What is JacketFlap

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

Sort Blog Posts

Sort Posts by:

  • in
    from   

Suggest a Blog

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

Most Commented Posts

In the past 7 days

Recent Comments

MyJacketFlap Blogs

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

Blog Posts by Tag

In the past 30 days

Blog Posts by Date

Click days in this calendar to see posts by day or month
new posts in all blogs
Viewing Blog: Flogging the Quill, Most Recent at Top
Results 1 - 25 of 1,060
Visit This Blog | Login to Add to MyJacketFlap
Blog Banner
Ray Rhamey is a writer and editor. He has made a living through creativity and words for a few decades now. As a writer and then creative director in advertising, he rose to the top tier of the Chicago advertising scene, then left it to try screenwriting. In Hollywood, he became a writer/story editor at Filmation, one of the top five animation studios. Look for his screenplay credit next time you rent an adaptation of The Little Engine that Could at your local video store. In 2001, he launched editorrr.com, and he has clients from the Pacific Northwest to Lebanon. He is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Northwest Independent Editors Guild, the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, and the Seattle Writers Association.
Statistics for Flogging the Quill

Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 13
1. 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

Add a Comment
2. 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.

Add a Comment
3. 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

Add a Comment
4. 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.

Add a Comment
5. 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.

 

Add a Comment
6. 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

Add a Comment
7. 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.

Add a Comment
8. 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.”

Add a Comment
9. 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

Add a Comment
10. Busy fourthing

Hi,

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

Happy Fourth of July!

Ray

Add a Comment
11. 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.”

Add a Comment
12. 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

Add a Comment
13. 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. 

 

Add a Comment
14. Flogometer for Lynn—are you complled 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

Lynn sends the first chapter for The Comfort Ban, a middle-grade novel. Help the writer with your comments.

Spaulding snorted a muzzle of damp coffee grounds, choked and opened his eyes. Plastic pulled taut against the teddy bear's honey-brown matted fur. His limbs twisted among scented candles, silk flowers and the Phillies pennant from home. Where was he?

Last night, Mom's arms cradled him in their big, cozy bed. Was this some game? Spaulding poked a hole with a picture frame through the thick trash bag and slid past a butterscotch-scented blue and white box. He squeezed out, reached back to grab the box, and then crossed his legs on the bag to wipe coffee grounds from his face and red crocheted sweater.

Was Mom angry with him? He glanced at the box. Why did she throw him in the trash with a box of Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets? His fur raised.

A rain-spattered car blocked his view of the street. Hundreds of trash bags crowded the dry sidewalk. He hugged the Tastykake box to his chest and knees, while he surveyed his surroundings. Gray stone and red brick rowhomes lined the sidewalk. The houses in his neighborhood attached too, but they had small yards. Mom wouldn't play this game.

A truck rumbled up the street. Cans, plastic trash bags and glass crashed and crunched. A man yelled, "Ho!" The truck lurched. He yelled, "Whoa!" Brakes screeched. Massive gloved hands hauled trash bags from the sidewalk between parked cars several doors behind him. Spaulding stood to climb the car and watch the trash truck.

Were you compelled to turn Lynn's first page?

Well, this is a unique story, for sure. The writing is good, but, for me, there’s overwriting as well that slows the pace and doesn’t contribute to what’s going on. Yes, this is an animated teddy bear, and the story, after reading the later narrative, seems to be a dystopian tale of some sort, though I have no idea of what role the teddy bear plays. I’m going to edit considerably and then show you four lines from the next page that, for me, would have done a better job of getting me to turn the page—no matter what the intended audience is, the same storytelling requirements are needed to create a compelling opening. As it is, the craft issues and a sense of not really understanding what’s going on stopped the page-turn for me. Notes:

Spaulding snorted a muzzle of damp coffee grounds, choked and opened his eyes. Plastic pulled taut against the teddy bear's honey-brown matted fur. His limbs twisted among scented candles, silk flowers and the Phillies pennant from home. Where was he?

Last night, Mom's arms had cradled him in their big, cozy bed. Was this some game? Spaulding poked a hole with a picture frame through the thick trash bag and slid past a butterscotch-scented blue and white box. He squeezed out, reached back to grab the box, and then crossed his legs sat on the bag to wipe coffee grounds from his face and red crocheted sweater. While the details give you more, some aren’t needed and slow the narrative. I think it needs to be crisp on the first page.

Was Mom angry with him? He glanced at the box. Why did she throw him in the trash with a box of Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets? His fur raised. More unneeded detail.

A rain-spattered car blocked his view of the street. Hundreds of trash bags crowded the dry sidewalk. He hugged the Tastykake box to his chest and knees, while he surveyed his surroundings. Gray stone and red brick rowhomes lined the sidewalk. The houses in his neighborhood attached too, but they had small yards. Mom wouldn't play this game. The car doesn’t add to the story.

A truck rumbled up the street. Cans, plastic trash bags and glass crashed and crunched. A man yelled, "Ho!" The truck lurched. He yelled, "Whoa!" Brakes screeched. Massive gloved hands hauled trash bags from the sidewalk between parked cars several doors behind him. Spaulding stood to climb the car and watch the trash truck. All this detail doesn’t, for me, move the story. Cutting this leaves room to add the following)

"Yo, String Bean." Someone gave a deepthroated screech above the truck's din. "Want that truck to haul you to the dump?"

A dusty-brown squat teddy bear peeked from behind a sapling two doors away. The bear yelled, "Run. Now!" For me, these paragraphs add a sense of urgency and jeopardy to the story and I’d be willing to turn the page to see more of what’s going on. What do 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 Lynn

Design-black wings

Add a Comment
15. Monday wordfun

I came across a Huffington Post article titled “66 Facts You May Not Have Known About the English Language” by Paul Anthony Jones. Since so much of my life has and does revolve around words, I investigated.

Caution: word geeks like me may not be able to resist reading through the whole list. I didn’t intend to read it all, but I couldn’t stop and was glad I didn’t. Interestingly, when I copied it into Word for this post, Word identified many of the words as spelling errors. Here’s a brief sample:

  • The part of a wall between two windows is called the interfenestration.
  • The part of your back that you can't quite reach to scratch is called the acnestis. It's derived from the Greek word for "cheese-grater."
  • The opposite of déjà-vu is called jamais-vu: it describes the odd feeling that something very familiar is actually completely new.
  • The bowl formed by cupping your hands together is called a gowpen.
  • Happy is used three times more often in English than sad.
  • A cumberground is an utterly useless person who literally serves no other purpose than to take up space.
  • The paddywhack mentioned in the nursery rhyme "This Old Man" is a Victorian slang word for a severe beating.

Go here to have some wordfun.

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Design-Blue-Stone

Add a Comment
16. Flogometer for Gary—would you turn the first 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

Gary sends first chapter for This Book Sucks. The rest of the narrative follows the break. Help the writer with your comments.

The first sign of trouble was an Unsatisfactory in recess. As I understand it, the mark was usually accompanied by Does Not Play Well with Others, but I actually avoided the other children pretty well. My father sent me to the piano bench after reading the report card. I had to sit there, kicking my bobby socks, until Mother came home. Even our cat swished her tail at me and stopped beyond a foot of my hand. I considered that to be a bad sign, but she was that kind of cat all the way to the end of her.

Mom came home from her business, looking immaculate in her pinned-up bun and pin-striped dress. She put her purse on the stand by the door and walked past me into the dining room on her way to the kitchen. There she filled a champagne flute with the last of yesterday’s merlot and wandered back into the living room, where she stood by the china cabinet and drank half the glass, with her eyes closed.

“Where’s your father?” she asked after she came up for air.

“Upstairs.” I swallowed and quit fiddling with my bracelet.

She stiffened. More than normal. Put the empty wine flute on the piano. Squinted at me. “What did you do? Why are you in timeout? I thought you were practicing piano.”

My father’s shoes thumped down the steps. “She received an unsatisfactory.”

The squint turned into marbles. She yelled at Father, which didn’t make any sense: (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Gary's first page?

Love the voice and the strange characters. The conflict is minimal, but it’s there, along with a moderate “what’s going to happen” question. That, plus the voice, got the page turned. The rest of the chapter is fun, for sure, and this is a terrific character. However, I ended it without knowing what the story was about. I suspect this is basically set-up before the real story begins. I urge Gary to consider starting closer to that point. I also didn’t end up knowing for sure what her strange condition is, and I think that should have been included—it’s character and a possible rooting factor. But it is fun. Give it a read and see what you think. I don’t really have any notes other than to question “kicking my bobby socks.” What does that mean? Does she mean kicking her feet? Surely she’s not actually kicking socks.

Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-NobodyKnows

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 Gary

The story continues:

(continued)

“That’s unacceptable in this house!”

Father straightened his tie and explained.

It didn’t matter to my mother that it was recess. In fact it was worse, “because it’s just recess! How hard can it be?”

“Well, at least it says here that she’s tested at the eleventh grade level in English,” he said, but I could tell he was just as disappointed.

Not that Mother let him off. Now they weren’t going to talk to each other for two days, even though they both agreed that I had let down family, God and country. They’d probably find out at the country club. I was going to end up in a homeless shelter before I got to fifth grade, forced to sleep beside ‘people of color’.

“I can improve, now that I know how they feel about me,” I said, though I knew I couldn’t, not without more therapy, anyway.

I had to sit on the piano stool for the next four hours without being allowed to jam along with the Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Divertimentos collection that Father put on the record player. I even missed supper, though so far that hadn’t proven fatal.

###

We’d just gone through the crisis of: Talks too much in class, in the third grade, but I’d fixed that with the hearing aids I’d borrowed from Mister Wilson, who used to live in the house across the back fence. I still feel pretty guilty about what I did to him, but only because I’m supposed to.

The important thing to know is that after he kicked the bucket I didn’t need to worry about taking the hearing aids back. The new people who moved in weren’t even related. They brought my new best friend, Frieda, as well.

I said, “Frieda, do you know who used to live here?”

And she said, “Some old man who smells. We had to change the carpet.”

“He died in the hospital,” I said, because if she knew he’d died in his bed, right where we sat in her bed doing our toenails, she’d chameleon to a color paler than me in a minute. Then she wouldn’t talk to me until she got over it. While she complained, I’d have to Bluetooth my modified hearing aids-turned-ear buds into my secret jump drive and listen to Mandragora Scream, even though we weren’t still in school, and we were instead slumber partying with Alice over.

Alice was a worse gossip than Ann Coulter on that stupid channel my father watched day and night in his study, when he wasn’t secretly watching porn. If Frieda and I got into a tiff, Alice would only exacerbate it.

Besides, Taylor Swift was already singing through the speakers plugged into Frieda’s laptop over on the pink dresser. Taylor sounded way better than Justin Bieber, who made me have to turn on Mandragora Scream anyway and just nod to the drums and freaky lead singer until it went away.

Not hearing what everyone had to say wasn’t a very big problem like flunking recess. My psychiatrist says I’m intuitive. When people talk to me I usually don’t have to totally hear what they’re saying in order to understand. I did a thesaurus search on it, and after six degrees to Kevin Bacon I found the coolest word for my condition: Osmosis.

“Know what? I have osmosis.” I said.

“That’s really amazing.” Alice said. Her hair was as white as my face. She wore it pageboy. Sometimes her freckles glowed like the red stars in the Milky Way. “My Aunt Cindy has shingles. Does it itch? Do you have to take pills?”

I didn’t itch or take medicine, but I thought it’d be a better conversation if I nodded while appearing extra sad. I was like everybody and wanted to be an actress when I grew up.

Alice’s eyes blossomed even bigger than normal. Her bottom lip fell open as she studied my face like her mother probably did when she found out Alice had a temperature.

Alice was Frieda’s friend first. I liked her alright, mostly when she wasn’t thinking about what she was saying, which was all but once or twice a week. I scooted over so she could have a seat on the bed and so I could secretly scoop up the jump drive with Justin Bieber on it. I squeezed real hard and the plastic crumbled before melting into the metal parts.

“Is the osmosis disease why you’re so bad at recess?” Frieda asked. “I thought it was because you hid in the girls’ room and wouldn’t come out.”

I kept it at a nod. Excellent acting is not always about the words.

“I can’t believe it. You’re so good at kickball. You bounced it clear off the wall before they said you’d break the ball and couldn’t play anymore.” Alice put her hand on my forehead, checking for a temperature. She yanked her hand off and shook it. “You’re too cold. It’s like the opposite of a temperature. That could be just as bad.”

“Being cold runs in the family,” I lied.

Alice went to the bathroom.

“I’m going to be a lesbian when I get older.” Frieda twirled a curl in her long amber locks.

“You’re only saying that because you’ve got an annoying brother and haven’t gone through puberty. My psychiatrist says we’re confused until later.”

“I know.”

###

Later comes fast, and only your mother cares if you never pass recess.

The cure is Estee Lauder 'Double Wear' Maximum Cover Foundation. The problem is I was almost out of high school, eight years later, before my mother stopped paying attention enough to let me get away with wearing it.

By my senior year I could go out in the noon sun all I wanted—or at least a lot.

Still, there were routines beyond the afternoon smearing of foundation that helped prolong my tolerance for the sun.

“Get up. Didn’t you hear first call?” Alice crawled close and kicked the gym bag I used as a pillow at the track meet. If you wedge far enough under the stadium steps it’s almost dark in the middle of the afternoon.

“Alright, thanks for waking me up.”

“Did you see the one thousand?” she asked. “I got fifth. That’s three points. In the States! Three points; did you hear me?” Her words were a bit breezy, and her face still red from exhaustion.

“I would’ve watched if it wasn’t for my condition.” I really did feel guilty. “Did your mom get a video?”

“You could have sat under the umbrella.”

“It’s the States. There are too many people in the stands. They’d complain about an umbrella. And I have to be ready, not worn out by sun poisoning.” I retied my spikes and straightened the pins holding the paper number on my uniform sweat jacket.

Alice gave me the smiling silent treatment, so I added, “You can sleep over. We’ll watch your mom’s video. I’ll break down every little part. You probably got boxed in; I know how you are. I’ll bug you about it all you want.”

“It was three points,” she repeated, still smiling.

Three points was pretty fantastic. “That’s enough for a scholarship, I bet. If not, you should ask; someone will make an offer, even this late in our senior year.” I needed to pep her up. I pulled my blue (team color) fishing hat down over my ears, zipped my Gahanna Lions sweat jacket and slung my sports bag over a shoulder. We started walking all the way around to the starting line of the 300 meter hurdles.

We passed Frieda near the end of the stadium. She and Andy were morphed into a single mass of sweating flesh between the purring soda machines. They danced around in a pile of empty coffee cups and soda cans. Only about twenty people a minute walked by those two machines, so I was guessing they’d picked the spot because of the seclusion.

Frieda wasn’t on any of the teams, and she never really watched sports, either, but she never ever missed coming to the games.

“Mort’s up!” Alice yelled.

“Oh!” Frieda unhooked herself from Andy’s limbs and spun around while fixing her bikini top so at least only the shapes of her nipple showed. “Coming.” She caught up, fast walking out the camel toe. Andy followed for a half second then diverted to the snack bar.

“You going out with him, now?” I asked.

“Who? Andy?” She took a while to think about it. “No way. Or, at least I don’t think so.”

I stopped for a sip from my thermos before we broke into the sun. The loudspeaker screeched then settled. “Second call, women’s three-hundred-meter hurdles.” I took my time putting the thermos back into my bag.

This was Dayton. The officials in Dayton couldn’t hold a two hour track meet in anything less than eight. I’d already spent an hour at the starting blocks for the hundred meter hurdles. I’d been so drained by the time the gun sounded I’d only managed fourth place. And that was a morning run when I’d been trying a little. I glanced up at the sun and felt a spike of pain clear to the back of my eyeballs. The shades were where I’d left them in the pocket of my bag, thank God!

“You’ve got ketchup on your lip,” Frieda said when I leaned up.

“It’s fruit punch Gatorade,” Alice said.

I rubbed the drop with my thumb and sucked.

“Coach says, ‘If you take off your glasses, hat and sweats… and long stockings… tutus and whatever else you have on—a pound of makeup—you’ll finish in the top three,’” Alice said. “If someone falls or their steps get messed up….” she added. “And there’s no wind on the finish straight. Could be everybody false starts.”

“She’s being nice,” I said while getting passed through the Events-Only gate and onto the track. Frieda and Alice had to go find a seat up near the finish line, which was close to the gate, but crowded. More than likely the race would be over before they climbed to the top deck, even in Dayton.

Several hurdlers near the blocks were taking off sweats or stretching. A couple clanked out of the blocks. One took it over the first hurdle before jogging back with exaggerated bounce in her stride. I should have been doing some of that; one could pull a muscle.

All seven of my opponents were gazelles. I was looking at scholarships: Texas, Indiana, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Bowling Green. Harvard didn’t give out scholarships for running around an oval, and my parent’s favorite argument had been that or Yale. I figured, at least they’d given me a choice, and in spite of all the complaining, we didn’t need the money.

A man in umpire stripes and black shorts passed out bottles of ice-cold water. I took one, splashed the first half over my face and stuffed the still-cool bottle down in my windbreaker, wedging it in my cleavage. I’d have to remember to take it out; there’d been a particularly embarrassing moment during league semifinals, giving me a boost in that department.

I waved to the dots that were my parents. They occupied seats away from the finish-line crowd, to the right of the far stands. My mother was the only one wearing a Christian Dior sundress and pink hat with lace veil. Her dress was the same one she’d worn at the Kentucky Derby. My father perched beside her, under a bowler hat and black umbrella, kind of like a penguin. The other parents didn’t talk to them much, probably because they didn’t know what to say.

“You holding sweats?” the Ethiopianish gazelle beside me asked. She handed me her sweat jacket and started undoing the little zips on the outside of the calves of her pants.

“No, I have lane two.” I neatly folded her jacket and set it behind her blocks while she glared at me like I had a wart.

I held out my hand. “Morticia Rosini.”

She didn’t shake it.

So I added, “I heard you tried out for the Olympics in the four hundred hurdles last year and almost made it.”

“No, that was me,” the Norwegian goddess in lane four said. Her shoes were gold. When she removed her sweats, the suit looked like sealskin and appeared aerodynamic with sweeping stripes.

“It must have been the hair.” I smiled, so they’d think it was a joke and not because they both wore cornrows. Diplomacy mattered. The hurdles were dangerous; everyone had those little spikes and everything.

“When you fall, don’t land in my lane,” Ethiopian Gazelle said, confirming my fears.

The girl in lane one stepped up beside me, close enough to notice that she had armpit hair because her pits came up to my eye level. Her muscles were bigger than her boobs, so in one way I felt a little superior. She put her sweats into a Texas A&M bag.

“Two minutes. You need to get your sweats off,” the man in the umpire shirt said. He had a starter gun in a belt holster and a whistle around his neck.

“This is my first year running track,” I explained while kneeling and setting my blocks to where I always put them. “Senior year, go figure.” When he said one minute, I added, “I’ll have to run in these clothes because of a religious issue.” That always worked. Nobody messed with a religious issue. “I also don’t want people seeing my stuff bounce.” Which reminded me to take the bottle out of my cleavage.

“Honestly, who did she pay to get here? Were there a lot of disqualifies in her regional?” the cheetah way over in lane six asked.

Almost everyone tittered.

That got me a little upset. At first I was thinking I’d go for sixth place. It was still a couple points, but all the ridicule had me doing math in my head. I could maybe do better, and probably nobody would notice, given it was the end of the year and almost graduation. After all, I’d gotten four points in the 100s, and Alice had gotten three. Heather finished second in the shot. It’d be a shame to waste fifteen points in the States. Our team had a chance at overall fourth or fifth if I ran five seconds better than ever and won—otherwise known as a miracle. You didn’t need a lot of points to do well in the States, coach told us.

“One minute.”

I tied my shoes tighter and also secured the little straps I’d sewn onto my boonie hat to keep it from falling off while I ran.

“Are you going to stay dressed like that? Honestly you are insane,” the girl in lane five said.

So, I confessed: “If I win, people are likely to make a big deal out of it. You have no idea how that feels.” I took a swig out of my bottle and burped. “I have a compulsive disorder regarding too much attention. I’m terrible in crowds and get a rash. Good thing I’m way over here and behind most everybody.” The starting blocks were staggered, meaning I would have to catch everyone in lanes three onward, supposedly on the curve a hundred meters distant.

“Don’t worry about winning,” the gazelle in lane three said.

“You’re not going to sick up on us, are you?” Armpit Hair asked from lane one, a little behind and to my left, and thus most vulnerable.

“Alright. Not unless I lose my hat,” I answered them both, even though they’d pissed me off and didn’t deserve it.

“Ladies, on your mark. Set….” Bang!

That osmosis thing always helped me shoot ahead the first few yards, but the phobias usually kicked in over the hurdles. Almost nobody came to track meets, so it had seemed like a safer sport than the others. Even here, there weren’t a lot of people straight ahead, so I churned away and passed the gazelle before the second hurdle.

The thing I always loved was the curve, even if it was tighter than can be from the second lane. I had to jump toward the inside of my lane because of the sailing. My lead leg landed on the outside of my lane anyway. That forced me to cross over with the right foot, like sewing a zigzag seam in Home Ec. It could be a dance of beauty. I was all alone. Free. Like a bird. A roadrunner, to be exact. I always loved the curve for the things it did to me inside.

There were a lot of people up ahead, maybe thirty or forty thousand. No way could I totally avoid so many by only getting second or third. But a spark of brilliance hit me and I went ahead and passed the Norwegianish girl in lane four. She’d really been annoying when she’d not shown any humility after I’d mentioned her Olympic trials experience.

Most of the people who’d been yelling and screaming quieted some, which was excellent, proving my plan might be working, after all. A smaller number of fans cheered in their place. Smaller=gooder.

I clipped the last two hurdles perfectly with my lead ankle and trailing heel, not wasting an inch of air and driving my leg down hard to the sprint. Instead of slowing, I picked it up through the tape.

Here’s the brilliant part that I’d come up with on the fly—and because they’d annoyed me so much, making me get creative: I kept running, almost as fast. When I got all the way around through the second curve, an extra hundred meters to the starting blocks, I tail-hooked my gym bag and hightailed it through the back contestant gate.

The coach had a camper set up in the parking lot where everyone but the contestants had eaten lunch off a barbeque grill. I headed for that.

Nobody was there, but the awning was still up and the lawn chairs awaited. I cranked the awning down as low as it’d hang and grabbed a Code Red out of the cooler. I nearly swallowed the can, though something about the taste just wasn’t perfect.

About an hour later the coach’s husband wandered by. “Everyone is crazy, trying to find you. Nobody knew where the hell you went. Contestants are supposed to report back to the starting line.” He was a teacher, too.

“Well they have those photo finish machines and everyone was shooting videos. A million people saw! And I had to pee.” Which I did, but only after I’d said it. Thus I had to say, “Now I have to pee again. I’ll be right back.”

Coach’s husband punched numbers on his cell phone, calling in the troops.

The Porta-Potties were clear across the parking lot, and even though it had turned to late afternoon, it only meant the sun had an easier time of sneaking in under my hat and enormous sunglasses.

###

“Did you hear me in there?” Coach Bayers asked the top of my head. “Thirty-nine, fifty-nine. Under forty!”

“I’m sorry, I was in a hurry. Did your husband tell you I had to pee? I also got carried away in a pack of gazelles,” I said from the back of the stubby school bus that they usually used for the special kids, but also used for our track team when only a few people were going. “Honest. Forget it happened.”

“Jesus, Mort, that’s a state record,” Frieda said. “It’s only one hundredth away from the national record, they said on the loudspeaker.” She was pretending to be a statistician so she could cop a free ride—my idea. Now I was considering regretting it because she, along with Alice, wouldn’t stop. Strangers were going to be coming up to me all last week of high school saying, “Oh my God, oh my God!”

I resolved I’d wear my brown costume burka without cutting out the niqab from now until college. Sometimes that looked realily cool with sunglasses and a hat. I’d hemmed mine up to half calves. My rainbow socks with my Polo Ralph Lauren Patchworth ankle boots made the whole statement come to life. It also helped keep people from getting too close because it was impossible to understand. Even my psychiatrist asked about it and I was clueless. Probably at Harvard it was normal. If I went there it might save my parents a hundred bucks for the half hour, though it always made them feel better when I spent time with a professional.

Add a Comment
17. Flogometer for Lisa—would you turn the first 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

Lisa sends the first chapter of her novel—don’t know the title. The rest of the narrative follows the break. Help the writer with your comments.

Skinny jeans tucked into brown ankle boots, Addison McDonell warmed her fingers on the cardboard insulated hazelnut macchiato, its scent rising into her face. People chatted in the café, the steamer frothing in the background. Addison’s eyes flickered from the smart phone on the high table to the chalkboard list of espressos and teas: unseeing, unhearing, heart hurting.

How?

How could people do this? 

Outside the corner café a jogger crossed the intersection in the weak November sunlight. Old fashioned brick stores lined the street, their grace jarred by an austere gas station. Further on a post-flower child food coop now sheltered under mature leafless maple trees. Banners hung from faux vintage streetlamps declared St. Paul The Most Livable City in America.

Lucian’s parents must be shell-shocked. She sure as hell was. You read about this online but it didn’t happen in real life, not to family.  

Waiting for her brother, she reflected on the phone conversation frowning at the amber liquid. Something niggled the edges of her thoughts. She pursued it; drew back on memory. Then found her target. The police officers wanted to keep it quiet, no news report, to better apprehend the perpetrators.

What?

Were you compelled to turn Lisa's first page?

There is nice writing and description here but, for me, more than there should be for an opening page. We get bogged down in detail while the story waits to begin. And, as the first page foreshadows what is to come, I would expect more overwriting and lack of focus on the moments of story. Something pretty dramatic happens at the end of the chapter, but I wouldn’t have gotten there. My vote was no. Some reasons why in the notes:

Skinny jeans tucked into brown ankle boots, Addison McDonell warmed her fingers on the cardboard insulated her cup of hazelnut macchiato, its scent rising into her face. People chatted in the café, the steamer frothing in the background. Addison’s eyes flickered from the smart phone on the high table to the chalkboard list of espressos and teas: unseeing, unhearing, heart hurting. Signs of overwriting here don’t bode well for the rest of the narrative. A bit of POV break, too—in close third person, she wouldn’t be thinking of the nature of her jeans and boots.

How?

How could people do this? You’re raising story questions, which is good, but we need a clue as to what “this” is right away, and it’s not here.

Outside the corner café a jogger crossed the intersection in the weak November sunlight. Old fashioned brick stores lined the street, their grace jarred by an austere gas station. Further on a post-flower child food coop now sheltered under mature leafless maple trees. Banners hung from faux vintage streetlamps declared St. Paul The Most Livable City in America. While this expands the setting, I felt it wasn’t relevant to the story and slowed the pace. If it’s not germane to what’s happening in the scene, don’t include it on the first page.

The hospital had admitted Lucian to ICU. He remained sedated, in critical condition with broken ribs, a concussion, a swollen face, and…too vivid. I’ve added this from the next page. For me, it strengthens the story questions with detail and increases my interest. Give the reader some meat on that hook.

Lucian’s parents must be shell-shocked. She sure as hell was. You read about this online but it didn’t happen in real life, not to family.  

Waiting for her brother, she reflected on the phone conversation frowning at the amber liquid. Something niggled the edges of her thoughts. She pursued it; drew back on memory. Then found her target. The police officers wanted to keep it quiet, no news report, to better apprehend the perpetrators. With the above addition of Lucian’s condition the story question raised here is much stronger.

What?

 Comments, please?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-observer

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 Lisa

(continued)

Her skepticism exacerbated by a feminist-oriented professor mother, she picked up the smart phone. Slender fingers, deft with short square-tipped French manicure, touched the screen pad putting in a few key words. She sipped her macchiato, scrolling through the list.

Nothing? She skimmed through the index again.

Not one article generated by the search engine. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But redirection to other related yet opposite tangents about gang beatings occurred. Yet she now possessed firsthand knowledge of this specific beating. It couldn’t be exclusive to her cousin. Nothing was unique anymore.

Why did law enforcement want silence? She put the phone down and leaned on table, chin on hands as she tried to consider options.

But her mind drifted. Her cousins had been taken to the hospital. Wait. What had mom said?

The hospital had released Xavier from ER but admitted Lucian to ICU. He remained sedated, in critical condition with broken ribs, a concussion, a swollen face, and…too vivid.  

 She shoved images aside; her jaws clenched, closing her eyes. Not here. Not now. With a deep breath, she straightened her spine. Pulling her hair over one shoulder, she ran her fingers through its comforting silkiness then exerted herself to notice the people in the café.

Her gaze glided past then veered back and settled on a man sitting by the wall of windows watching her, his arms lying on either side of his tablet computer. Shoulder-length, brunette hair waved back from a pale narrow face, prominent nose, and thin lips juxtaposed in an odd, appealing manner. He sat forward, clad in black skinny jeans and a dark navy sweater, sleeves pushed up to expose thin forearms. He held her gaze.

She scowled. What was he staring at? How rude.

Then she caught her off balance reaction. Ordinarily she kept detached around strangers, especially single men who potentially sought dates. Her auburn hair, heart-shaped face, and petite build contradicted her personality. Yes, she was a softy with a hospitable soul but only for animals, well-behaved children, and her small circle of friends.

“Hey!”

Distracted, she turned. Her brother approached, slender and lanky, a worried look on a face drained of color.

“Did Mom call you?”

“Just got off the phone. She’s at the hospital. I said we’d meet her there.”

“At United?”

“Yes.”

He paused then his eyes refocused on her, their grey irises darkened, “Do you have your car?”

“I walked.”

“OK,” he nodded, “I’ll drive but I’m gonna grab a tea first.”

Swiftly, he walked toward the counter.

With Lucian in critical care they wouldn’t be able to see him but they could visit his parents, Nate and Lataesha. Would Lucian’s brother and sisters have attended school today? Nate’s parents were there, unexpectedly, and his sister. Lataesha’s dad and grandma lived in Detroit but they would come in a heartbeat if Lucian remained hospitalized.

Addison’s thoughts lurched back to her own family. How her grandparents receive this news? And what about Tante? Turning 90 years old next spring, her mind remained sharp and her spirit strong but as a WWII survivor, how would she react?

Her brother was sliding a lid on his to-go cup. She stood, slipped her phone into her slouchy bag then buttoned her wool fit-and-flare jacket. Pressing the lid back onto her macchiato, she slanted another peek at the strange man.

Long elegant fingers, an artist’s hand, skated on the tablet screen. A slight foreign air clung to his clothing, the now exposed metal length double piercing his ear’s upper cartilage, and the long handled bag hanging on the chair. Definitely not a typical upper Midwestern male appearance.

Her brother returned, “Let’s go.”

A horn blared. Car wheels squealed.

Stepping backwards, she bumped into her brother. He steadied her, his hand tense on her upper arm. Jerking her head, she glanced toward the wall of windows, the people at the tables.

Curious faces panicked. Shouted warnings crescendo-ed. Startled jumping spilled drinks.

With a loud bang crash, a car blasted through windows. Its nose plowed over tables and chairs like a ship breaking through waves. The window-side tables and chairs screeched, toppled or cracked.

The car halted. Petrol and appalled silence filled the air.

Shattered glass shards fell to the floor.  Krrschkpblədt.

The tinkling echoed.

 

Add a Comment
18. So You Want to Write a Novel video

The JackpotDavid Kazzie, author of The Jackpot, created this animated video that looks at writerly ambitions in the clueless. Thanks for the fun, David.

 

Add a Comment
19. Flogometer for Anna—would you turn the first page?

Submissions needed—no more 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.


Vampkitty Amazon book ad150WThe 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

Anna sends the prologue and first chapter for Choices. The rest of the narrative follows the break. Help the writer with your comments.

Prologue

“Tuck your skirt up.” Young Douglas Harper twirled his cricket bat in frustration. “Then you can run better.”

In mock horror, Lucy responded, “Certainly not!”

Laughing, Master Douglas, known to her as Dougie, called out, “Bowl the way I showed you.”

Lucy turned and took six paces further back. Then, as her dress only allowed short steps, she pattered towards Dougie standing ready in front of the stumps and hurled the leather ball with all her might. Thwack! The sound of leather on the willow bat heralded another ball sent for six into the bushes by the lake. The two young friends scampered after it.

“I’ll wager I can climb the oak faster than you,” said Dougie picking up the cricket ball.

“It’s a wonder I can climb at all in this dress.”

“Give me your hand, and I’ll help you up.”

They settled onto their favourite, springy branch. “Hush,” whispered Lucy, “Look.”

Into their view came Sir William Harper, sauntering around his estate on the fine summer’s day. He was being followed by his housekeeper as if she were a dog on a lead. Exasperated, he turned on her. “Mrs Yorton, this is not the time or place to have this…” he hesitated, “this discussion on Lucy’s future.”

Were you compelled to turn Anna's first page?

Chapter 1

Thwack! It was not the sound of leather on willow. It was the forcible impact of Annie Yorton’s hand with Lucy’s head.

“You misbegotten slut!” hissed Annie. “Why I have to be burdened with a useless daughter I’ll never know.” Annie followed this with an exaggerated sigh. “Bring in some wood and make up the fire. Then get out.” With her feelings made obvious, she left the room and stomped upstairs.

The next time she does that, I’ll hit her back. Lucy had thought this before but she wasn’t one for screaming, shouting, spitting and hitting. As soon as she could afford a decent dress, she’d go into Merrygate and search for a job, perhaps in one of the new hotels, somewhere she could live in.

Having stacked the wood in the hearth, Lucy grabbed her shabby shawl and headed towards the sea. It was a cold, clear Christmas Day, and she curled up in her favourite place.

It had been a wonderful world – her world – lost now, maybe forever. But no one could take away her memories. Hidden from view, high on a ledge of scrubby bushes jutting from the cliffs, she could hold these memories in her mind, in her heart, where no one knew they existed. They warmed her when nothing else could. Whenever possible she would go back in time to watch the characters as if they were in a play. Ignoring the man searching for mussels (snip)

Would you turn the page with this opening?

There are things to like about this narrative, especially the windows into British life for an American—the cricket details were engaging—but, for me, neither the prologue or first chapter openings compelled a page turn, though I gave an “almost” to the prologue with a pretty good story question about Lucy’s future. The point of view is a bit distant and on the omniscient side—for example, the housekeeper is Annie’s mother. In a close third-person POV she would be identified as such, not as a housekeeper.

In the chapter opening, there is conflict, but it is an old and continuing one. I think the story needs to start later, when something happens to radically alter Lucy’s life. I felt that there was a good story waiting and would like to know what it's about.

Your thoughts?

For what it’s worth.

Ray

Design-NobodyKnows

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 Anna

The remainders of the narrative are after the fold.

Prologue continued:

Undaunted, Annie Yorton drew closer. “Airs and graces. What good are they to her? You allow her to wander around the house as if…”

“And why does that trouble you?” Sir William moved closer to the lake and watched a mother duck lead her solitary duckling further away before continuing. “I find you ungrateful, Mrs Yorton. When you announced you were with child, I permitted you to marry my butler who has been devoted to you both. It is most unusual, as you know, for household servants to be allowed to marry, yet in your case…”

Annie Yorton closed in on him. “Oh yes, I know I run this household in tip-top fashion. I know why I’m here.” Her eyes narrowed. “Since your wife died in childbirth,” this oft-repeated phrase always elicited a reaction, “there’s never been a need for you,” her voice gathered pace, “or anyone else for that matter, to have cause for concern about the standards in Faefersham Court.” At this point she made the mistake of pausing for breath.

“I gave you good rooms at the top of the West Wing to call your own. I’ve ensured Lucy has a chance in life not usually given to one of her station. She has been educated alongside my son. What more can you possibly want?”

“Master Douglas is, without a lie, a fine young man, and it is improper for Lucy to be encouraged by you…” Annie Yorton searched for words then, raising her voice, declared, “to think of herself as his equal.”

Striding away towards the bushes alongside the lake, Sir William growled, “Don’t insult my judgment, Mrs Yorton! Lucy has provided Master Douglas with companionship and someone to compete against in his education. Besides, Lucy is just eleven years old…”

Annie’s voice became shrill as she tried to keep up with Sir William. “You should have sent him away to school, not have a governess for them both, then she could have taken her rightful place alongside me in the servants quarters.”

“I will hear no more of this. You have a privileged life yet you resent… Bah! You’ve said far too much, away with you.”

“You forget,” Annie knew how to milk a situation, “You forget I know allthat goes on here.” She broke away and swept across the lawn towards the side of the manor house. Sir William’s eyes squinted as he watched her go.

In the high branches of the oak tree, Lucy and Douglas exchanged troubled looks. Lucy’s expression changed to frightened as she reflected on the likely outcome of the overheard exchange. She was the ill-timed daughter of servants. Douglas was the heir to a large estate. “I think we are to be separated, Dougie.”

Chapter 1 continued:

. . . at the foot of the cliffs, she drew her knees to her chin, tucked her toes under her outgrown dress, and snuggled into her thin woollen shawl, and remembered.

The stimulating lessons with Dougie’s governess, the freedom of the gardens and, most of all, that last Summer Ball, these were memories that would live on regardless of what else happened. She recalled her loving father, in stentorian tones, announcing guests resplendent in satins and silks. Then her father, bidden by Sir William, betrayed her presence in the gallery. “Sir William Harper welcomes his son, Master Douglas Harper and his young companion, Miss Lucy Yorton, both hiding behind the long-case clock.” He had held his right hand high and, taking her cue from Dougie, she came out to the top of the long winding staircase. With all the grace she could muster, she overcame her embarrassment and laid her hand on the gold and white balustrade garlanded with greenery and marigolds. Her eyes, her mind, her heart took in the glorious sight below. She curtseyed as Dougie bowed low. How grand her father looked in the Harper livery. And it was so kind of Sir William to invite them to spend a few moments with the delighted guests. She had willed the whispering silks to haunt her: one day she would dress like that.

That day had not come. The next morning, pulled from her roots like a weed, her mother had dragged her to the crossroads and they had taken the coach to Wintergate with nothing but a bundle of belongings between them.

The spell was broken and she shivered. She must tuck away her memories of her father, Dougie, and all she’d held dear. The tiny workman’s cottage at the end of a run-down terrace was home now. Whatever made her mother leave such a comfortable position? It was true she’d made the cottage cosy. True too that her mother no longer had to work, not since Lucy had found work seven long years ago.

A metallic scraping noise jarred Lucy’s thoughts back to the bleak scene before her. What was that mussel man doing? Lying flat, she edged herself to where she could peek over to the rocks below. He had dug far too deep; mussels didn’t hide way down in the sand. He was also in the one place which was hidden from the sight of the revenue officers at Watch House. He wasn’t alone either. A rough-looking seaman was filling in the hole now as deep as a grave. She watched as, without a word, they covered the sand with huge chalk rocks and, with a flourish, flung seaweed on the top. They had buried something. Or, God forbid, someone?

“Give us yer hand, Tynton, and swear an oath on your son’s life.”

Sydney Tynton spat on his hand, held it out, and muttered something inaudible to Lucy. She did, however, catch his last few words. “You now owe me.”

“You just let me know and we’ll be there, guns ablazing.”

Lucy withdrew as quietly as she could. She wished she’d never heard. Sydney Tynton was the disagreeable master of the farm where she worked.

The pale, winter sun was setting sending a shimmer of sparkles, like scattered diamonds, over the surface of the sea. She must hurry home, making sure the volatile farmer Tynton would never know what she had seen.

My clients talk about the editing I do:

Crrreative logo-red 125W cropped"Ray has been the most influential part of my writing process. I don't know what I would have done without him! His advice has taken my writing to a new level and I can't believe the growth I've seen in my own processes! I would recommend Ray to anyone looking for a professional, yet personal editing approach. I can't say enough about how happy I am that I've had him to work with or about the turn my writing has taken because of his help!"    Jennifer Bush

Visit my website for more info on services and fees.

Add a Comment
20. Something from the Indie Bookshelf

Indie-bookself-200W
 

Faversham coverHIDE IN TIME by Anna Faversham

Misjudging the man she loves, Laura leaves for America in 1814, but is shipwrecked in the English channel and washed ashore in 2009. Too late, she learns the truth about him.

She is assisted in adjusting to twenty-first century living by a psychologist who is fascinated by her and her story of Regency times, highwaymen and her ship wrecked on treacherous sands.

Events confirm Laura's suspicion that the destiny of a woman she meets is linked with her own and she risks her life and chance of fulfilment to return to 1814.

Time travel, romance, and a little mystery, too.

 If you would like to feature your book on the FtQ Indie Bookshelf, email as attachments:

  • A cover image
  • A 100-word blurb/summary
  • A link you would like an interested reader to go to.

Luck, Anna,

Ray

Add a Comment
21. Flogometer for Melinda—would you turn the first page?

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

Melinda sends the first chapter for Only God Forgives. The rest of the narrative follows my notes. Help the writer with your comments.

Misty wasn’t alarmed by the silence in the house. She knew Ann would be studying, or at least she should be. Anne had been particularly difficult lately. Misty hoped it was just a phase. She tried hard to remember her own teenage years. She was sure that her own mother was frustrated with her at times.

Opening the refrigerator, she didn’t notice the slip of paper fall off the table. She pulled out a steak to thaw. Normally, she would have pulled out two, but Jack was working late tonight. Misty tried to be understanding of everyone’s unique issues in the house. Anne was a teenager, Jack was a workaholic. It was her job to keep the house running as smoothly as she could. A job she succeeded at most of the time.

After dinner was going, Misty went upstairs to check on Anne, Anne had been not talking to her for a week now. Misty had forbade her from visiting her boyfriend while his parents were out of town.

Misty knocked on Anne’s door. There was no answer.

Misty wasn’t totally surprised. “Anne, I’m coming in,” Misty said. “If you don’t want me to come in, speek now or forever hold your peace.

Misty turned the knob, only to find it locked. “Anne, open this door. You know the rule about locking your door.”

Were you compelled to turn Melinda's first page?

Even though we’re told about tensions with the daughter, there’s no current conflict or hint of trouble to be caused by it. Everything is normal, in fact—she is not alarmed by the silence and she continues her normal duties. No turn for me. There were some craft issues concerning point of view, too. At the end of the chapter there’s the beginnings of a good story question, though. Get to that sooner. You might start with knocking on the door and getting no answer. Notes:

Misty wasn’t alarmed by the silence in the house. She knew Ann would be studying, or at least she should be. Anne had been particularly difficult lately. Misty hoped it was just a phase. She tried hard to remember her own teenage years. She was sure that her own mother was frustrated with her at times. There’s “telling” here—Anne being difficult. Don’t tell us, just show us Anne being difficult. It can be revealed later, as you’ll see.

Opening the refrigerator, she didn’t notice the slip of paper fall off the table. She pulled out a steak to thaw. Normally, she would have pulled out two, but Jack was working late tonight. Misty tried to be understanding of everyone’s unique issues in the house. Anne was a teenager, Jack was a workaholic. It was her job to keep the house running as smoothly as she could. A job she succeeded at most of the time. The slip of paper is a slip in point of view. If we’re in close third person, we should see and hear only what the character sees and hears. If the slip of paper is not noticed, then it should not be in the scene.

After dinner was going, Misty went upstairs to check on Anne,. Anne had been not talking to her for a week now. Misty had forbade her from visiting her boyfriend while his parents were out of town. The not speaking and forbidden boyfriend are a bit of “info dump” and not narrative of what’s happening. It’s the author intruding on the story.

Misty knocked on Anne’s door. There was no answer. Here’s a place to introduce the info more naturally. For example, borrowing from the following paragraph: She wasn’t totally surprised, considering Anne’s hostile muteness since being forbidden from seeing Mike while his parents were out of town.

Misty wasn’t totally surprised. “Anne, I’m coming in,” Misty said. “If you don’t want me to come in, speek speak now or forever hold your peace.The last bit is a bit of a cliché, try to avoid them.

Misty turned the knob, only to find it locked. “Anne, open this door. You know the rule about locking your door.”

This is a very short chapter, so here’s the rest of it. Notice the break in point of view again in the last sentence (hint: “unseen”).

Still no answer came from inside.

Misty jiggled the knob a little letting Anne no she was serious. Still only the silence greeted her.

“I’m going to get the key,” misty said. “”If this door isn’t open when I come back, it’s coming off as soon as your father gets home.”

Misty walked down the hall to her room. There were no keys for these doors. She and Jack had discovered a while ago that the door could be opened with a screwdriver. She rummaged threw the junk that was on top of her dresser, looking for the little screwdriver.

Finally finding the small screwdriver, she marched down the hall to Anne's room. Balling her fists, she pounded on the door. "Anne Lee Donavan you open this door right now."

When it was still silent, Misty went to work with the screwdriver. After several seconds of fiddling, the door popped open.

The room was empty, except for the unseen angel sitting on Anne's bed.

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 Melinda

Add a Comment
22. Flogometer for Heidi—would you turn the first 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

Heidi sends first chapter for a Regency Romance, Her Endearing Young Charms. The rest of the narrative follows the break. Help the writer with your comments.

A few things bothered Lord Alexander Rochester about the Honourable Miss Merrybelle Hales' story of highway robbery. Quite a few, actually.

He watched her from across the crowded floor of Almack's, a hundred thoughts tumbling through his head, a billion emotions warring in his heart. The spitfire of a girl he knew as a child had grown into a most elegant creature. Oh, the fire was still there, and the love of drama. Even now, she'd drawn a circle of rapt listeners, hanging on her every word.

She and her parents were held up by highwaymen yesterday. They had been waylaid and robbed of their valuables. Sir Phillip Hales had informed Alexander of this that very morning by post. Whereas he'd been expecting news of his ailing father (for they had passed that way), he learned of this instead. That was the first thing that bothered him.

The second bothersome thing: this happened in Lower Bromley, a village beholden to his father, the Earl of Bromley. For this, Alexander blamed himself. He should never have asked Sir Phillip to check on his father, especially seeing that Sir Phillip had been on his way back from visiting his own ailing mother. If he hadn't, the Haleses would never have been in Lower Bromley. This would never have happened.

And the third, most disturbing thing of all? His realisation that he absolutely, positively loved Miss Merrybelle beyond anything he'd ever loved before.

Were you compelled to turn Heidi's first page?

I confess that I don’t feel totally qualified as to what a compelling story question is for a Regency Romance, and whether or not it needs to be on the first page. It may be that lots of set-up and backstory are appropriate. If you have some expertise in the Regency Romance area, I hope you’ll comment.

Still, there seems that this opening could be stronger. Interesting things happen later—not only were valuables stolen in the highway robbery, but the thief also stole a kiss. And Alexander deduces who it is. I suggest looking for a way to condense or skip all the set-up—what do things such as his ailing mother or the other family’s father’s condition matter to the story?—and get to the interesting stuff (stolen kiss, knowing the robber, a vow to get him) on the first page. I think it can be done and this writer can do it. Then the other world set-up stuff can be woven in.

I'd rather see a lively scene with something happening rather than a character just tell us stuff. My advice: even in a Regency Romance make something happen on the first page that affects the protagonist.

The rest of the chapter continues after the fold.

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 Heidi

(continued)

What was he going to do?

The Hales had seen it fit to come to Almack's that evening (it being Wednesday), despite their ordeal.

His gut instinct was to gather up Miss Merrybelle--Miss Hales now, that she was the only unmarried daughter left--and whisk her away from this too-public place.

A circle of young ladies and silly young bucks surrounded her, the glittering center of attention at Almack's. Her eyes shone bright. Her soft lily hands moved in illustration as she told of her and her family's adventures.

Something was different about her tonight. She seemed so fresh, so innocent, so vulnerable--completely lacking in the Town Bronze he'd mistaken on her before. Had the robbery done that? He wanted to gather her up and protect her from the cruelty of the world.

That was quite a change from his childhood attitude. The Hales often spent summers at Bromley Park, the scions of the two families thrown together. Miss Hales and her sisters were just another Bunch of Girls, best avoided by boys. He'd teased her then, and she gave as good as she got.

The next quadrille started, but none of the crowd surrounding Miss Hales dared abandon her and her tale.

It disturbed him. The rest of the ton found it fascinating. He drew near, itching to drag her away from the pressing crowd.

"The sun shone down, illuminating the world in innocence." Her voice dropped to a dramatic whisper. "We still had some ways to go until we reached London when...

"'Stand and deliver!'" she cried, startling the crowd. A few of the nearer dancers lost their step as they turned to look towards the cry.

Lord Alexander jumped, the hair of his neck standing up. He looked around to see if anyone noticed. He spied one of the Patronesses--Lady Jersey--raise a quizzing glass in their direction. She did not drop it, but continued to study the large knot of young creatures not dancing. Oh no.

Miss Hales continued. "The carriage lurched and the coachman cursed. I've never heard such words!" She managed a maidenly blush. Real, or drama? One could never tell with her.

"Then the door of our carriage was wrenched open and a pistol shoved at us inside." She held up her finger, pistol-like. "We were forced to exit into the dusty road."

Alexander swallowed. The highwayman used a pistol? He'd never heard of a pistol in news of previous Bromley robberies. Where'd he get it?

He looked at the satin gown, pale and high-waisted, that Miss Hales wore this night. Had she the sense to dress warmer yesterday? Granted, today's costume was better-suited to the humid and over-stuffy rooms of Almack's than for travel.

"There were but two of them to our three men, only they had a pistol. We had none, for the footman had dropped his when first assaulted by the highwaymen. One held the bridles of the horses and the second brandished his weapon at us.

"We had no choice but to climb out."

"Oh!" cried one of the young ladies of the ton. Lady Anne Ashton? He hadn't had a chance to make many a young lady's acquaintance. The Season was only a few weeks young. "The brutes, for making you leave the carriage."

"I know!" Miss Hales replied. "He was a vulgar sort, a common villain."

At this, Alexander agreed. But what could he do about it? Something had to be done.

"So he waves his pistol and demands we surrender our valuables."

Miss Hales cast down her eyes and demurred, much to the sympathetic noises of the surrounding young ladies.

Lord Alexander heard a warm voice in his ear. "Eh, wot's this?"

Alexander jumped, startled. A brief flash of a childhood memory flashed through his head at the sound of.

He turned to find his friend George Hales, sporting a big grin and an offer of refreshment. Trust Merrybelle's older brother to come through.

George held what appeared to be a glass of lemonade. One sniff revealed it held something stronger, no doubt smuggled in. The Patronesses strictly forbade any form of alcohol to be served. Prudishness or wisdom, Alexander wasn't sure. He took a gulp to fortify himself. Oh, it burned! He handed it back; George could keep his demmed drink.

George's eyes roamed over to Miss Hales. "What's this, then?" He sipped delicately--something Alexander should have done.

"Your sister's regaling the ton about your adventure yesterday. Is it really as bad as she made out?"

George shrugged. "Caught us napping, they did. Literally." He hung his head in shame. "By the time I woke up, the cove had a pistol on us. Took anything of value, not that it was much." He took another sip of lemonade before offering it again to his friend.

Alexander declined. "Did they get much?"

"No. Pater doesn't believe in carrying much of anything of value when we travel. Now I know why."

A sneaking suspicion nagged at Alexander's conscience. "George, do you remember what the highwayman looked like?"

His friend wrinkled his nose while he thought back. "Not much to tell. They wore cloaks, and kerchiefs over their faces. Common caps, so nothing fancy. The one with the pistol was tall like you, but stockier in build. The other one was skinnier, possibly a lad." George muttered. "Could have taken him out, had they not got the drop on us."

Alexander's heart thumped. He knew someone as tall as he, only stockier, especially who sometimes kept company with a scrawny lad. The lad would have been useless in a robbery; he must have been there only for show. But the main culprit... Alexander's heart grew cold at the thought of him.

George regarded the gaggle of young ladies. "How am I to cut one from the herd so I may have the pleasure of dancing with her?"

"Haven't figured that one out yet, thus my lonely status." Not that he'd given the matter any thought. Lord Alexander hadn't really noticed the other young ladies. His eyes had been on George's sister, and her alone. As children, of all the Hales girls, he'd liked her best.

Her dark curls bounced whenever she laughed. She never worried about hiding her lovely teeth. Her eyes sparkled as she held up her own in scintillating conversation. She moved with grace and her clothes were always impeccable. In short, she was an ideal young lady of Fashion. Amazing what three years of finishing school could accomplish.

And yet there was a solidity, a backbone of steel, one could say, to Miss Hales that the others seemed to lack. While she could simper and flirt her fan and giggle with the rest of them, she did not do it to excess and her conversation lacked the vacuous and thoughtless commentary other young ladies her age had.

Or rather, maybe not her age, for Miss Hales was nineteen, whereas most other debutantes were sixteen, and some fifteen. Too young for Lord Alexander's tastes, but nineteen suited his four-and-twenty years well.

Oh, what a difference a few years made! She'd not come across as a silly young miss, but had proven herself sensible and mature, with an indescribable allure that drew society's moths of all kinds to her flame.

So what was up with tonight?

Miss Hales had dropped to a whisper. Lord Alexander had to lean forward to hear what she said. George gulped from his glass.

Lady Jersey had not dropped her quizzing glass, but frowned through it. Uh oh. Not good.

Torn between wanting to hear the rest of the tale and not wanting to look part of the group, he took one tentative step closer, but turned his side to the crowd and faced the dancers instead. He cursed his empty hands. Why hadn't he kept the glass of lemonade to occupy himself?

Miss Hales had clenched her hands before her. "I thought we'd given him all we had, which I confess was not much, for who wears jewels while travelling? Then he pointed to my little silver locket and said, 'I want that!'"

To this, all the young women gasped in great horror. "Oh no!" one of them cried. "Oh, Miss Hales! You worked so hard on that one."

"I know."

At this, Lord Alexander turned to look at her. The disappointment in her voice sounded real. Had the highwayman stolen something with great personal meaning? It's funny how the seemingly littlest trinkets could hold such value to a woman. They were terribly fond of their trifles.

"What choice did I have?" she continued. "It wasn't worth a bullet to the head. I shall have to make another."

"Ooh," squealed yet another debutante. "Did they flee after that?"

All the others leaned in closer. Miss Hales had them eating out of her hand. How could one person have so much power over so many silly little girls?

"No," she answered. "There was one more thing left to steal."

They all gasped as one. Even George leaned closer, not daring to miss the end of the tale. Lord Alexander took a step in.

"When all we had on our persons had been placed in his rucksack, he lifted my hand. I had thought he was to take off my glove to see if I had secreted away any rings. But no, he took my hand. It was then, he stole," she drew in a breath, "he stole a kiss."

The entire group of girls cried out as one, covering their blushing cheeks with their hands, turning away and fluttering open their fans. A few even threatened to faint.

"I say!" George exclaimed. "Putting it on a bit thick, en't she?"

A rushing of jealousy filled Alexander's ears, drowning out the noise about him.

He kissed her?

He kissed her!

A tight little feeling grabbed his heart and squeezed until it hurt. How dare he kiss her!

It was then Miss Hales looked up. For a moment, their gazes met. A small frown creased her brow. Lord Alexander couldn't bear it. He broke contact and turned away.

Just then, Lady Jersey made herself known. "You young ladies are depriving many a worthy gentleman of dance partners. Disperse. Please."

The majority turned and hurried away, chastened.

George immediately bowed to the flustered young lady by his side. Ever the opportunist. She gratefully accepted his invitation to dance.

Meanwhile Lady Jersey turned to where Miss Hales had been standing, but she had departed quickly, silently during the confusion. When had she escaped, and why hadn't he noticed?

Thus, Lady Jersey's wrath fell upon him. She shooed him away with her fan. "Dance. Now."

Lord Alexander found himself obligated to partner a young lady to whom he had not yet been introduced in the next quadrille, much to the young lady's later embarrassment.

She did not dare speak to him as they passed through their steps, and probably assumed his own silence was mere propriety. His mind was not on propriety, but on Miss Hales. He did bow and thank the child for the dance in the end and did bid her escort (whomever that was--he didn't know) that he would be honoured to make her acquaintance, et cetera.

And then he quit the dance floor, for how could his feet keep time when his thoughts were whirling through his head.

And thus he came to the fourth thing that bothered him about Miss Hales's story of highway robbery. It was her reaction to the kiss.

While most of the story seemed exaggerated for the benefit of the audience, he saw very well how her countenance changed when she described the kiss. Her mask of drama had fallen away, leaving her soul very bare. Her pulse had beaten against the lily-white skin of her throat and her eyes softened.

She'd enjoyed it!

Lord Alexander's imagination ambushed him. He could not rid his head of the image of a certain dark-swathed highway man, his cloaks flowing in the breeze, drawing Merrybelle close to him and lowering his face to hers...

He shook his head and bolted from the dance floor.

Unfair! He had only just found the best lady of the Season, had every plan on wooing her properly (none of this procuring Special Licenses or fleeing to Greta Green!) and what happens?

She is won over with a stolen kiss.

By a highwayman! And not just any highwayman. The worst man Alexander had ever the misfortune to know.

Of all the improper things.

Alexander found himself at the refreshment table, halfway through a glass of undoctored lemonade, but in the mood for something stronger. Where was George now, when his friend needed him?

He slowed down his anxious gulping and grabbed the nearest slice of dry cake. Alas, all the tables and chairs in the dining room were occupied, so he set off to the balcony, where the darkness of the night might give him the excuse to be alone and work out what had just happened.

Being early in the Season, the breeze was extremely brisk. He'd left his greatcoat in the cloakroom. Ah well. The coldness guaranteed his solitude. That's what he needed to think.

Now, many carriages passed through Bromley Park and Lower BromleyVillage to reach London, but few of them bothered stopping, not when they were so close to their goal.

So what was it about these three that led to their being targeted?

A bitter thought crossed his mind. What if they'd stopped at the Boar's Head?

That would explain much. The fifth disturbing thing of her tale made his head spin and spots appear before his eyes.

Alexander knew who the highwayman was. He'd taken a great many things from Alexander when they were young.

And now, he was stealing Miss Merrybelle Hales.

Bastard!

Add a Comment
23. Check out The Thirteenth Tower

13thtowerfront250WI want to give a shout-out for a client of mine, Sara C. Snider, who has just published a terrific fantasy novel, The Thirteenth Tower.

I know it’s terrific because I edited it. Sara has a natural prose voice that draws a reader in, and the story is involving, imaginative, and touching. Here’s the synopsis from the back cover:

In adversity lies strength beyond imagining.

Abandoned as a baby, young Emelyn’s life as a housemaid in the quiet village of Fallow is unremarkable—and empty. That is, until a host of magical creatures arrives and inflicts terrible misdeeds on the townsfolk. Inexplicably immune to their enchantments, Emelyn joins a pair of Magi intent on stopping the cause of the trouble—and who claim to know of her parents, promising  Emelyn answers to a lifetime of questions.

But the answers Emelyn seeks prove to be more elusive than she hoped, and the world outside Fallow more perilous than she imagined. Magical creatures roam the land over, attacking yet another town before coming after Emelyn. The key to her survival—and finding her family—lies deep within her, if only she can conquer her doubts and believe she is more powerful than she ever dreamed.

In a journey that explores facing one’s fears amidst the uncertainties of an unknown world, The Thirteenth Tower is a magical tale of discovery, growth, and of love’s enduring strength.

The world Sara creates is fresh and involving, with magical creatures that are real, endearing, and sometimes funny. The protagonist, Emelyn, is a courageous young woman on quite a journey that includes very real , very scary dangers. I highly recommend it.

I also designed the book for Sara. It was a true partnership—she had a vision that led to commissioning special cover art, and she also suggested the font. I had the pleasure of putting it all together and designing the interior, where I was able to contribute more graphic design touches.

I highly recommend The Thirteenth Tower to you. You can get a “look inside” for the Kindle edition here. Sara is well into writing the second book in the series, and I can’t wait to read what happens next.

For what it’s worth,

Ray

© 2014 Ray Rhamey

Add a Comment
24. Flogometer for Chris—would you turn the first page?

Oops, got busy and forgot to flog yesterday. Here 'tis . . .

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

Chris sends first chapter for An Inconvenient Death. The rest of the narrative follows the break. Help the writer with your comments.

The voice of the caller on Matt Lanier's answering machine was calm, professional, and disinterested, considering the magnitude of the statement.

This is the Owatonna Hospital. Your father's in our emergency room. Please call us at...

Matt heard nothing after that because simultaneous joy and panic bolted to the surface of his brain like a long ribbon of gasoline set ablaze with a spark. On one side of his mind, the possibility of being free forever of his old man shot waves of energy through his fatigued body. On the other side, the weight of dread, finality, loss, responsibility, change, fought those waves with invisible pressure like the gravity pull of a full moon restraining the tide.

He replayed the message to copy the phone number, then called the hospital. A nurse answered in a tone consistent with the phone message voice.

"This is Matt Lanier. I'm returning the call I received earlier this evening. My father, Ray Lanier is there." Matt turned and looked out his living room window, bracing for the psychological impact of what he was about to hear.

"Oh ... yes, Mr. Lanier, I'll get the ER doctor for you."

Seconds later a male voice came on. "Mr. Lanier, this is Dr. Singh." He spoke with a British accent. "I'm afraid your father has suffered a stroke. He's in bad shape."

Stroke. So that was it. Not dead. Not yet, anyway. A vision came to Matt of Ray Lanier (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Chris's first page?

The inner conflict Matt feels is what gives this opening energy and a chance, but, for me, the overwriting signaled less-than-crisp, storytelling narrative ahead. And I was right. There’s a long sequence of describing his drive through a snowstorm that doesn’t do anything but get him to the hospital—a simple transition would have done. There’s backstory that slows things, too. The final paragraph in the chapter did offer more conflict ahead . . .

Matt stared at his father and clenched his teeth as if that could contain the torrent of hate that was forcing its way to the surface. The torrent of hate that had brewed, simmered, boiled all those years. Why couldn't you have done us both a favor and died?

. . . but that was too late for me. Notes:

The voice of the caller on Matt Lanier's answering machine was calm, professional, and disinterested, considering the magnitude of the statement.

This is the Owatonna Hospital. Your father's in our emergency room. Please call us at...

Matt heard nothing after that because simultaneous joy and panic bolted to the surface of his brain (mind?) like a long ribbon of gasoline set ablaze with a spark. On one side of his mind, the possibility of being free forever of his old man shot waves of energy through his fatigued body. On the other side, the weight of dread, finality, loss, responsibility, change, fought those waves with invisible pressure like the gravity pull of a full moon restraining the tide. I felt that the similes distracted, and I’m not all that sure the first one works—the idea of a long ribbon of gas set ablaze with a spark is complicated, and it also suggests a single emotion while he describes two competing emotions. This does raise inner conflict, which is very good, but try to do it simply and with a sense of his emotions.

He replayed the message to copy the phone number, then called the hospital. A nurse answered in a tone consistent with the phone message voice. "This is Matt Lanier. I'm returning the call I received earlier this evening. My father, Ray Lanier is there." Matt turned and looked out his living room window, bracing for the psychological impact of what he was about to hear. For me, the details about replaying the message and the nurse’s tone amount to overwriting—detail that doesn’t contribute to moving the story forward. What’s important here is that he talk to a doctor, so cut to the chase--this took 65 words, the edited version 39. Also, would a character in such a situation really be thinking about "psychological impact?"

"Oh ... yes, Mr. Lanier, I'll get the ER doctor for you."

Seconds later a male voice came on. "Mr. Lanier, this is Dr. Singh." He spoke with a British accent. "I'm afraid your father has suffered a stroke. He's in bad shape."

Stroke. So that was it. Not dead. Not yet, anyway. A vision came to Matt of Ray Lanier (snip)

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 Chris

(continued)

sitting in a wheelchair, one side of his body numb and lifeless, eyes clouded and distant. A vision so powerful it blacked out his view from the window—the Mississippi River flowing through downtown Minneapolis.

Matt wiped a damp hand across his face, then ran its fingers through his hair. "How bad?"

"I'd prefer you to come here as soon as possible, so we can talk in depth."

"Oh ... yeah ...right ... I'll head out now."

Matt microwaved a cup of instant coffee, packed an overnight bag, and headed for his minivan in the condo garage. He eased onto southbound Interstate 35 as snow whirled around his car. It fell heavier than it had thirty minutes ago when he'd driven home. He recalled the weather forecast being for a serious March snowstorm—lots of heavy, wet snow, with blowing and drifting.

As he drove, Matt felt increasing sorrow for his father. Death might be preferable to life in a nursing home as an invalid. Matt's dark side preferred his father's death. But the dutiful son inside wanted Ray to live, if only to keep hope alive that reconciliation was possible. The knot in his stomach told him the emotional debate wasn't over, but much of his unease resulted from the tension of driving in the worsening blizzard.

Huge wet snowflakes splattered against his windshield and nearly overwhelmed the wipers, which ran at full-speed. Snow and slush obscured the lane lines. Small drifts driven by the fierce wind piled up sporadically on the road and tested his trusty Toyota Sienna's stability as he blasted through them. Matt crept along at thirty miles-per-hour, but eventually the road condition improved enough that he dared to speed up to fifty. Faint tire tracks and the reflector posts on the side of the road were the only clues he was on an interstate freeway and not in the middle of a cornfield.

Matt had already seen half-a-dozen cars in the ditch and two minor accidents since he left downtown Minneapolis thirty minutes ago. No sense becoming another statistic. If he had a fender bender or slid into a ditch, emergency help wouldn't be quick to respond, and he wasn't dressed warmly enough for more than a quick walk from his condo to his favorite neighborhood bistro. He didn't own a cell phone, so he'd have to rely on a Good Samaritan to make an emergency call for him. He supposed he should think about buying one ... someday.

His eyes ached from peering through the slop-covered windshield and fighting the hypnotic back-and-forth of the wipers. He held the steering wheel so tightly that the muscles in his hands threatened to cramp. A deep breath and shrug of his shoulders did little to relax him. Physical relaxation wouldn't come until he had safely arrived at the Owatonna Hospital.

Maybe he should have stayed home, gotten a good night's sleep, and made the trip the next morning. Surely, the hospital staff would understand. This was Minnesota. Travel in the winter months could be hazardous. But the dutiful son deep within his subconscious overruled practicality. His mother's words, spoken so many times so long ago, echoed in his head. Family takes care of family. End of discussion.

***

Matt found Dr. Singh chatting with a nurse at the emergency room check-in desk. Easy to do since they were the only two staff in sight at three in the morning.

"Dr. Singh?"

Singh turned. "Yes?"

"I'm Matt Lanier. How's my father doing?"

Singh scanned the clipboard he'd been holding under his arm. "Right-side paralysis. Not likely to regain use of his arm. Recovering his speaking ability is an unknown right now. He seems to be cognizant in other areas. He'll need intense therapy to restore his motor coordination."

Matt sighed and looked around. This was a new hospital and gave off a more competent impression than the old hospital downtown where Matt had been born. But young Dr. Singh gave off an impression of inexperience and foreign intrusion that offset Matt's comfort at the physical surroundings. "When can I expect him to recover enough to go home?"

The doctor looked at Matt with intense brown eyes that showed fatigue. "A reasonable prognosis is six months to regain speech and motor coordination. He might need a cane to aid in walking. I doubt his right arm will be of much use."

"Dad's a farmer. Will he be able to drive the machines, lift heavy loads, things like that?"

The doctor frowned and stared at his brown loafers, then took a deep breath before meeting Matt's gaze. "No."

The word hung heavy in the stuffy air. Planting time was imminent, possibly in a few weeks. A month at most. Could Matt handle the work? There didn’t seem to be another option right now. How much preparation had Dad done for the planting season? "Thanks for your candor. Can I see him?"

Singh nodded toward a hallway behind him. "First exam room on the left."

Matt walked into his father's room.

Even allowing for the five years since Matt had last seen him, Ray Lanier was barely recognizable. Matt inhaled sharply and felt pangs of anxiety and pity in his chest. Wisps of Ray's tousled white hair seemed to be glued to the pillow, and his normally ruddy complexion was now pasty gray. A breathing tube protruded from his mouth. Wires ran from his torso to a machine next to the bed. An intravenous line was taped to the top of his left hand.

Matt swallowed what little saliva he still had as he glanced at the medical technology that hummed and beeped in the background. "I'm here, Dad ... for the record." He subdued a brief impulse to touch Ray's hand.

Exhaustion reasserted itself in Matt's body like leaden armor. During the past eighteen hours, he had rehearsed for three hours with the Minnesota Orchestra, given two string bass lessons at the University of Minnesota, and played a four-hour gig with his trio at the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul until one a.m. He'd straggled home, eager to do nothing but sleep for the next twelve hours, only to hear the message from the hospital on his answering machine.

Matt stared at his father and clenched his teeth as if doing so would contain the torrent of hate that was forcing its way to the surface. The torrent of hate that had brewed, simmered, boiled all those years. Why couldn't you have done us both a favor and died?

 

Add a Comment
25. Flogometer for Michael—would you turn the first 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 first chapter for The Voodoo Princess of Big Pine Key. The rest of the narrative follows the break. Help the writer with your comments.

“Listen, all I heard from my cousin is that there’s a beautiful Haitian woman down in the Keys who murders young guys and uses their bodies to smuggle heroin into the country,” said Carlos. “The local Cubans call her the Voodoo Princess.”

“Yeah but, we’re not looking for any trouble, all we want is to pick up some of those cute Cuban chickas you told us about,” Stanley Williams said. “We’re not gonna mess with no Voodoo woman.”

“You guys aren’t even able to pick up trash, you’re too square,” interjected Guy from across the senior Pagoda. “Whadda you know about picking up girls?”

“Carlos is going to help us out with some Spanish stuff,” said Dennis, one of Stanley’s sidekicks. “He says they like clean cut guys like us, not a motley crew of greasers like you bums.”

“Shut yer pie-hole, Dennis, afore I send Joe over there to kick your ass.”

“Shut up, Guy,” growled Stanley. “None of your boys are gonna kick anybody’s ass.”

“Up yours, dweeb face. Our guys can beat your guys any day of the week.”

“Any time you want to try it, Guy. You know I can lick you or any one of your gang with one hand behind my back. You ain’t tough, you just talk a big game,” said Stanley.

Guy always had to butt in because he fancied himself the senior bully. He thought his (snip)

Were you compelled to turn Michael's first page?

The writing is solid and there’s conflict here and an interesting opening line about voodoo and murders, but I soon got lost in the flurry of names/characters—4 are introduced in the first few paragraphs. I could have used some scene-setting, too—the reference to the senior Pagoda doesn’t quite give me a picture. Perhaps this could be simplified by eliminating the Dennis character and giving his lines to someone else. The main thing is that there’s no real story question affecting the protagonist here—which is another thing: it’s not clear who the lead character is.

It turns out that it’s Stanley. I looked through the chapter for a different opening, but I found mostly set-up and backstory and no real “what’s going to happen next” question to pull me through. For me, the rest of the chapter was suspense-free. I think the real story starts later, maybe when they’re in the Keys if that’s where they go.

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)

opinion on anything and everything counted, and if it didn’t count he tried to make it count. There were bigger boys in the senior class, but none were meaner. Any provocation on the part of any student in the school might set him off. His rages ranged from serious verbal confrontation and biting name-calling up to and including physical violence.

For instance, in a math class he taunted Stanley by snatching his newly sharpened  pencil off his ear and snapping it in two. Stanley had a fetish about having sharp pencils, especially #3’s for math classes. Breaking his new pencil pissed Stanley off big time. Being the nonviolent type, and totally out of character, he leaned over and punched Guy smack in the left jaw. That set Guy off on one of his patented and feared French temper rages. Before he could get out of his desk and reach Stanley, the teacher had stepped between them and prevented any further violence.

“Take it up outside after school and off campus, Guy. You had it coming to you. You didn’t have to break his new pencil. Now, shut up and be quiet. I’m giving a test today, and you’re not going to interrupt class anymore. Understood?”

Guy sneered back, “Yes sir, Mr. Maloney.”

He didn’t say another word until the teacher moved back to the front of the classroom. Then he hissed out of the side of his mouth, “Williams, I’m going to kick your ass.”

It hadn’t always been this way between Stanley and Guy. They had actually grown up near each other. They went to the same elementary school and even played on the same little league team together.

Stanley knew what made Guy so antagonistic towards him, but he didn’t understand why. Both played on the high school football team together. Both played defense, Guy a defensive back and Stan the defensive middle guard. It seemed to Stan that their friendship fractured when Stan earned the job of calling defensive plays. Guy, the more aggressive player, always seemed to find the ball and the ball carrier, but he hardly ever remembered his defensive schemes. But, he wanted to be the boss.

Stan, on the other hand memorized every scheme of every player on defense. He knew where every player should be at any time. Better yet, he had an uncanny knack of predicting the opposition’s play calling. That made him a valuable leader on the field. Coach made him defensive play caller for that reason. He wasn’t a better player physically than Guy. He was just smarter. That rankled Guy and the fissure began to widen through the junior year and escalated into outright opposition in their senior year.

To make matters worse, the team elected Stan as co-captain in their senior year. That compounded Guy’s dislike of Stan to no end. Guy had more tackles, more sacks, and more interceptions than Stan did, but that didn’t count. Stan just out-smarted Guy, plain and simple.

After Stan’s election to co-captain, Guy began openly trying to sabotage Stan on and off the field. Stan towered over Guy. He out-weighed him by thirty pounds and could look down at him. Guy, fueled by his disappointment at not being elected co-captain and his lower standings in the classroom didn’t let that stop him. His need for revenge caused him to confront Stan at every opportunity.

Stan on the other hand, saw Guy’s machinations as a sign of his immaturity. Most of the time Stan let it pass without response. Occasionally, Guy did get under Stan’s skin, and things came to a head. It didn’t bother Stan that Guy bullied everybody in school. He knew that if Guy made him angry enough with his bullshit picking, he could take him in a fair fight. Almost everybody who had a confrontation with Guy soon found out that he didn’t fight fair. He always made sure he had some element of superiority or surprise on his side, that, and the fact that he made his nefarious reputation by picking on students who were both smaller and underclassmen.

So, it would come to a head just like this in the senior pagoda. Guy, trying to intimidate the underclassmen, and denigrating Stan at the same time, picked a fight again.

“Get that Cuban refugee sophomore out of here,” said Guy. “This pagoda is only for seniors only. Sophomores aren’t allowed in here.”

“Shut up, Guy,” retorted Stanley. “We invited him to meet here with us today. We need his expertise.”

“Oh yeah, what expertise? He can hardly speak good English, and you nerds can’t speak Spanish. What’s he going to do, teach you some Spicish?”

“Yeah, Guy,” chimed in Dennis, the second and shortest of Stanley’s friends, “we want to learn some Spanish. Do you mind?”

“Yeah, I mind,” sneered Guy.

“Well, don’t mind. The rules say that if a senior invites an underclassman to the senior pagoda, he has immunity for the day. We invited Carlos here for some business that’s none of your business.”

The senior pagoda, started by the school’s 1955 senior class, became a special gathering place. When first built, it was nothing more than some wooden slats, set on twelve posts covering a slab of cement in the middle of the campus. The idea was to provide some shade. In just two years, it evolved into quite an elaborate private garden. Seniors planted vines at the base of each of the twelve wooden columns that supported the slatted roof. Eventually they had grown up and over the slats until the pagoda became a cool oasis shaded from the hot Miami sun. The next senior class added some embellishments to improve the livability of the pagoda... It became a truly lovely tropical oasis, cool and inviting, but only for seniors.

The very fact that a sophomore entered the senior pagoda was enough for Guy to have an issue. But that he was a Cuban made him even more agitated. This high school was, up until this year, totally segregated, no colored, no Cubans, no Seminoles, just whites. Guy, although being a French-Canadian, didn’t count as a segregated class He fancied himself privileged above most all the students, especially the first and only Cuban enrolled in the school.

“Just make sure that this is the only time. We don’t want them Cubans thinking they can come in here any time they feel like.”

“Yeah, okay Guy, whatever,” weighed in Marvin, the third member of Stanley’s group, who had invited Carlos to the pagoda. “If you really want to know, we’re getting Carlos to translate us some phrases and words we can use when we go to Key West next weekend. We heard that some of the Cuban chicks living there are really hot, so we just wanted to get something to help us pick them up.”

“Jeeze, shut up, Marvin. You let the cat out of the bag. Damn,” complained Stanley.

“Oh shit, I don’t believe this. You three guys are going to Key West to find some broads to pick up,” smirked Guy. “You couldn’t pick up one of those bitchs if she died in the street. I can just see it now, a dweeb, a nerd and doofus, tooling around Key West trying to convince a hot Cuban chick to hop in the car with them. Ho, ho, ho, that’s rich. Marvin, a skinny dweeb, Dennis, a nerd so short he can’t even see over the back of a cockroach, and Stanley, a big doofus, hanging out the window of his dad’s car, yelling, ‘you want to take a ride with us, senorita’.”

That set off a roar of derisive laughter and hooting from the entourage that always gathered around Guy.

“Shut the f… up,” said Stanley. “You’ll see how good we are when Carlos teaches us Spanish. Come on Carlos, let’s sit over here and get to work.”

 Carlos, Stanley, Dennis and Marvin moved over to the opposite side of the pagoda and sat down around a cement table. Marvin whipped out the list of phrases the three had worked on over the last week and handed them to Carlos. The sheets contained at least thirty phrases and sentences that they thought they might use to get a Cuban girl to speak to them.

“Carlos, this is what we want you to translate into Spanish for us,” said Marvin.

Carlos took the list and read it slowly, so slowly that Marvin thought Carlos couldn’t read his writing.

Carlos finally couldn’t contain himself any longer. He burst out into hysterical laughter, and handed the list back to Marvin.

“Man, you guys are freaking dopes. You think if you say something like this to a Cuban girl, or any girl for that matter, is going to get them to hop in your car with you. Shit, I’m not as old as you guys are and even I know better than this. ‘Wanna make out, sweetheart?’ is not the way to start a conversation with anyone. You gotta be really smooth when you come on to a Latin girl.”

Carlos continued his counseling, “They mostly got boyfriends by the time they are 13 or 14, and they are pretty sophisticated by the time they get to be 16 and 17. They’ve heard all the crude lines used on them and they don’t like to be talked to like that. You have to show them you are cool, and hot, at the same time, muy caliente, very hot. You have to treat them like young women, as if they were twenty or twenty-one. Show them ‘cool’ man. Say, ‘Buenos tardes, Senorita. Como sta? Habla Inglis? Then let them answer you back. You’ll find out right away if she is impressed with you or not. If she starts laughing, you’re done, man. If she just stares down at the ground and doesn’t say anything, she might be interested. If she looks straight into your eyes and cuts a big smile, you got a chance. You just have to learn how to read those girls.”

“Well, that’s what we need to learn, what to say and how to say it,” responded Stanley.

“Yeah, we gotta know how to hook up with one of them chicks real quick. We’ll only be in Key West for two nights,” Dennis said.

“Look you guys, I got to tell you something else about the Cubans in Key West. They’re not the same as us here in Miami. They came over to Key West when Castro first started his revolution. They are mostly the rich friends and relatives of Dictator Bautista. They came over bringing their money with them, the money they stole from the people of Cuba. If the revolutionistas caught them, they would kill them right pronto, no questions asked. Bautista, and those associated with him are bad people. They are mean and have no concern for anyone’s life. That’s why Fidel started the revolution, to free Cuba from that dictator and his henchmen.”

Continuing his social history lesson Carlos expounded, “So, most of the Cubans in Key West right now are some way associated with the Bautista regime. When they hopped on their yachts to make the trip, they brought everybody with them. They brought the servant girls, the yardmen, the cooks, the butlers and anybody else they could cram on their boat. The servants brought their families, too, young and old. Even the family’s pets got a free ocean voyage.

“I’m telling you this to save your worthless asses,” he continued. “Those young chickas, as you call them, either daughters of the rich, or their servant girls, or the daughters of the servant girls, are all protected by the Cuban men. The men own them. They use them as they wish. They don’t want any outsider dipping into their wells, if you get my meaning.”

“What are we supposed to be afraid of Carlos?” queried Dennis. “We’ll just pick up some that don’t have any guys around. That way we’ll be safe.”

“Man, you don’t understand. The girls may be out alone, but they still belong to someone. That someone will eventually be out looking for his private property. I'll tell you one thing; you don’t want any of those Cubans to catch you with their private property. Those hombres can be mean, very bad. They learned violence in their homes and practiced it, as they got older. They developed some of their violent ways into sheer horror. I heard the guys carry machetes down their pant legs and aren’t afraid to use them.”

“So, what you’re saying Carlos, is that if we are lucky enough to pick up a girl, we may not be lucky enough to what? Live?” said Stanley.

“That’s about it guys. I know that in Cuba, these guys don’t just kill you quick, but they know how to make it slow and painful. You’ll be begging them to kill you before they are done with you. And guess what? The girl you just sweet-talked into a ride to the hamburger joint is going to be standing right there, getting off on the whole bloody scene. They love tough hombres and the tougher the hombre the more they love them. Someone told me that sometimes the girls pick up unwary gringos and lead them into a trap, just to see their boyfriend torture them. They’re all a bunch of mean ones, that’s for sure.”

“Oh, shit,” exclaimed Dennis, “I thought this was going to be a good time for us, you know, some fishing, swimming, some dancing and maybe a sweet young honey to kiss. If it’s going to be this bad, maybe we should call off the whole trip or at least the part when we go in to Key West. We’ll just stay on Big Pine Key where we’ll be safe.”

“Oh, don’t be a chicken-shit, Dennis,” chided Stanley, “Carlos is just trying to scare us. Remember, he hates Bautista and loves Castro. Nothing’s going to happen to us. But, we’ll be extra careful, just in case.”

“Well, if that ain’t gonna scare you enough, take a gander at this.” Carlos pulled a  newspaper out of his notebook and unfolded it. “Look at this picture. Right here on the front page of yesterday’s Herald.”

He laid the paper on the table. The headlines screamed in heavy black type, Six Cubans Murdered in Key West’. Under the picture of six bodies covered with sheets, the story continued,

Six Cuban men found murdered on a Key West street. All six men had their throats slashed. On each body, was a bundle of blood-covered feathers tied together and hung around their necks. Police speculate that a rival Haitian gang executed the Cubans. The feathers are apparently a warning from the Haitians that more killings may happen. The entire Cuban community is up in arms and demanding that the police bring the Haitians to swift justice. Authorities speculate further that this may have been a drug related killing.

“See what I mean,” continued Carlos. “There are some bad hombres down there. You’ve got to be careful. The Cubans are probably on edge now and even a little misstep, like them catching you with their girls, could provoke them into doing something rash.

“Oh yeah, and one more thing,” added Carlos. “I’m warning you to watch out for those Haitian girls. I know they practice voodoo in the Keys. You don’t want to come back with a curse on you.

“Let me tell you a story my cousin told me about this one Haitian girl. He told me she was one of the most beautiful girls in the world. She was some kind of a princess, born of a royal family or something. He said she would kidnap sailors from the naval base and use her Voodoo to turn them into Zombies. Then she would get them to do all kinds of things, like killing Cubans or smuggling heroin into the country. When she got through using them, she and her gang just dumped the bodies in the ocean. He made it sound like they were worse than the Cubans were when it comes to killing. So just be careful of who you pick up.”

“We’re not going to Key West to look for Haitians. We’ll steer clear of them for sure. We’ll wear our crosses and carry our rosaries just to be safe. That way they won’t be able to hex us,” said Dennis. “Right, guys?”

“That’s right. Our crosses will save us,” added Marvin.

“Yeah, maybe save you from the voodoo, but who’s gonna save you from hell if you get into the pants of one of the girls you pick up? You’ll be commitin’ a mortal sin,” said Carlos.

“We’ll just have to go to confession when we get back, that’s all,” Marvin said.

“I think we’ll just concentrate on the Cuban chicks and forget about anything else,” said Stan. “Now, can you write up some Spanish lingo that’ll help us with the girls when we get to Key West?”

“Yeah, sure, I’ll get something written up for you by Wednesday, OK?”

“Yep, that’s perfect. We’ll study it all the way down to Key West.”

 The bell rang to end the lunch break. Everyone hurried back to class except Guy. He waited just outside the pagoda partially hidden by a large areca palm. Stanley passed by, Guy jumped out and grabbed him by the back of his shirt and pulled him close to his face. He stuck his mouth right up to Stanley’s ear.

“Don’t think I forgot about that ass kicking I promised you Stanley. It’s coming. You won’t know when or where, but when it comes it’s gonna be bad, real bad. So you just keep thinking about it all the time, day and night, wherever you go,” growled Guy. Then he hooked his foot around Stanley’s leg and pushed him forward. Stanley fell like a ton of bricks, flat on his face, his glasses knocked askew and scratched by the gravel on the path. Guy jumped over him, already half-way back to the main building, when Stanley recovered enough to blurt out, “you effing bastard, I’m gonna get you someday.” Stanley heard Guy chuckling as he hurried away.

* * *

The rest of the school week progressed uneventfully. Carlos delivered as he promised on the Spanish pick-up lines; Stanley secured permission for the use of the family car. Marvin detailed a checklist for essential items needed for the trip to the Keys. Dennis kept saying they shouldn’t go all the way to Key West to look for girls, due to his perceived fear of their violent guardians. And best of all, Guy didn’t bother Stanley again.

He didn’t bother Stanley, but that didn’t mean he was completely unaware of the trio’s plans. Guy, being mister tough-guy, had quite a following of seniors, juniors and even sophomores who found it better to be on the good side of Guy rather on the bad side. This gave him a comprehensive network of spies throughout the school. Anything Guy wanted to know about anything going on in school he could find out just by asking. This week he wanted to know about the plans of three seniors who were going to the Keys.

Within hours, his spies had befriended all three of the seniors and got the complete itinerary for the trip. They reported all these details back to Guy.

Add a Comment

View Next 25 Posts