his pocket would last. Not long, at best guess. Something else to worry about.

Vanessa’s day-shift replacement directed him to Fabian’s bed in a shared room. Nothing had changed, aside from the setting. A nurse came in and, after making sure that all the machines were still beeping steadily, showed Desmond how to operate the television hanging over the bed. Two perky people rattled off a litany of fires, shootings, transit strikes, election results, celebrity gossip, traffic reports, weather forecasts, and sports scores, leaving Desmond no more informed about this place called “Philadelphia” than he’d been before they started. The arrival of a stout, uniformed man was a welcome interruption.

“Officer Gene Mazursky, Philly PD. You the guy who left a sailboat in the middle of Penn’s Landing last night?”

Shit, the boat! Desmond groaned inwardly as he jumped to his feet. “I’m sorry, Officer, the boat slipped my mind in the middle of all this.” He gestured at his unconscious partner.

“Ya gotta get it outta there. We’d’ve moved it for you but the impound crew turned clumsy, and couldn’t attach a line.”

Good to know the warding-spell still worked. “I’ll gladly move it, but I don’t know where to take it – or, honestly, even how to find it again.”

The cop rolled his eyes. “C’mon. But it’ll cost ya coffee and a doughnut.”

When Officer Mazursky pulled up to the riverside, there was a small crowd watching three men, one dripping wet, mutter amongst themselves and occasionally gesture towards the inconveniently-placed sailboat. “Relax, guys,” the cop announced. “I found the owner. He can take it from here.”

“You want me to sign the report?” The wet one asked.

“What report? All I see is a guy got stuck finding a place to take a leak. Nothing worth writing up.” The cop waved off the other man’s protests as he raised his coffee to his lips. Behind the cup he muttered to Desmond, “I should write you up, and it wouldn’t be a cheap ticket. But it’s worth it just to see that prick Richardson go into the drink, so long as you’re gone before the news crews show up.”

Desmond smiled, and shook the cop’s free hand. “Thanks, Officer Mazursky, I appreciate the favor.” He turned to the others and asked, “Can one of you help me navigate? I don’t know these waters.”

The youngest one wore gear labeled “S. Martinez” above the logo. He shrugged to his fellows and followed Desmond aboard. Desmond grabbed his arm as he stepped over the rail, just to be sure that the warding spell would recognize the newcomer as not-foe.

Martinez looked around and gave an appreciative whistle. “This is one hell of a boat, man. I never seen nothing like her, even them old-fashioned ships that tour every now and then.”

“Thanks. She’s something of a family heirloom.” Desmond didn’t want to explain further, so he made a show of readying the boat. There was more work to do than usual; when Fabian was on board, whispering to wind and wave, the boat practically sailed herself. Martinez fell to smoothly and by the time the first news van disgorged its overeager reporter and camera crew, they were in the center of the river and heading south. Only a few hangers-on with cell phone video were left to be interviewed. Not enough to make a story.

The feel of the boat gliding over the water was so familiar that Desmond couldn’t help but relax. This place wasn’t so terribly different from home: the sky was still blue, rivers still stank, and gulls were still noisy. All of the uncertainty of the previous evening remained to be addressed, but it faded in priority as he focused on following Martinez’s directions to the marina.

Martinez convinced the marina manager to let Desmond use a slip that had been left vacant when an “unfortunate” fire removed a 35-foot yacht from consideration in an ugly divorce, in exchange for Martinez forgetting about a few other boats that hadn’t gotten full use out of their rent but had seen a lot of foot traffic while moored. Desmond sighed in relief at hearing that it was paid through the end of the month, knowing that his limited funds couldn’t have handled the payment. He grabbed a change of clothes and a few other items from the boat. Martinez navigated them to the right series of trains and buses to get Desmond back to the hospital.

There was a doctor at Fabian’s bedside. She finished her examination and made a few notes on her tablet; her bobbed black hair swung as she turned to Desmond.

“You are Mr. Cinque’s –” she consulted the chart “ – husband, yes? I’m Dr. Reshmi Hanaruman. What can you tell me about what happened?”

“Nothing happened. We’d been sailing, had a picnic –”

“There was alcohol at your picnic?”

“Not much, one bottle of wine that we didn’t even finish. I’ve seen him less drunk after drinking more.”

“Does he have a history of migraines or vertigo?”

“No, nothing.”

“And he didn’t hit his head?” At Desmond’s negation, her eyes narrowed. “Hmmph. I can find no physical or chemical reason for this man to be in a coma.”

“Yet he is.”

Another snort; the doctor frowned. “His condition is stable, vitals are good, kidney function normal. His strength will help him as he recovers. I simply cannot tell you how long that might take. In cases like this, only time will tell.”

There wasn’t anything left to say. Desmond thanked her and dropped into the chair next to the bed. He closed his eyes to avoid looking at Fabian’s motionless form, and all the questions he’d been trying to avoid came flooding back.

Why were we brought to this place? What will it take to get home?

Where is home anymore? Do I really want to go back?

What’s the point of sitting here? Fabian doesn’t notice me much more when he’s not in a coma.

Why not walk away?

“I apologize for my daughter.” The soft voice prevented him from re-hashing old resentments. Desmond opened his eyes to see a dark-eyed nurse looking at him.

“Excuse me?”

“Dr. Hanaruman, she is my daughter. She has yet to learn that medicine is about more than test results and diagnoses.”

Despite everything, Desmond smiled. “Sometimes it’s better to be forthright, and not give false hope.”

“Sometimes, yes, but she never gives herself time to tell one situation from the other.” There was a definite resemblance between the two women: strong cheekbones, small nose, round chin. The nurse wore her black hair in a long braid, and when she smiled back at Desmond the crinkles around her eyes gave her face such warmth that she appeared to be the younger woman. “I am Madhura.”

“Desmond.”

“You shouldn’t sit here all day, Desmond. He’ll wake when he wakes. Give me your cell phone number and we’ll call you in when he does. Enjoy the weather, it will get humid soon enough.”

Her kindness broke Desmond’s reserve, and he couldn’t stop himself from speaking. “But you can’t ‘call me,’ I don’t have a cell phone.” And I don’t even know what one is. He swallowed before continuing, “I wouldn’t know where to go anyway, I’ve been in this city for less than a day. The only people I’ve said more than a dozen words to are all here at the hospital. And Fabian… how would he know –” Desmond’s throat clenched against the flow of words.

Madhura winced. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to pressure you. Stay as long as you need.” She slipped from the room.

Alone again, Desmond turned on the TV.

 

The days settled into a pattern of bad sleep, mediocre food, and watching Fabian not move. Other patients and their families went and came, and still Desmond sat in the same chair by Fabian’s bedside. Desmond learned the nurses’ schedules; they were all friendly, but he looked forward most to the days Madhura would be there. Not only would she set aside an “extra” meal for him, but she always took a few moments to engage in conversation beyond the “How ya doing?” that was an automatic greeting in most mouths.

It didn’t take long for his cash to run out. The daily news broadcasts gave him no encouragement about the likelihood of finding a job, so Desmond regretfully arranged for the marina manager to find a buyer for the sailboat. The crook took an exorbitant cut from the proceeds, but he didn’t have much other choice.

Despite the wad of bills in his pocket, Desmond knew he had to make something change. He checked out of his room and took the long way to the hospital, mulling over his options. The core of loyalty and love for Fabian was getting buried under layers of emotional calluses, but it still pulsed strongly enough to make it hard to do what he knew he had to do.

Dr. Hanaruman was with Fabian when he arrived.

“Mr. Pritchard, I’ve been waiting for you. Mr. Cinque’s condition is not progressing. We should discuss the next phase of his care.”

No pleasantries in this one, just dive right in. “Good morning, Dr. Hanaruman. What are you thinking?” Desmond dropped his duffel under the window and faced her squarely.

“He needs skilled nursing care around the clock, but not necessarily in a hospital. I can get you information on several facilities in the area and we can arrange for the transfer.”

“So you don’t think he’ll recover.”

“I did not say that.” The woman was a full head shorter than Desmond and younger than he by more decades than she’d ever know, but she made him feel like a scolded child. “I don’t know what might trigger his recovery, and I don’t see the point of incurring the expense of a hospital while you wait.”

It always comes down to money, doesn’t it? Something else that’s universal. “Fine, I’ll consider it.”

From the doorway, Madhura caught his eye and gestured for him to sit. “Dr. Hanaruman, 20A wanted to speak with you and they’re in a rush.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Pritchard. I’ll be back shortly.”

The nurse shook her head slightly as her daughter bustled out of the room. “Where were you planning to go?” She asked, pointing to the duffle.

“I don’t know. I just have to go somewhere.” Desmond sighed heavily and reached for Fabian’s limp hand.

“My shift ends at midnight. You’ll come home with me.”

“What?” He looked up sharply.

“Two of my children have moved out and our house is too big. I can’t let you wander the streets while I have space to spare.” She paused. “I don’t think you really want to leave, do you?”

“Thank you.” Desmond’s heart melted at her kindness. He ducked his head to hide the unwanted tears that filled his brown eyes, and reached to wipe them away with the hand that still held Fabian’s. “I appreciate the offer but-”

A sharp gasp from the nurse cut him off. The beeping of the machines accelerated, spiking irregularly. Fabian’s blue eyes fluttered open as they watched, flashing with confusion and panic.

Swallowing his tears, Desmond rose and stepped to the bedside. He wouldn’t be leaving today after all.

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17. Flogometer for J.R.—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions wanted. Only enough in the queue for this 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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

J.R. sends the first chapter for Ringworm. The rest of the chapter below the fold.

I’ve always been fascinated by people dyin’. Don’t know why. And it’s only people too, - not animals. I guess because animals don’t know any better; you know, ain’t always smart enough to get out of the road. But people are, so when one of ‘em manages to stray out in front of a semi or somethin’, I say good on ‘em.

How was it my Uncle Rhett used to say it? Oh yeah, he’d say, “Folks like that need to go anyways. Need to clean the scum offa the gene pool.” Then he’d laugh, and slip into a fit of coughin’ because those friggin’ stogys he smoked was killing him. Not to mention the booze. I often wondered how liquor made him the smartest man in the world, at least to hear him tell it. Most everybody was a “dumb bastard” in his opinion, when he had a drunk on. I never seen a man drink so much and still walk. He didn’t walk well, but he managed. What was sad is he’d walk outside, stumble around in the woods for a while, then forget why he was there and end up pissin’ his pants.

When I was six, I was already pretty smart. I thought he was smart too, you know because a what he said about the gene pool. I thought that was intelligent. Now I wonder if he laughed because he believed he wasn’t just as stupid as the rest of the scum. I guess we’ll never know. I killed him when I was seven.

Oh, stop gasping like it was some big deal. It wasn’t like that, I mean he deserved it. I (snip)

Were you compelled to turn J.R.'s first page?

Mixed reactions to this one, but the hook—I killed him when I was seven.—did the job for me. J.R. does well in the hook department: at the end of the chapter there’s this:

But that’s not the reason that I decided to go through with my plan at the first opportunity. It was the branding that made up my mind.

However, this could be better in a number of ways. I think the musing about being fascinated by “dyin’” at the front serves no good purpose, and I’d delete it and get to Uncle Rhett. It turns out that the uncle is molesting this child, or trying to, which provides pretty good motivation. I think a hint at that on the first page would provide more tension and interest. It would also help to identify the gender of the character and give him/her a name. That can easily be done. There is no clue in the entire chapter as to identity/gender. Giving a character a name helps connect a reader to him or her. So tighten up the opening page, give us some identity to hang onto. And maybe trim down the backstory that starts on page two. I think getting to the real story sooner is better.

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 J.R.

Design-Blue-Stone

 

(continued) never killed nobody that didn’t deserve it.

 The Farm

 I slept in the attic. It wasn’t like I had to; there were bedrooms upstairs, but I liked the attic because it was high up, and nobody could get up there easy, so I had it pretty much to myself, and that was fine with me. Being as the house was built somewheres around the Civil War, at least that’s what Gram told me, the chimney run right up the center of the place an’ three sides of the chimney has a fireplace on every floor. Except the attic of course, but that was okay. The heat always rose up an’ it was toasty most of the winter. I ’spect Gram was right about the Civil War business. I found a place where somebody had carved ‘1856’ in a stone near the floor in the attic. That an’ all the wood pegs and handmade nails holdin’ the building together.

‘Course the summer was hotter than blue hell, but there was two small dormer windows on opposite sides of the chimney that I could open, an’ being high up, the cooler air blew in most times. Sharin’ the room with the wasps, spiders, and other vermin of which I wasn’t always familiar, was a struggle. I got stung an’ bit a few times, but most often if I let them alone, they let me be. I just had to remember to shake out the blanket before I got into bed so as not to surprise anything that might be cozied up in there. And since I was alone, I could sleep nekkid, which was okay until I was five. That’s when Uncle Rhett took it in his mind that he could mess with me, and started trying to creep into the attic in the middle of the night, drunk an’ stinkin’. That was when I started to figure a way to kill him.

Problem was, him an’ me was all the kin Gram had left. Never knew my grandpa, an’ my Pa died of a heart attack when I was two. The year after that, in 1953, Ma got a bad cold she never got over. So it was move to the farm or to some orphanage, an’ Gram wouldn’t let ‘em do that. Probably the one best thing she ever did for me.

So even when I figured out how I was goin’ to do it, you know, kill Uncle Rhett, I couldn’t. The farm wasn’t worth much in 1955, but it was all we had. Gram grew what we needed to eat and can up for the winter, raised chickens, pigs, and even had a cow for milkin’, so we did okay. But she depended on Uncle Rhett for manual work when she could get him to do it. She also depended on his government check from the Army to help pay for whatever things we couldn’t grow.

At a Church picnic one time, Mr. Reynolds, confided in me that, “Rhett couldn’t find his ass with both hands,” an’ though I wasn’t religious by nature, it struck me as odd comin’ from a Deacon of the Oakville First Baptist Church. ‘Course he was right, but I still found it odd.

I pretty near changed my mind about doing it. I mean, there weren’t no stairs for the attic; just a ladder that you had to prop up to a square cut hole in the ceiling. A feeble sheet of wood served as a ceiling door, but it was easy enough to slide out of the way, and besides; coverin’ the hole, cut off some of what little air did circulate.

I figured out that if I was quick enough to get into the attic before ol’ Uncle Rhett decided to get affectionate, I could pull the ladder up an’ this usually kept him out. The chimney fire put an end to that escape. The night it happened, the screamin’ roar of a thousand demons woke me up, at least that what it sounded like, and I thought I might actually be in hell, because the heat from the chimney was cooking my dumb ass. Of course that’s how nature cleaned out the chimney and the builders allowed for it with three foot of stone and mortar.

Still it was dark, and when I tried to put the ladder down, it slipped out of my hands and I was stuck.

I yelled for help, but Uncle Rhett was in a drunken coma, and Gram was on another ladder outside, manning a bucket in case any sparks lit on the roof. The windows wasn’t an option. Too small and too close to the chimney. When I got to where I couldn’t breathe, I decided the best thing I could do was to try to drop to the second floor. It was a pretty good drop, about eight feet or so, so when I hit, the pain told me that my ankle was gonna be out of commission for a while. Turned out it was just sprained bad, but I had to start putting the ladder back, and Uncle Rhett went back to his midnight frolics with me.

Calling Gram didn’t do any good. When he was drunk, he’d just as soon smack her as look at her. She knew what he was about, but was helpless to do much ‘cept tell him it wasn’t right, when he sobered up. ‘Course he said she was makin’ it all up.

But that’s not the reason that I decided to go through with my plan at the first opportunity. It was the branding that made up my mind.

 

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18. Those gremlins we call typos

We all make them. And, too often, we discover them after they’re out there, either on the Internet or in print. I came across a fun article that lets us know we’re not alone—“History’s Most Heinous Typos” is a quick and fun read.

Here's  one of biblical proportions:

"Let the Children first be killed" (rather than "filled," Mark 7:27, from a 1795 edition known as the "Murderer's Bible")

For a chuckle,

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Design-NobodyKnows

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19. Flogometer for Jach—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions wanted—only one 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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Jach sends the first chapter for The Pit of Gods.

The sounds of the slave market seemed to terify the small, delicate black girl on the platform. She was trembling, yet somehow able to stand on her own. Her lips were arched in an uneasy smile. It was the only thing Sikalis could see clearly on her face, for her features were disjointed by fear. Her eyes were restless, never stopping to see anything for more than a moment.

"5 liri!" shouted a thin, old man, his harsh voice loud enough to reach the two slave merchants. One was an impoverished Taurian merchant called Ganoblis, whose pox-marked face was now widening into an evil smile. The other was Svafa, a barbarian from the northern lands of Jangria. He towered over everyone in the market. Everyone near him was uneasy, startled by the long blond hair and shaggy beard, and the uneasyness would turn into shivers if he looked at them with his sea-blue eyes. Ganoblis introduced him to everyone as his 'partner'. From what Sikalis has seen, better words were 'his slave bodyguard'.

After a nod from from Ganoblis, who must have already imagined the silver coins in his pouch, Svafa called out: "Sold!".

Without an expression, Sikalis watched the girl go down the platform to the thin man in his blue and red tunic as the next slave, a white-haired Lotan, moved to spot where she stood but a moment ago. This was the twenty-first city in which he was waiting to be sold on wooden platforms such as these, hastly built on a small stretch of ground in a market room, elevated enough for the (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Jach's first page?

Definitely an interesting world, but there are issues, too. Some of what I feel is overwriting, I had a clarity issue, and there are no stakes or jeopardy regarding the sale of the protagonist. This is just another ho-hum day after twenty-one cities. Gets an almost. Increase the tension and crisp up the narrative and it could be a turn. Notes:

 The sounds of the slave market seemed to terify the small, delicate black girl on the platform. She was trembling, yet somehow able to stand on her own. Her lips were arched in an uneasy smile. It was the only thing Sikalis could see clearly on her face, for her features were disjointed by fear. Her eyes were restless, never stopping to see anything for more than a moment. Cut the sentence for two reasons—it didn't make real sense to me (why could he not see her features even if twisted) and it slows things.

"5 liri!" shouted a thin, old man, his harsh voice loud enough to reach the two slave merchants. One was an impoverished Taurian merchant called Ganoblis, whose pox-marked face was now widening into an evil smile. The other was Svafa, a barbarian from the northern lands of Jangria. He towered over everyone in the market. Everyone near him was uneasy, startled by the long blond hair and shaggy beard, and the uneasyness would turn into shivers if he looked at them with his sea-blue eyes. Ganoblis introduced him to everyone as his 'partner'. From what Sikalis has seen, better words were 'his slave bodyguard'. Repetition of “everyone". POV glitch here—Sikalis can't know what everyone is feeling or what motivates behavior. How could he see shivers in a crowded market?

After a nod from from Ganoblis, who must have already imagined the silver coins in his pouch, Svafa called out: "Sold!".

Without an expression, Sikalis watched the The girl went go down the platform to the thin man in his blue and red tunic as the next slave, a white-haired Lotan, moved to spot where she stood but a moment ago. This was the twenty-first city in which he Sikalis waited was waiting to be sold on wooden platforms such as these, hastly hastily built on a small stretch of ground in a market room, elevated enough for the (snip) Sikalis watched is a filter that distances the reader from the character's experience. The extra detail about the platform is a bit of overwriting. While it adds nice detail, the detail doesn't move the story forward. I suspect you could delete this paragraph and get back to what's happening to Sikalis.

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 Jach

Design-observer

 

 (continued)

buyers to get a good look on their future slaves. He was taken as a slave several months ago, and yet, not one man bid for him.

He remembered how Ganoblis's dark eyes widened underneath his joined eyebrows when Sikalis was captured. He resembled a prize, or so Ganoblis said back then, when he first saw Sikalis. His face had the smile of a man whom Bato had just blessed. A tough Hadritti, taller than anyone except for the Jangrian. Years of hard work on the fields of Delar, his home, formed his muscles and calloused his hands. His face was angular with a crooked nose and green-blue eyes. His hair was the colour of the earth, his skin only a lighter shade. “An ideal slave to sell, oh yes. I will sell you as soon as Poecarte, oh, I am sure I will, and you will bring me much wealth” Ganoblis spoke in Hadrittian, his accent barely understandable. 

Sikalis was still full of fury then, the chains enraging him but keeping him in place, and the whips...

“If you think that you will get me to stay chained on that sorry-looking ship, even so close as that, I believe you know fucking nothing of my kind. More importantly, you fucking know nothing about me.”

Ganoblis laughed, patting his big round belly with his hand. “I don’t need to know my slaves to know how to deal with them.” Without sparing another look at Sikalis, he ordered two other slaves to bring him in the hull.

The memory of that humiliation made him wince still, filling him with a desire to snap Ganoblis’s thick neck. “Easy, now. Someone will make the mistake of buying me, give me room to escape. Then I can concentrate on Ganoblis. But only after I’m bought.” When, though? There was not a soul who bid for Sikalis, and Ganoblis's mood darkened as market after a market failed to buy his prize until it seemed that, if his temper could summon darkness, he would engulf the whole world.

Even Sikalis was intrigued. Why did nobody seem to want to buy him? Some ideas he dismissed out of hand as soon as they formed. Other ideas he couldn't dismiss, but he didn't think they fit right.  There was one he liked most, though. “Maybe they are afraid. Maybe they are all just spineless bastards.”  

Somehow, he forgot where he was, and a sudden pain in his back brought his senses back to life. He lingered too much on the steps, hearing neither Ganoblis nor Svafa. The two merchants had already sent guards to force him on to the platform.  for Sikalis to show himself, their frown displaying their already great displeasure at him.

Sikalis shook of the guards, and, taking his time, he climbed the squealing steps and walked right to the center of the platform.

The room fell silent as they saw him. Only the last buyer, a portly man with a long mustache, could be heard hurrying out of the market, the old Lotan slave he bought right behind him. Everyone else’s eyes were on Sikalis.

He must have made quite an impression, as the silence seemed ominous under the grey stone ceiling of the market, the slave-owners unsure about Sikalis’s presence. Sikalis looked at each face with the patience of a philosopher, his eyes searching the thin man in the blue and red tunic who bought the girl before. He could not find him.

Dissapointed, he looked towards Ganoblis, savouring the hate he found in his pig eyes. Then, he waited for the signal to step down and go back to the wagon to be caged again.

All of a sudden, the thin man return, walking a bit behind a nobleman. He was wearing a white qata, as the Taurians called the clothing, it's edge the colour of blood. It looked obvious that the old man was the noblemans servant Sikalis knew that nobleman rarely showed up in person at places such as these, amidst people so much beneath them. 

It caused a commotion, with cries of: “Massos!” being gasped throughout the room. Even Ganoblis and Svafa were surprised. They tried to quickly reach the pair, but the crowd that gathered could not be pushed through.

He looked at both the nobleman and his companion with a vivid interest. The old man had a short, brown hair peppered with gray, a beaklike nose set in a round face and pure white skin. The nobleman clean-shaven, oval face carried a perfect nose. His wavy brown hair touched his cheeks. The air of authority was natural to him. Both of them looked at Sikalis, the intelligent dark eyes of the elder and the noblemans fiery grey eyes.

“I want this Hadritti for a 1000 lirii.” - said the nobleman.

Every single person in front of the platform started shouting and arguing, even insulting the nobleman. He could have bought hundred slaves for that price. His masters stood shocked, their mouths gaping at the price. Massos’s servant didn’t waste time. He gave the money to the slavers, who were still looking at them with their jaws open, and took the chains from them. They shot out of the market, all three eager to go away. Sikalis found that he could match their pace if he disregard the growing pain in his feet, the chains tugging at him to keep up.

They walked for some time in silence through the crowd-filled streets of Naurentie, pushing through Taurieans in brown or blue togas. He was still surprised at how many people lived in towns such as these. It was mad. Shit filled, stinking streets, beggars sitting at almost every corner of the paved road, and there were side alleys, he saw, that everyone avoided, even in daylight.

At the end of a bridge, when he thought he could not ignore the pain in his legs, they got to a slave wagon. His legs almost gave out as he got into the wagon. He found himself a bit of space for himself even though there were a dozen slaves in it, more than it would normally hold. The iron bars had enough space between them, so he put his legs and arms there. He made himself look at the paved streets, the Taurians, their stone buildings at first, then later at the oak forests, the valleys, that lone mountain in the distance.

The land looked much the same as the one he came from, the land that was his home.

“Solan isn't your home anymore, you fool. Everyone fled. And they were right. Damn them to oblivion, they were right.”

His home may not be his anymore, but he could not think of it any other way.

 #

 The sound of the guards’ talking alerted him. The landscape changed as dusk settled over horizon, giving way to vast fields of wheat and rows of grapes. The change was too sudden not to be noticed, and it was enough for Sikalis to take him out of his stupor. he was relieved to feel only a dull throb in his legs. It was not ideal, but if he had to run, he would be able to do so.

The strange, mechanical tounge of the Taurieans prevented him from learning what they spoke about, until he caught the words “soon” and “estate”, some of the few words he came to understand.

“Soon” he might be able to escape. There was nothing that could stop him now, no heavily guarded wagons or iron chains. It seemed Bato smiled upon him at last.

They continued for some time more, the slave wagons and the guards. The nobleman trotted ahead on his big horse, his servant on another right by him. He did not seem a fool, however much Sikalis thought him as one only because he bought him. The sneers he recevied from the guards earlier, the easy way they were talking, and the man on the horse made Sikalis uneasy. He shook the feeling off. There was nothing he could do now but wait, so he waited.

His eyes wandered of to his wagon. Before, he didn’t even look at the other slaves in the cabin, and he found himself surprised when he spotted the girl he saw sold at the market. She was asleep in the corner of the other side of the wagon. Somehow, he had forgotten they were both bought by the same man. “Maybe...”

The guards suddenly quieted. His thought dismissed as he watched them arranging into formation, a high wooden wall standing a hundred paces away. Two sentries were doing their rounds when they spotted the column. Soon after, the gate started to open, inviting them in.

Everyone seemed to liven up again, even the slaves. They watched ahead with hungry eyes, as if they could devour what they saw.

Sikalis was not impressed, but the uneasy feeling he thought was quelled returned stronger, and now, he could not dismiss it. This did not look like an estate, with the high spiked walls and strong watchtowers. He could hear the clank of weapons inside, sounding almost like the clamor of a battle he heard his father speak of. “Where am I going?”

The question was on his mind during the last, short part of the trek, where supplies were unloaded from the wagon and the slaves waited for their names to be called. 

When they called for Sikalis, he was already walking out as the last slave. As he stepped on to the ground, again relieved that he feels almost no pain in the legs, he found himself in front of a fully armored man. The only thing Sikalis could see underneath his helmet was a pair of tired black eyes. "Holy Bato..."

The man gestured Sikalis to follow him into a specially walled off space. The nobleman was already sitting at a nearby porch with a glass of wine in his hand, his servant standing next to him. Several guards were on the ramparts, bows strung.

“We want to see you fight, Solanian” said the nobleman, his voice commanding. Even though he spoke Hadritti, he showed no hint of an accent. “How does this Tauriean know my tribe?”

“I don’t know a better masarior to test my new slaves skills than Neotran. I hope this one won’t be useless, at least. Eh, Neotran?”

“We shall see, Massos. He might look strong, but if he can’t swing a blade, we might as well give him stables to clean.”

Neotran extended his left arm to give Sikalis a short blade. It was a double-edged, sharp weapon, but made of cheap iron. A useful enough weapon until he could get another. “Fucking archers.”

Both took a step back. Sikalis gave his sword a few swings. Neotran stood firm in his stance, the last light of the day giving him an unearthly look.

Without warning, Neotran lunged, intent on stabbing Sikalis through his arm. Sikalis dodged at the last moment instead of parrying, giving him a bit of space, then made an attack of his own. His still wounded legs hamphered his movement. Neotran parried without effort, beginning a series of blows in response. He seemed to see what Sikalis would do before even he knew. He would block, attack, and block again with a perfect timing, enjoying the skill he possessed.

It was a game, an easy game.

The fight didn’t last long. Each Sikalis’s parry was slower, each attack weaker, until his sword was laying at the ground a few paces away and Neotrans’s blade was just under his chin.

“You’ve never truly held a blade in your life, have you?” asked Neotran as he sheated his blade. He took Sikalis' silence as a yes, then turned to the nobleman.

“I think we might turn him into a good masarior, maybe even a great one. Had he been discovered earlier... But, he’ll do. The masar suits him, and he has the fire.”

Massos signaled his servant. The old man walked to Sikalis and took his chains off. He was ready to follow the man, even though he did not understand what just happened. That was his first time holding a real blade, true, but he knew how to kill with it, and that was enough.

The nobleman walked up to them and nodded to Neotran. Sikalis saw a flicker of movement on his right side, the pommel of a blade crashing down on his skull, and the whole world turned black. 

 

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20. Rejection blues

It's been a while since I posted this, and I thought it might be fun for some. If you think rejection is tough to deal with in modern times, it was even more difficult in prehistoric days, as you'll see.

For what it's worth.

Have a fine day--and I need more submissions for the Flogometer.

Ray

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21. Flogometer for John—are you compelled to turn the page?

Submissions wanted—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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

John sends the first chapter for Fighting Back, a Christian/suspense novel.

On the spur of the moment, Eddie Caruthers decided to help a damsel in distress, and thus began his long slide into darkness. Of course, that was not apparent from where he stood. Clarity about the genesis of one’s own misery comes mainly in the cold light of hindsight, too late to be of use.

The damsel in question was a doe-eyed young lady with a melodious voice, a sweet smile, and an astonishingly corpulent build. Rosalyn Pitts outweighed any three women of average size. Just twenty-three years old, she already suffered from limited mobility and near constant pain in her knees and hips. She and three other women had exited the big stone church that occupied half a block on Union Avenue in downtown Framingham, Massachusetts. Hobbling slowly and leaning on a cane, Rosalyn was now jaywalking in the spill of the streetlights, still talking cheerily and breathlessly to her three friends, who lingered on the sidewalk behind her as they finished their goodbyes and prepared to go home.

The source of her distress began spewing invective from the open window of a large black SUV. Rosalyn was in his way, forcing him to stop for her as she made her laborious crossing. The driver was ranting about the size, color, and unsatisfactory forward speed of the young lady’s posterior. He went on to proclaim that only his unwillingness to damage his vehicle kept him from immediately running over her.

Were you compelled to turn John's first page?

The writing is nicely clean, the protagonist sympathetic, and there is tension and a promise of trouble ahead. But this is supposed to be a thriller, and, for my money, thrillers include action. Things happening that are told in a crisp style when they do. For me, this opening is just about all “telling.” For me, the same scene  would be far more interesting if there were dialogue and action, not description and musing. The language, while good, is on the formal side. While it’s my job as an editor to respect a writer’s voice, as a reader I don’t have to keep reading if it doesn’t work for me. And this didn’t work for me. It foreshadows more formal language and overwriting, and I’d rather not read a novel written that way.

There is action that follows, and a sense of humor to the character. But, again, the narrative include a lot of “telling” that would have been better as action, internal monologue, and dialogue. Notes:

 On the spur of the moment, Eddie Caruthers decided to help a damsel in distress, and thus began his long slide into darkness. Of course, that was not apparent from where he stood. Clarity about the genesis of one’s own misery comes mainly in the cold light of hindsight, too late to be of use. Rather than commentary and foreshadowing, I would prefer to begin with something happening.

The damsel in question was a doe-eyed young lady with a melodious voice, a sweet smile, and an astonishingly corpulent build. Rosalyn Pitts outweighed any three women of average size. Just twenty-three years old, she already suffered from limited mobility and near constant pain in her knees and hips. She and three other women had exited the big stone church that occupied half a block on Union Avenue in downtown Framingham, Massachusetts. Hobbling slowly and leaning on a cane, Rosalyn was now jaywalking in the spill of the streetlights, still talking cheerily and breathlessly to her three friends, who lingered on the sidewalk behind her as they finished their goodbyes and prepared to go home. By definition, hobbling is slow, no need for the adverb.

The source of her distress began spewing spewed invective from the open window of a large black SUV. Rosalyn was in his way, forcing him to stop for her as she made her laborious crossing. The driver was ranting about the size, color, and unsatisfactory forward speed of the young lady’s posterior. He went on to proclaim that only his unwillingness to damage his vehicle kept him from immediately running over her. Changed the verb because, if she is in distress as the story opens, then the driver is already spewing, not beginning go. “Invective” is pretty much a summary word that mean, well, other words. This would be stronger if it were what is happening rather than a report of what is happening. Also, most SUVs are large, no need for the adjective.

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 John

Design-black wings

(continued)

Eddie Caruthers could clearly hear all of this from where he stood some twenty paces behind Rosalyn, in the courtyard of Solid Rock Church. This brightly lit space was dotted with shrubs and ornamental trees that were just beginning to shed their red and yellow autumn garb. Eddie was strolling under one of those trees, in rapt conversation with his — friend, girlfriend, wife-to-be? He was still trying to work all that out. But whatever the lithe and lovely Shawna Bell was to him, he enjoyed her company immensely, and found that her nearness made the whole wearisome world fade away.

He and Shawna had been the last ones out of the building after choir practice, and had hung back for the few seconds it took him to set the alarm and lock the door behind him. Eddie wasn’t actually in the choir, but Shawna was, and he considered that reason enough for him to volunteer to handle building security and lockup on Thursday nights. He’d been doing that for six weeks, just for the pleasure of accompanying Shawna to her car — as slowly as possible — and listening to her make small talk.

He definitely didn’t appreciate having the moment spoiled by the sudden stream of insults and profanities he was now hearing. He looked over and noted the make and model of the vehicle, an occupational habit that was now reflex. Then he focused his attention on the driver who was intruding on his happiness. It was especially aggravating that the target of this onslaught was poor Rosalyn Pitts. Roz, who was unfailingly pleasant despite being in perpetual discomfort; Roz, who never showed embarrassment at having to sit on a bench in the rear of Solid Rock’s sanctuary, a bench placed there because she was too big to fit on the cushioned chairs used by the rest of the congregation; Roz, who doubtless had a too-short life expectancy, and would probably never ever be asked out on a date. If anybody deserved a break, it was Roz.

Disgusted, Eddie found himself yelling, “Hey loudmouth, if you had any class at all, you’d shut up and leave the woman alone!” He fully expected an answering salvo of bluff and obscenities. People always acted tough from inside a car. Being wrapped in a 4,000-pound steel and glass cocoon had a way of making people lose whatever inhibitions they normally had. Well, if listening to some thug curse at him would spare Roz further humiliation, then so be it. But the driver didn’t say another word. Instead, he slammed his vehicle into reverse and whipped it into a curbside parking space. Eddie was briefly impressed with the maneuver. Not many people could fling a Range Rover around so precisely in reverse, and fewer still would try it while sporting those oversized two-piece chrome wheels. What kind of a nutcase would risk curbing rims that pricey? That fleeting question evaporated when the driver got out, slammed the door behind him, and strode toward the courtyard.

Eddie’s next words were to Shawna: “Stand clear.” He glanced quickly in her direction and made a shooing gesture with his right hand.

 “Eddie!” …Shawna’s normally silky voice fairly squeaked, and when she spoke his name a second time she drew the word out to great length. “Eddiiieeee…Don’t get into it with him! Let’s just go!”

But Eddie had already turned his attention back to the lout who had been Roz’s problem, and was about to become his. This man was compact, some three inches shorter than Eddie’s six foot height. “Loudmouth” had an olive complexion, dark hair slicked back, and a small moustache. His leathery skin looked to be damaged by either too much sun or too much hard living. He was powerfully built, with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and well-muscled arms displayed to good advantage in a short-sleeved pullover shirt. Eddie was not heavily muscled, but stronger than he looked, and confident enough in his own abilities not to be intimidated. The approaching man covered ground quickly, walking with head up, chest out, and arms rather stiff at his sides. His fingers were curled, not quite clenched into fists. He had hard, close-set eyes, and wore an ugly expression that suggested he wasn’t coming over to chat.

Eddie figured him for a sucker puncher. The man would probably try to get nose to nose, the way boxers do when getting their pre-fight instructions from the referee. Then he’d attempt a knockout by throwing a sneaky roundhouse punch from out of nowhere. It’s an old trick, demonstrated in a thousand YouTube videos. No way he gets that close, Eddie thought to himself. He could see his own reach was greater, and the other guy was leading with his chin. Then, on the edge of his awareness, he saw and heard the passenger door of the stranger’s Rover open and shut, as a second man exited the vehicle and started toward the courtyard. Two of them. Not good.

Eddie’s heart was hammering under the influence of an adrenaline surge. But this wasn’t the remembered terror of all his childhood confrontations. This was just the body’s way of prepping itself for fight or flight. He took two calming deep breaths, as he had been trained, and then positioned himself for what came next.

He took two steps backward and raised both hands slightly above his head, palms out. Most watchers would instantly recognize the universal gesture of surrender, a posture which says, “I am not a threat.” A more careful observer might notice the fact that his hands were not out to the sides, forearms in line with ears in the classic pose; instead they were well in front of his face, ready to be instantly deployed to block, grab, or punch.

 “I don’t want any trouble, man.” Eddie spoke loudly enough to be heard by both the advancing attacker and any bystanders who might later be asked who started it. He knew he needed to win the physical fight first, and then any legal proceedings that might ensue from it. It was never too early to lay the groundwork for that court fight.

 “You should’ve thought of that before you shot off your mouth, punk. Now trouble is exactly what you got.” The smaller man began to accelerate, closing the distance between the two antagonists. He was still talking, declaring what part of Eddie’s anatomy was about to be kicked.

They were about seven feet apart. Eddie took another step backward, and as soon as the ball of his foot hit the ground, he reversed direction and charged. Always strike while they are talking. That was the rule, because an opponent has slower reaction times when he is busy spouting off.

The two men closed in an instant. Eddie landed the first blows, as it was not far from his already upraised hands to the aggressor’s face. He missed with a straight left, but landed a right and a left in rapid succession as the shorter man raised his arms to block and tried to twist out of the way. None of Eddie’s punches were hard enough to do serious damage, but that was not the point of the initial flurry. The point was to get the man off his plan of attack. A foe who is defending himself from you is not hitting you.

Eddie was somehow more acutely aware of the sounds of the fight than he was of the tactile sensations. He heard the impact of his fists on flesh, and of his foe grunting under the rain of blows, and of Shawna stifling a scream somewhere to his right. The attacker recovered from his surprise, dropped into a crouch and spread his hands. Lunging forward, he wrapped powerful arms around Eddie and set himself to throw him to the ground. Eddie raked his thumbs across the shorter man’s eyes, making him jerk his head back and loosen his grip. This gave Eddie room to insert his right arm under his opponent’s left armpit. By twining his arm under, behind, and back over the shoulder, he trapped the man’s arm and put painful pressure on the rotator cuff, forcing his foe to bend down and to his own right.

Loudmouth’s face was now at belly level. Eddie palmed that face with his left hand and ran forward, pushing his overbalanced assailant, who was forced to scramble backwards to keep his feet. Eddie only needed three running steps. The back of the man’s head met the rough granite stonework of the church with a sickening thud. His arm freed, the man sank to the ground, where he feebly thrashed and twitched. His eyes were open, but did not appear to see anything. From first punch to lights out had taken around eight seconds.

Eddie spun, looking for the Rover’s passenger. He was standing about fifteen feet away, and not advancing. He was a large man who looked at least ten years older than the one on the ground. His hair was mostly gray. He was paunchy, wider at the waist than at the shoulders, and for some reason, was wearing sunglasses at night. He shook his head, and almost smiled. When he spoke, the voice was raspy. “I got no beef with you. I just want to collect my hot-headed friend and be on my way.”

Eddie nodded, and edged his way over to where Shawna and Roz’s three friends were standing in a little clump. He knew better than to turn his back to the second man, but his caution proved unnecessary. The older man went straight to his fallen friend. He held him still and spoke quietly to him for a minute or two. Then he hauled him to his feet, and half dragged, half carried him back to the Rover. There was definitely some muscle under all that flab. He laid his dazed companion across the back seat before getting in the front and driving off.

Only then did any of the women in the courtyard speak, and they all began talking at once. The voice Eddie focused on was Shawna’s. “You could have killed that man!” She still sounded squeaky. She turned to gaze wide-eyed at the spot where the attacker’s head had hit the wall with such an awful sound. “What were you thinking?”

Eddie considered the question, and was a little stung that there was no word of congratulations for having successfully defended himself against a dangerous opponent; no show of concern for his own well-being; no expression of thanks for having stuck up for Roz. “I was thinking…” He too turned and looked toward where his attacker’s cranium had met the stone wall. His lip curled. “I was thinking…Welcome to Solid Rock.”

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22. Busy fourthing

Hi,

Taking it a little easy today, finishing up an edit and watching soccer. See you Monday.

Happy Fourth of July!

Ray

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23. The journey to a published novel

But first, there's only one opening chapter in the queue, so please submit if you'd like fresh eyes to help open yours to the strengths and weaknesses of your opening page. Directions for submission follow each "flogging."


TroikaIn an article titled “The Long Road to a Published Novel,” author Adam Peizman gives a tongue-in-cheek yet relatable account of what it took him to finally arrive at the sale of his novel, Troika.

Adam outlines the trail of novel writings that many of us take on the way to a publishable novel—he wrote five before arriving at Troika. A publishing editor once told me that he and his colleagues agree that the average number of novels that a writer must produce to get to one that works is three.

For example, his second novel:

Next up was a piece of historical fiction that took place in the nineteenth century. The opening scene depicted a man in a pig mask torturing the protagonist with a ferocious beetle. Enough said. I sent the manuscript to an agent, who returned it with a curt note that described the novel as weird, disturbing and unpublishable. All true.

After this one he wrote a novel that was good enough to get him an agent (it didn’t sell). So he wrote another one, to which the reaction was:

I gave the manuscript to Victoria, who told me that she hated the characters and the story bored her. She refused to show it to a single editor.

But then he describes how two characters from two different works led him to the story for Troika. It’s a brief article, but an enjoyable reminder of what it takes on the long learning curve for writing book-length fiction. Check it out here.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Design-MotherDaughter

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24. Flogometer for Michael—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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Michael sends the first chapter for The Stem of the Golden Dandelion.

Prohibition laws, passed by the 18th Amendment in 1919, spawned a new breed of businessman. Rumrunners, moonshiners, and speak-easy’s proliferated all across the United States. By 1922, these new-minted entrepreneurs had honed their skills to a high degree. Fueled by the overwhelming demand for alcoholic spirits and other banned luxuries, the Roaring Twenties provided a lucrative market for smuggled goods. Especially successful, because of their proximity to the waters of the South Atlantic coast, local Florida East Coast commercial fishermen packed up their nets and began hauling contraband goods. Aged Puerto Rican rum and fine Cuban cigars headed the list of the most profitable contraband.       

Not wanting to miss the easy money, Harry McCorkle and family quit fishing for a living and began smuggling. The McCorkle family lived on the western shore of the Indian River Lagoon, somewhere between present day Daytona Beach and Cape Kennedy.

Learning their newfound craft by doing, Harry and his brother-in-law, Bob, made the three plus mile run out to the waiting mother ship as many times as necessary to fill the demands of customers begging for their goods. No two runs went exactly as planned.

Tonight the seas frothed and churned. The strong offshore wind blew sheets of spray off white-topped waves. The moon shone on the other side of the world this week. McCorkle’s twenty-foot wooden skiff plowed toward the inlet guided by the beacon of the Ponce de Leon (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Michael's first page?

It’s always good to see clean writing (although the plural of “speakeasy” is “speakeasies,” not “speakeasy’s,” which is possessive), but it’s not so good to start with an info dump. There is drama and action later, but in this opening not a hint of trouble ahead. That could have been helped if the possibility of something that happens later, an attack by “river rat” pirates with machine guns, had been included, perhaps in the line about no two runs going as planned. But, even with that, this is just about all backstory and all telling. That foreshadows an information-heavy style from an authorial point of view, and that wasn’t compelling for me. A story with action and thrills needs to be heavy on scenes in which something happens. The rest of the chapter is after the break. See what you think.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-allahs revenge

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 Michael

(continued) Lighthouse. The four cylinder inboard engine labored to keep the over-loaded boat moving forward against the wind. Two men sat in silence, one at the stern, steering, the other near the bow, searching the ocean for the ever present Coast Guard Cutter. Crouching behind her Uncle Bob, Marilyn McCorkle shielded her face from the relentless salt spray. No running lights glowed on the bow or the stern to alert the ever-vigilant Coasties. They were running dark.

At age sixteen, this would be the first trip out to the mother ship for Marilyn. For several years, she begged her father, the man hunched at the bow of the rickety wooden skiff, to let her go with him to buy the rum. This time he said yes. She was so excited she forgot how easily she became seasick.

 Now she huddled behind the crates of Puerto Rican rum, hanging onto the gunwale. Even though the wooden boxes towered above her, she still got a good dose of salty spray as the boat slammed into every wave.

 The mother ship they had just visited cruised miles offshore. Even though the trip out and back was short, it nevertheless made Marilyn miserable. The putrid puddle spread under her feet every time she vomited. The one time she retched over the side her stomach contents flew back into her face. She decided to vomit onto the bottom of the boat as the safer alternative.

A very faint glow from the moonless sky outlined the entrance to Ponce Inlet. Here began the most dangerous leg of the journey. Near the mouth of the inlet, the Coast Guard often lurked in the darkness. Inside the inlet, along the sandy shore, sheriff’s deputies stood with their huge binoculars, waiting to signal their comrades in speedboats hidden behind mangrove trees. Like voracious spiders waiting to pounce on hapless bugs, Coasties and deputies waited night after night to dine on the contraband smugglers. Sometimes they feasted; sometimes they starved. The war raged on, but night after night, someone always won the skirmish.  

    Enforcers of the law posed only the first of the hazards of running rum. Mother Nature also played her dangerous games. The shifting sandbars in the inlet tested the most skilled and knowledgeable runner. Sandbars shifted with the tide and moved from side to side in the cut. Only the breaking waves of an ebbing tide revealed their presence. To misread the tide or the waves, meant the runners went hard aground. A falling tide and shifting sandbars could doom the boat and its precious cargo. A rising tide might or might not rectify the navigation error.  

The smugglers’ wooden skiff slowed at the entrance to the inlet. The motor ceased its relentless straining and dialed down to a softened growl. Bob kept just enough throttle on the engine to move the boat stealthily forward against the ebbing tide. At the bow, Marilyn’s father, the man with the best knowledge of the cut, signaled with his arms, right, or left, depending on the hazardous sandbars ahead.  

Once passed the dangers of the inlet, with no interference by the local constabulary, Harry signaled a hard left turn. The heavily laden boat leaned into the turn. Bob applied more gas to the engine as the skiff struggled against the rushing tide.

Now that the rum boat made it through the inlet, the tactics of the smugglers changed. Having run the gauntlet of the law-enforcement vultures and the hazardous sandbars, the long run down the river’s no man’s land began. From now to the time they unloaded their contraband cargo; the rumrunners were vulnerable to attack by bands of waterborne thieves. River rats preyed on rumrunners seeking to acquire contraband without having to risk the long run out into the Atlantic. They let the runners gamble on the chance of finding the mother ship offshore. They let them load a rickety wooden skiff with boxes of fine Puerto Rican rum, or hand-rolled cigars from Cuba, letting them run the tricky Ponce de Leon Inlet. They harvested the bounty once the runners ran into their territory.   

Using racing speedboats, self-made pirates preyed on the slower, fully laden rum skiffs. They pounced from hiding places anywhere along the long and twisting Indian River. Attacking with guns blazing, the speeding boats overtook the heavily laden rum boats. Armed thugs murdered anyone still alive, threw their bodies overboard, and fled with the booty back to their hideouts.

Taking no chances and needing to protect his precious cargo, Marilyn’s father reached under an oily tarp and retrieved a double-barreled twelve-gauge shotgun. He popped it open, and by feel, loaded it. He placed the half-empty box of double-00 buck shells on the seat next to him.  Moonless nights were best for sneaking through the inlet, not so good for spotting river pirates hiding around every bend.

If lady-luck smiled on the runners that night, they would make it unmolested through the Mosquito Lagoon deep into the heart of the Indian River. Countless tributaries, sloughs, creeks and islands, required that the navigator have long-time, firsthand experience for this part of the journey.

As the wooden skiff straightened its path and headed south, a new and different engine sound alerted Marilyn. She snapped her head hard to the right. Instantly she recognized the deep throaty roar of a high-powered speedboat even before she could pick it out in the darkness. The first visual hint of its presence was the telltale shine of the huge wake glowing in the faint light of the stars.

The low slung, v-shaped boat came directly at them, bursting out of its hiding place. Standing in the bow, two men wielding Browning automatic rifles, opened fire on the plodding skiff. Huge bullets crashed into the cases of rum above Marilyn’s head. Rum spilled out of every puncture. Wooden splinters filled the air. Marilyn flattened herself against the floorboards, covering her head with her hands; face down in the ejected fruits of her bouts with the seasickness.

In the bow, her father crouched low against the gunwale and pointed his lethal weapon at the approaching boat. He waited, with a patience born of years of experience, until the target was within range of his deadly shotgun. Exactly at the right time, he opened fire with both barrels, aiming at the two men shooting from the bow of the attacking boat. Sixteen murderous pellets, each the size of a .22 bullet erupted from the twin barrels at once. Six or seven found their mark and both gunmen fell to the deck. Marilyn’s father reloaded quickly stood up and fired another volley towards the center of the boat, hoping to wound or kill the driver.

Screams of agony confirmed a hit and the speeding boat swerved sharply to the right, heading away from the rumrunner’s skiff.

Marilyn, shaking like never before, sobbed in fear as Bob pushed the throttle stick full forward, forcing the straining engine to give all it had. The skiff responded and plowed ahead. To run at high speed through the mangroves lining the river was asking for trouble, but they had to run hard and fast to put distance between themselves and the pirates if they hoped to deliver what was left of their rum.

When it became apparent no boat followed them, Uncle Bob eased off the throttle.

“Marilyn, you okay? You been hit?” He reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. He felt her body shaking. “Have you been hit?” he said slowly and clearly.

“No,” she squeaked back to him. “I’m okay.”

“We’re okay back here, Harry,” shouted Uncle Bob. “But we’ve got rum leaking all over the place. There’s glass and splinters everywhere. You okay?”

“Yeah, bum shots those guys. Even they got us, their boss’ed be mad them shooting up all that rum,” replied Harry. “Run slow and we’ll put ashore soons we spot a beach.”

Bob angled the skiff towards the western shore of the river, while Harry strained his eyes in the pitch-black darkness to spot a strip of dry land.

After a few agonizing miles Harry called out, “Land ahead Bob, on the right. Slow it down.”

Bob pulled the throttle to dead idle and eased along until he spotted the small spit of land protruding into the water. He wanted to beach the boat bow in. The stern had to stay in water deep enough for the motor to operate. Pulling the tiller handle hard right pointed the bow in a soft arc towards the shore. The boat ground to a halt on the sandy bottom.

Marilyn stood up, hanging onto the crates in front of her. Her legs were cramped and half-asleep from sitting so long. She watched as Uncle Bob jumped out into waist-deep water and waded ashore. Harry stood in the bow, hands on hips, trying to see the damages caused by the pirates. “Marilyn, are you okay?” he said.

“Yes Daddy. I’m a bit weak just now. From fright mostly, some by the seasickness. I stink a lot ‘cause of rum spilled on me. Can I get in the water?” She didn’t want to tell him she wet her underwear when the shooting began.

“Go ahead; mind the depth when you go over. Hang onto the side ‘til you find bottom,” he advised.

The warm summer water covered Marilyn up to her chest and flowed up under her light cotton dress. Before she moved to the beach, she bent her knees and spread her legs, so the cleansing water reached her underwear. She bobbed up and down, using the boat for balance, until she felt clean again.

Harry lit a kerosene lantern and placed it low in the boat so it wouldn’t give them away to any passing river traffic. By its meager light, Harry surveyed the damages to his costly cargo.

Marilyn waded ashore and pitched in handling the crates of rum as they passed to her from Uncle Bob. Each un-damaged crate of twenty bottles weighed close to forty pounds. Despite her age, Marilyn was used to handling heavy loads around the fish house and developed strong arms. She moved the crates with ease. Each crate came with either a “good” or a “shot” label applied verbally by Uncle Bob. Good boxes went on the left stack; shot ones on the right. The “shot” rum spilled its stinky liquid on Marilyn every time she lifted one of the bullet-riddled cases.

“Daddy, rum stinks. Mamma gonna be sore at me if I smell of it gettin’ home.”

“You can wash agin’ ‘for you git back in,” said her daddy. “Don’t worry none ‘bout it right now. Gotta get this here mess cleaned up ‘for somebody eyes us.”

Sorting and repackaging the crates took the trio close to an hour to finish. They carried smashed bottles and useless, bullet-riddled boxes back through the scrub and hid them out of sight. Re-packed crates numbered only twenty-five, some with minor damage.

“Damn, this pisses me off,” said Harry as he loaded the last box back onto his boat. “We lost a ton of money ‘cause of dem bums. Lucky none o’ us got shot. Marilyn git back in the water and get that rum off ya afore we go on. Hurry though, we’re running late. Those boys from Orlando ain’t gonna linger for us too long.”

Soaking wet from neck to toe, Marilyn clambered back aboard. Uncle Bob pushed a button to crank the engine. Harry pushed the bow off the rocky shore as the boat swung back into the river channel.

“We’ve got at least hour more to the drop off,” Harry said. “You’re gonna hafta hot-foot it to git there on time. We’ll have to cart Marilyn ‘long with us. We won’t have time to take her home first.”

“Okay, Harry, but those bums are a bit rough. Think they’ll wanta bother Marilyn? You know…?”

“Don’t even speak it. Keep Marilyn out of sight as best we can. Mebbe they won’t spot her if we keep the light away. I’ll throw the tarp over her when we get near.”

To pass time to the off-loading rendezvous Marilyn bailed the rum and salt water out of the boat.

“How far to go Uncle?” she asked every so often.

“Not far now. ‘Member to stay hidden under that tarp when we get there. No tellin’ what those boys might be thinkin’ ‘bout bothering ya.”

“Yes, sir.”

Marilyn knew exactly what her uncle meant. Boys “bothered” her constantly. When formed by the fusion of egg and sperm in her mama’s womb, Mother Nature, having to decide to create Marilyn as a Miss America or not, drew her hand to an inside straight. Mother Nature held a Ten, Jack, King, and Ace. All she needed to create the perfect woman out of the embryo that was destined to become Marilyn was a Queen. She drew a Seven. Now, Mother Nature had a choice to make; put her high cards in Marilyn’s face, or in her body. She chose the body.

So, Marilyn, at twelve, began the early blooming into a perfect body. The boys at school sure took notice right away. Asking her mother why, she received advice that kept her unblemished by the males in her life. By age sixteen, Marilyn had been propositioned so many times, she lost count. Tonight might not be different. She would be on guard and wait the perfect moment to deliver the well-placed kick or fist to the spot that incapacitated any male, old or young who dared to touch her. It was her mother’s instructions for a no-fail method to keep them off her.

Marilyn’s father chose a very remote off-loading place, far down the river, away from Port Orange or Daytona Beach. Normally, they would have unloaded the skiff around Buzzard’s Bay close to US 1, but lately the ATF and the revenue agents were targeting that area for extra vigilance. This decision posed a certain amount of risk for Harry and his load of rum. Due to the remoteness of the river this far away from Port Orange, the mob boys could hijack the entire load without paying and worse yet; kill Harry, Bob, and Marilyn. Nobody would be the wiser. No Volusia County deputies patrolled this far south.

Bob steered the skiff farther and farther away from civilization deep into the Mosquito Lagoon. They wound their way through narrow channels into the broader expanses of the Lagoon until somewhere, sequestered among the mangroves and oyster beds, hidden from the main channel by treacherous twists and turns, the runners found their off –loading point.

Two kerosene lanterns glowing behind red cellophane panels indicated the landing spot. Bob turned the skiff shoreward and aimed the bow between the lanterns. Marilyn pulled the oiled tarp over her and scooted down as low as she could between the seat bench and the stern.

The bow skidded across the oyster-covered bar onto dry land. Three men, two holding the lanterns and one cradling a Thompson sub-machine gun in his arms, greeted Harry.

“You’re late. What kept you so long? You think we got nothing to do but to wait on you?” said the man with the gun.

“Sorry, Mac,” said Harry. “We ran into a boat load of river rats with machine guns. Lucky we got away. Busted up fifteen crates, they did, afore I put them out o’ comish. Load’ll be a bit short this time. We can make another run tomorrow night. No moon ‘til Friday. Winds’ll lay down, too. It won’t be as tough a run as it was tonight. You bring the cash wit ya?”

“Yeah, we got your cash,” said Mac. “Quit your yammering and get it unloaded. I’m nervous hanging around this godforsaken river. We ain’t seen another human for hours. Besides that, the mosquitoes are blood thirsty as hell tonight.”

 “That be the whole idea coming this far down. Too many G-men up near Port Orange and the inlet,” said Harry.

Harry, Bob, and the other men made short work of moving the rum from the skiff to the pick-up truck backed in just off the road.

“Okay, that’s it,” said Harry. “Pay me for the twenty five; we’ll bring another load ‘morrow, if you want it. How many cases do you want, fifteen?”

“Harry, it really pisses me off we got to come back tomorrow,” said Mac, twirling his machinegun like a cheerleader’s baton. “It’s just as risky for us to ride down the highway as for you to run it in. So don’t think you’re doing me any favors, you hear? I don’t think we’re getting’ enough for our money anyway. You sure you’re not holding out on us?”

“Huh? No, sirree. Just pay for the twenty-five, and we’ll bring the other fifteen tomorrow night, okay?” Harry detected a growing bit of animosity in Mac’s words. Bob noticed it too and jumped back on the skiff.

 “Hey, you, where you think you’re going? We’re not done here yet. I wanna see if you’re hiding anything in that tub I might be interested in. I see a tarp covering something back there. Pignolli,” Mac, the Tommy-gun man, said to his henchman. “Get back there and see what’s under that tarp. You two, stay where you’re at.” 

Pignolli hopped aboard the skiff and clambered to the stern. Standing in front of the last bench seat, he reached for the tarp, intending to yank it off whatever it covered. Magically the tarp leaped up on its own. The sudden movement caught Pignolli off guard. A hideous screeching came from within. Pignolli stumbled back a couple of feet, just in case whatever was under the tarp decided to attack him.

The sudden appearance of such a strange and terrifying apparition startled Mac. In the split second he took to decide whether or not to mow down whatever horror existed beneath the tarp, Harry pounced and wrestled the gun out of his hands.

The third man turned tail and ran back past the truck.

Bob grabbed Harry’s double-barrel shotgun and covered Pignolli.

The screeching from under the tarp got louder as the apparition climbed up on the rear bench seat. Marilyn towered above Pignolli, standing frozen in fear on the lowest part of the deck. Waving her arms in all directions added to the appearance of something ghostly. Marilyn tried to get the heavy tarp off her. She kept yelling, her words muffled by the thickness of the canvas.

“Marilyn, stop that screeching,” commanded her father. “What’s the matter with you?”

Marilyn finally peeked out from under the tarp. “I felt a scorpion or something crawling up my leg. I didn’t want to get stung. Maybe it was a big spider.”

She shucked the rest of the tarp off her shoulders and threw it at the stern.

“Marilyn,” said Harry, “you’re not afraid of scorpions or spiders. What was all that yelling about?”

“You got these bums covered?” asked Marilyn. “I heard one tell the other to pull the tarp off me. The way they ordered you and Uncle Bob around, I could tell they had the drop on you. So, I had to do something. Looks like it worked, huh?”

“Good thinking, Marilyn,” said Bob. “Looks like nobody’s gonna be hittin’ on you.”

“Okay, Mac,” said Harry, “now, you know what was under that tarp. Next time don’t get so nosy about our business. We’re bringing in the rum you want, wherever you want. Let’s leave it at that. Next trip I won’t have to hide Marilyn, and you’ll know not to mess with her. Deal?”

“Yeah, gimme my Thompson back,” said Mac. “Come on Pignolli, go find Jones. We got a long ride tonight.”

Harry pulled the clip out of the machine gun, ejected the round in the chamber, and handed it all back to Mac.

“We’ll be here tomorrow night with at least fifteen cases of rum. You intend to be here, or should I contact someone else for the goods?” said Harry.

“We’ll be here. Just be on time this time,” said Mac.

“You got it. Come on Bob let’s get this tub afloat and head on home.”

Marilyn sat down and waved good-bye to her newfound friends with her middle finger.

“Next time I go with you Daddy, I want my own gun.”

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25. Flogometer for Sam—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--new: I've added a request to post the rest of the chapter.

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

Sam sends the first chapter for The Road to Kilimanjaro.

At 3am on 12th January, 1964, forty civilians stormed the Ziwani police complex and battered down the gate. The complex contained 198 rifles and two light machine-guns, and the civilians took them all. The policemen who remained the building were shot; those who leapt from the upstairs windows limped across the compound, injured, and were also shot.

At 5am the Sultan’s army turned up, but now the civilians had more weapons than they could even carry. They waited for the Sultan’s men to come close, and then they poured bullets into them. The shooting was so intense that neighbouring bushes caught fire.

By noon it was all over. They had taken the armoury at Mtoni, they had held the complex at Ziwani, and they had captured the Sultan’s radio transmitter. Zanzibar was in their hands. So when their leader ordered his men to go and wipe out every last Arab, everybody heard him.

But I am not telling you this because I am some sort of itinerant liberal. I am not a sentimentalist, and I hate people who get their kicks out of other people’s problems.

They told me to write it all down, and that’s what I’m doing.

This is why I cannot live with myself.

Reports of their progress soon filtered back to Zanzibar City. At Bumbwini, in the north, the Arabs barricaded themselves in a farmhouse; armed with sporting weapons, they (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Sam's first page?

Even though it’s clearly backstory, it is fairly riveting. I do wish it was somehow more tied into who this narrator is and how it relates to him. The history lesson of this culture that’s new to me continues, and is a tail of violence. Then we get to who the story seems to be about, a boy named Ahmed (not the narrator). I felt that this was more of a prologue than a solid first chapter, though it definitely swings into a strong action sequence. Remembering that there are no “rules” in writing fiction, I ended up feeling that this chapter did its job and I wanted to read more. So I turned the page. The remainder is after the fold, see what you think.

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 Sam

Design-observer http://www.floggingthequill.com/design-observer.jpg

 

(continued)

held out for six hours. At Nungwe and Bububu they fought on until they were overrun and massacred. All over the island they were dragged from their homes and beheaded; their bodies were laid into ditches and tossed into wells, thrown into bushes and dumped in holes in the ground. The rebel leader, one Mr John Okello, elevated himself to field marshal. He sat by the transmitter and taunted his enemies over the radio, telling them to hang themselves before he came and did it for them. In keeping with our noblest traditions of imperial majesty, the British buggered off to Kenya.

Then Okello ordered attacks on Zanzibar City, and Stone-Town, where the concentration of Arabs was heaviest. Whole families fled onto the beaches and ran full-tilt into the sea. The rebels herded the survivors into the interior, and then forced them to dig giant pits. Casualties are estimated between five and twenty thousand, which is a posh way of saying we have no idea.

I care about this for one reason only.

In 1964 there was an Arab boy who lived in Stone-Town. He was called Ahmed, and he was ten years old.

 

On the day independence was announced, Ahmed was sitting with Sayeed at the back of his Qu’ran class, not paying attention, when suddenly the headmaster rushed in, weeping with happiness. He said it was the proudest day of his life.

Much more importantly, he’d then given everyone a full day’s holiday, and Ahmed and Sayeed rushed overjoyed out of school. They scampered through Stone-Town’s narrow streets, singing irrelevant songs, dodging the street-sellers and passers-by, until they came to Al-Mkutubi’s book emporium. Al-Mkutubi was Sayeed’s father, and possibly the only Arab in Stone-Town who wasn’t overflowing with happiness.

‘Peace be with you, sir,’ cried Ahmed, rushing in at a hundred miles an hour. ‘Do you mind if I have a look round?’

‘Peace be with us all, child,’ said Al-Mkutubi. ‘Though I doubt it.’

But this is what Al-Mkutubi did: he sold books and predicted the end of the world. There was a joke going round the Arab Quarter that whenever Al-Mkutubi saw a glass half empty, he claimed it had probably been poisoned. But now something good had happened, and Ahmed wanted to see how Al-Mkutubi would take it.

So he spent a happy half hour leafing through the rows of Al-Mkutubi’s books, tracing the elegant Arabic script with his finger, but then Sayeed got bored, and they scrambled up the narrow stairs, four flights up, onto Al-Mkutubi’s roof. They leapt from house to house, yelling ‘Freedom’ really loudly down the stairwells, and mocking at the housewives who seized their broomsticks and came to chase them away. Then they tired, and Ahmed suggested hiding in his father’s cellar and telling ghost stories, but they ended up just sitting on the harbour wall, watching the world go by. It was a glorious day, and sense of excitement was electrifying.

‘But Father,’ said Ahmed, when he got home, ‘Al-Mkutubi isn’t happy at all. He says we’re all going to get killed.’

Father made a disparaging noise. ‘Prophesying another civil war, is he? Poor Al-Mkutubi.’ He took a sip of his coffee and looked Ahmed in the eye. ‘Don’t worry, my child. Everything’s going to be fine.’

 

In the days that followed, Ahmed watched the book-seller with fascination. Al-Mkutubi refused to be drawn into political conversation of any kind; instead he took himself down to the locksmiths, and had them reinforce his front door. He installed a double set of bolts, and badgered Ahmed’s father into doing the same. Then he began stockpiling food, and timing how long it took his family to hide in the attic. One day Ahmed walked into Al-Mkutubi’s house, and found him in deep discussion with the mason about the possibility of having his front door blocked up. Sayeed thought the whole thing was hilarious. Together the boys devised elaborate plans for the defence of the Al-Mkutubi household, featuring two rings of sea-monsters, a machine gun in every window, and Sayeed’s mother with a rolling-pin.

The following week Al-Mkutubi bought a boat. It was a very fine boat, with a nice big sail, easily capable of taking his family to Tanganyika, even Kenya. It must have cost a lot of money. Al-Mkutubi insisted on teaching Sayeed how to sail it, and Ahmed was invited too.

Sayeed was confused.

‘But Father,’ he said, ‘Why should I sail it? What about you?’

‘If there’s a massacre, I’ll probably be dead already,’ said Al-Mkutubi cheerfully.

‘He said what?’ demanded Father afterwards, when Ahmed told him. ‘Poor Al-Mkutubi.’

But he gave permission, and so Ahmed and Sayeed spent a day learning to sail. The boys had a fantastic time; they disobeyed all of Al-Mkutubi’s instructions, and nearly collided with a lighthouse. Al-Mkutubi was angry. Afterwards he beat Sayeed for being so disrespectful.

And then, 1386 years after the Blessed Prophet set out from the Holy City to make his passage to Medina, in the cool of the day, when Ahmed’s family were sitting down to dinner, there was a ferocious hammering at the door, and the bookseller rushed wild-eyed into the room.

Father took one look at his friend, and then rushed upstairs. He came back holding a scimitar. Ahmed blinked. It was sharp and gleaming. He blinked again. Father had prepared it. Father had known.

The next bit was in a blur. There was Father saying farewell; there was he rushing out into the street with his friend. There was mother gathering Nadia and Sepideh, there was Nadia and Sepideh clambering through the trap-door into the cellar. There was him refusing to go, swearing blind he’d defend them with everything it took, he was a man now, and anyway he could cover the trapdoor with the rug, they’d never know, and eventually there was Mother, half-mad with fear, agreeing with him.

Then clarity. Very deliberately, he took the heaviest chair and placed it in front of the door. He went to fetch the largest kitchen-knife he could find. And he knelt on the chair, and pressed his face to the keyhole.

He could see them at the far end of the street. The mob was shouting, and looting, and chanting songs about slavery.

But the men of the Arab Quarter were gathering to form a force of resistance. They were armed with whatever they could get their hands on; they held knives of every kind, a few axes, and one man was brandishing a hammer. And through his keyhole Ahmed could see the flash of many scimitars, such as his father held in his right hand.

‘There is no God but Allah!’ they cried, shaking their fists and stamping their feet, working up their courage for the fight. ‘Muhammad is His Prophet! There is no God but Allah! Muhammad is His Prophet!

Ahmed felt the familiar shiver run down his body. Arabs were pouring in from every side, and they were shouting aloud the declaration of faith.

They chanted to the heavens; they shook their weapons in the air. Now each man was pointing his blade ahead of him, now they were hurtling down the street towards their enemies.

‘There is no God but Allah! Muhammad is His Prophet!

There was a second gang of revolutionaries. Attracted by the shouting, sensing a victory, they stormed out of a side-street and attacked the Arabs from behind. Ahmed couldn’t see much, but he knew what was going on. The shouts of ‘Muhammad’had faded, and the cries of ‘Revenge!’ were getting louder. He could hear the screams of his neighbours’ wives as they fought and died in the defence of their homes. He stood in front of the locked door, and balanced his knife in his right hand. He knew he was going to fight.

‘There is no God but Allah,’ he whispered. ‘There is no God but Allah.’

The door shuddered, groaned, and split. Six men stormed into the room. Their machetes were red, and they were followed by a boy of eleven or twelve, who was waving a blooded kitchen-knife in imitation of his elders.

Ahmed dropped his knife and bolted. God in heaven, this wasn’t how it was supposed to be-

He scrambled up the stairs, and they chased after him. He hurtled up the final ladder and onto the roof.

He looked about, seeing his rooftop as if for the first time. Straight ahead sheer wall, on the right sheer drop. On the left the next house, but that was ten cubits off, too far to jump-

The man walked towards him. He raised his machete.

Ahmed closed his eyes.

He was playing with Sayeed, Sayeed was laughing, urging him on -

He rushed to the edge of the roof and leapt over the edge.

He landed on all fours, cat-like, on the opposite side of the passageway. He turned and faced his pursuers.

The eleven-year old reached back and hurled his knife. Ahmed ducked, and it went whizzing over his head. The leader rebuked him - ‘Pauli! Don’t waste it like that!’

They stared at him, scowling. One of them made as if to try the jump, but the leader stopped him. Then he gave an order. They turned and ran off back down the stairs.

Ahmed staggered over to the front of his roof. His head was still pounding, he was panting as if he’d never stop, his emotions were battering away at him. He looked down at the street.  

They came running towards him, back towards his house. They carried flaming torches. They entered the front room and set it on fire.

His head trembled, and he began shouting.

‘O God! O Great God! O God -’

Mother ran out, dragging her youngest daughter by the hand. Suhailah died staring at the machete that pierced her from behind. He could hear Nadia’s screams as she was roasted in the flames of the house. Outside they were surrounding Mother, they stripped her and pushed her to the ground. They raped her. They took it in turns, even the eleven-year old got his share, and she screamed to summon the dead. And Ahmed saw it all. From his rooftop he stood and watched it, wide-eyed, uncomprehending, through the whole performance, but he didn’t feel anything now. Not any more.

He ran. He danced from roof to roof, running from the collapsing buildings, dodging the fires that were springing up all over the city. He ran until it grew dark. He sat cross-legged on the roof of a hotel, and stared out into the blackness, sitting out the night. At first there were fires and screams coming from the Arab Quarter, and then merely wailing. Ahmed watched the sky, not feeling, just aware of the void inside him. He wasn’t allowed to mourn.

Just before dawn, he climbed down and made for the harbour.

By 6am the city was unnaturally quiet. He darted through the back-streets, sticking to the shadows. When he reached the harbour he ran along the southern jetty, and found the boat. The very fine boat, the boat which had been intended for two families.

He staggered up the gang-plank and fell into the bow. Then he flinched. He’d been spotted. A whole gang of them were running across the harbour wall, heading for his jetty.

He untied the ropes, grabbed the steering oar, and, straining with everything he’d got, he pushed the boat away. It drifted out into the harbour. They took some pot-shots at him from the jetty, but they were useless shots, for some reason they kept trying to shoot the mast, and then they gave up. He desperately wanted to wait for Sayeed and his sisters, but he knew there was no chance of them appearing now. It was broad daylight.

So he set sail for the mainland. He stood up straight, hand on tiller, staring at his home, watching it shrink into the ocean spray.

Afterwards there were people who wished Ahmed had died. They wished he’d fallen on the stairs, or got stabbed on the roof, or foundered at sea and died of the effects of exposure. But none of those things happened. Ahmed survived. And he did not recover. He grew up and inflicted the same on everyone else. So those people who wished he’d died, they are righteous, they are justified, since then they would have been spared their grief.

You will forgive my bitterness. You see, I am one of those people. I know how Ahmed felt, because the same thing happened to me.  

I went teaching in Africa. I was posted to the primary school of a small village in north-east Tanzania, on the lower slopes of Kilimanjaro, just below the national park, and I loved it. It was the happiest year of my life.

The village was called Maji-ya-Mlima, it was right at the top of the Machame road, and on a clear day you could see for miles. If you stood in the middle of the central clearing, trees all around you, buildings peeping through the foliage, you could look out and see acre after acre of fields and forests unfolding below you, dancing and shimmering in the heat-haze. At the end of a busy school-day you could walk down through the village, enjoying the cool of the evening, surrounded by cries of ‘Goodbye, teacher! Till tomorrow, teacher!’ from your bright-eyed pupils, and as you crossed the stream you might happen to look back over your shoulder, and if you were lucky the clouds would have lifted, and Kilimanjaro would be spread above you in the sunlight. On our first evening it did just that: after six hours from Dar-Es-Salaam we were tired and grumpy and stiff, but when the coach cleared the Usambara hills, and I looked out and saw Kilimanjaro soaring above the trees, I thought I had accidentally wandered into paradise. We were Andrew and Sarah, Will and Jake; we were the volunteers at Maji-ya-Mlima.

So I want to tell you about Africa. I want to tell you how it felt to live on those hills, to be part of that people, to hear their stories and laugh at their jokes, to teach for nine hours straight and then come home to find a bag of mangoes by your doorstep with a misspelt note saying thank-you. They taught us how to be human. They thought that living and laughing are the same thing.

But then Ahmed’s story got tangled up in ours, and now I am barely recognisable from the character who bears my name on these pages. There was someone with my name, but I’m not sure in what sense that person is me.

I write to remember, to deal with the loneliness of grief. I write to pretend I am not alone. I write to clarify; I am lost, confused, what happened is beyond me, I don’t know the point of the story I am telling. I write to make it become clear.

So if it’s you who finds these pages – stuck behind a bookshelf, or hidden in an attic, or wherever I will have put them – read what I have written. Walk with us and watch us grow. See if you can understand.

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