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  1. #1
    Jay Maddock

    I'll give you a shot, i have boxing gloves on

    Here's part of my chapter one, i want it to punch the reader in the gut. Some things seem menial, but it actually foreshadows a bit. Her life becomes more complicated later, and she wants a bit of the simpleness she used to have.

    Am i getting the character down ok, am i opening well? etc. I know it's a bit purple, i'm trying...

    The idea of running away from her beloved family, and the captivating town she loved almost as much, never entered Lindens’ mind the summer she made secret love to a man unforgivably forbidden to her. It would be a mistake to say it was the furthest thing from her mind, because it wasn’t anywhere near her mind until six years later, when she found she couldn’t take the ominous ripples from the stone of passion they threw that summer anymore. At the foot of the Rocky Mountains in Montana, as far north a runaway as she dared to be, with the dawn of winter tapping at her door and wrapped in nothing more than her travel trailer, she prepared to write the whole story with all its ugly truths and magnificent lies.

    Being the natural tomboy that she was, Linden favored jeans and t-shirts above all else and never paid any mind to fashion trends or to any superficial nothingness, but lately preferred the warmth of her sweatpants and flannel button-ups. She kept her thick, brassy blond hair in a braid which she slung out of the way over her shoulder to hang at her waist. The only defense she had for her long, girlish hair, besides how wonderful it felt across her back, was that she was too busy to cut it off. She had never been a big fan of cosmetics either. With comfort as her only rule for grooming, she could say when and where she was the few times she had worn any, and what kind of trouble it got her into. A raw beauty that hardly needed any, her dark eyelashes circled deep browns that watched life pass along under bold eyebrows, lips so full that when they swept a spoon, they never left any food behind. Being overactive made her body hard and tawny. She didn’t care about her white bottom against her dark legs, or her tight, white breasts against her dark belly, she never stared into a mirror wishing somebody loved her, or changed who she was just to suit someone else.

    Linden settled down in front of the old manual typewriter to begin writing, again. She wrapped the wool blanket around her legs and then stretched her fingers, but her eyes drifted from the ream of paper to the window behind the typewriter. The valleys stretched out to the horizon under a blanket of snow, evaporating into a thin grayness that covered the sky. The morning sun tried, but couldn’t manage to hide itself behind the gauzy clouds. She reached up a hand to close the curtains; her torn fingernail snagged for a second, then she tried to refocus without the glare. The week before Christmas arrived and she hadn’t even put one word on paper.

    The week before Christmas, she said to herself. A pang shot through her stomach, dissolving in her throat. Everyone she knew and loved would be having Christmas without her. She had fought the panic of isolation before; it had become a familiar, unwanted companion that began to well up inside once again. Linden took a deep breath and pushed herself away from the table. Not yet, she thought.

    Kneeling on the couch at the back, she looked out the picture window towards the foot of the mountains which stood beyond the creek that ran a dozen yards from her. Through the thin wall, she could still hear water rushing beneath teeth of ice. She felt like she was in two worlds-the dull silent plains out one window, and the magnificent mountains out the back.

    The window above her kitchen sink overlooked row after row of wood she had stacked in the fall with Brandy, the old rancher lady who allowed Linden to stay on her property. She stooped to open a drawer and looking out, her attention caught on a haze that begun to turn slate black mountains to white with a wash of grainy flakes. Dense western clouds had finally managed to inch over the crest, and now seeped towards her diminutive home.

    Linden pulled open the bottom drawer and took out a couple packages of hot chocolate, tore them open, then reached into a cabinet for her oversized green mug. Sliding a black kettle off the top of the woodstove which stood heavily across from the front door, she filled the mug then returned the kettle next to two other pots. She tipped her head to study them. The three enameled soldiers seemed to stand at attention with their broad shoulders and sharp prominent noses. They weren’t worried about the storm, they were hard and strong, not soft and tangible.

    “Very well, men. Keep up the good work and sound the alarm if the enemy approaches.” Linden chuckled at herself and patted them on their tiny lidded heads; a shallow dimple high on her cheek made one of its rare appearances.

    Linden noticed the room become darker as the storm stuffed itself around her: the enemy had approached. She stepped up the two stairs in between her toilet and shower, then side shuffled around her bed-careful to not spill her drink, where she plopped down to stir the chocolate. She watched the engorged mass overcome the open valley as she sipped from the spoon.

    The water from the kettle cooled too quickly in the cold mug. She made a mental note to leave it in front of the fire from now on as she downed the last mouthful. It seemed the kettles had to be on the stove for almost two days before they were satisfyingly hot. Keeping the fire fed and the pots replenished with snow was a non-negotiable constant in her life now. The shelf with all the bowls, plates, and glasses remained untouched since she came back from spending Thanksgiving week at the ranch. In fact, she recalled only reaching for the large mug during the three weeks in the trailer before going back for more supplies. She hated that she didn’t think of taking all those dishes back to the ranch before that moment. She realized she could have also gotten by with only one set of utensils, not a whole drawer full. The knife she had used up to that point was the one she carried around in her pocket, not any from the set in yet another wasted drawer. She should have used that space for more matches, or something. Well, there was no more going back to the store for supplies now. No more trips to town, no television, phones, or electricity. No more central heat, or…

    The thought of running out of matches jarred the panic back to life. She inhaled suddenly, swallowing wood smoke in the air. Linden had been through her stores of supplies many times, even separating them into days, weeks, and months. She had plenty of everything, and she knew it. She felt a new and different kind of urge to run; only this time instead of running away from the storm on the highway, she felt the urge to run out into it. This storm could kill her. It was getting harder, even at the cost of her own life, not to listen to the panic and dread which seemed to take every chance to jab at Lindens’ nerves. Lighting a candle on the counter, she forced her mind onto something else.

    She glanced at the day calendar by the typewriter after setting the mug in the sink. Did she remember to rip off today’s date? She didn’t want to lose her sense of time. No, she didn’t think she did so she tore off the page that said December 18, 1998, then tossed it into the fire. As she watched it burn she thought, maybe she did take off today’s date earlier that morning. She wasn’t really sure; the days blended into each other. Then, what did the date matter anyhow? There was no time out there, no calendars or schedules. The land didn’t care if she lived or died, the weather didn’t consider her at all, for anything. She was nothing more than a barnacle on the ship of Who Cares.

    She found herself staring into a pile of split Douglas fir in the living room. A stack lay on either side of the stove with a single layer of wet logs drying in front. In between the trailer door and against the wall of the coat closet stood a fourth, larger pile to pick from during the day. This stack of wood she built as high as she could, once in the morning and again in the evening.

    Linden was so concerned about keeping the trailer clean of woodchips and sawdust when she started her first fire in autumn, now the linoleum around the hearth and the front door was padded with shavings. It was a fire hazard to be sure, but Linden became so lax about those kinds of things, she found it wasn’t as easy to die as society would like everyone to believe. After all, weren’t most people born with a gag reflex, a sense of balance, a need to survive? It wasn’t like she was going anywhere. If a stray spark ignited, she would be right there to do something about it. Excuses or not, it sorely needed to be cleaned up.

    Linden pulled a broom from the closet, swept up most of the debris into a dustpan, and then dumped it into the fire. Brushing splinters off the bottom of her stockings, she checked the wood on the hearth to see if it had dried. When putting the broom and pan back she noticed the puddle of melted snow from the largest pile had froze at the bottom of the door. This frozen tendril that had penetrated her only shelter startled her. She turned over a hairy log to see if it was ready to put in front of the fire-Ugh! She was always checking on wood and fire, and then fire and wood. It became such an annoying habit; necessary, but irritating, and she was already tired of it before the worst of winter had yet to come. How much she depended on a land that didn’t take any notice of her.

    The only other thing that moved on its own, besides Linden, was the hot orange flames that flickered and crackled behind the glass. She thought just then that maybe it would have been wise to bring a rodent or some other kind of pet to talk to; another idea that arrived a little late. Linden had been anxious to escape from everyone, now she wished she could be with somebody, anybody. It was beginning to feel too hot, she pulled at her collar. However it wasn’t coming from the fire, the burning came from within.

    Linden stooped to pick up a smooth fist sized stone used to hold the door open when she brought wood in. She snatched a black marker from the pen cup by the typewriter and drew the face of a mouse, some ears, and an S shaped tail along the hind end. She rolled it around in her hand then set it back on the floor against the wall.

    “I dub thee, Lord Mousekavitch, ruler over all the lands buried under ice and snow.” She waived an invisible sword over the mouse, and then admitted that she was really stretching for more reasons to stall. She wouldn’t have time to write about everything she wanted to before spring, and there was a great deal to tell.

    “All right,” she mumbled. “No more screwing around.” She drew time out, hesitating the inevitable like a tapeworm from the gut of irresolution; she couldn’t get focused. The wooden chair by the table seemed too small, the kitchen cabinets leaned in over her head, the room tightened. The door was a step away and beyond; a valley, a home, then people, and friends.

    The mountains cut deep into the swollen storm, tearing its guts open like a pillow. Featherlike flakes spilled everywhere, her world was shrinking. The sea of white beyond was too vast, too much. Linden clutched for the mountains like crags on a cliff, she didn’t want them to disappear. Her trailer wasn’t enough, her head spun, blood rushed behind her ears; she was going to retch. Lindens’ breath caught in her throat, her lungs wouldn’t expand-she needed air, she had to get out.

    She ran to the door and threw it open, shaking the trailer. Her heart pounded as she shoved her foot into the first swaddled step; but her tight grip caught the threshold. The world was just too large, just too powerful, and she didn’t think she could handle it. Regret overshadowed her confidence, helplessness overwhelmed; she threw her other hand to the doorway and held on even tighter.

    “HEEELLLP mmmMEEEEeeee.” Dormant tears exploded, she wouldn’t let herself go. She threw a lifeline to her trembling mind, “You won’t make it, you will die-you will die. It’s just stupid to walk out there, you’re not stupid, don’t be stupid.” Cold wind wrapped around her boiling neck, snuffing out the panic. Her lungs sprang open; she was too close this time. Brandy wasn’t kidding when she warned about the power isolation and panic can have over a person. Linden shut the door with one hand, the other clutched the buttons at her chest while she tried to catch her breath. Mouth agape, she caught sight of the typewriter.

    This was where she would hear other voices, where she would feel, smell, taste, and could live beyond her shriveled life. She could exist. It had been too long since she felt her own presence in the world. Only the old rancher and her ranch hands knew where to find Linden-if she didn’t come back in the spring. Flashes of painful memories stabbed behind her eyes; she needed to dig them out. So what if I didn’t make it, she thought. Then, I would be done with all of this, done with the mess of living. Where before she only believed she was, now she felt the solidity of real loneliness.

    Lindens’ life had been full of loving people and happy family traditions. She used to be thrilled by the business of living; she had laughed easily and felt alive and healthy, and she had loved deeply and intensely. All she felt she was now was hardened. Just a bitter, hardened woman, that hated, just hated everywhere, anywhere, and anything. Resentment accompanied the hate and even the resentment itself.

  2. #2
    Jeanne Gassman

    Re: I'll give you a shot, i have boxing gloves on


    This is going to sound harsh, but this opening is very static. There is nothing happening here to engage the reader. I feel as though I'm watching a woman think about writing her story, and in the process, the author is busy filling in the back story. The closest you get to a dramatic moment is the place where Linden runs to the door, screaming that she will probably die. But this still lacks the immediate tension you need here.

    What is Linden's conflict? What would cause her trouble in this isolated cabin? Don't start with her thinking or observing. If her conflict is the struggle to live in this remote place, then make the place alive.

    Think of your setting as another character, a character that creates stress, conflict, and trouble for Linden. Have you read Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove? The setting wreaks havoc on his characters' lives. People are attacked by water moccasins. They drown in rivers. Lightning strikes and kills cattle and men. Dust storms send them off course. They struggle to build a good shelter before the first snows of winter.

    Is Linden careless with fire and wood chips? Then start a fire. Has she neglected to cut enough firewood? Then give her a blizzard. Give the reader something to root for in the opening pages. We can learn more about her past as the story progresses.

    Hope that's helpful.


    You've got a great setting here. Use it to create the tension you need in the opening chapter.

  3. #3
    Jay Maddock

    second half of chap. 1... if you please

    Questions bounced in her mind. Even with the flood of consequences pushing her to separate from everything she cared about; knowing now-would she have still fallen in love with him? If she was given the chance to wish away the whole affair, would she? Hiding behind an act of normalcy, they fell recklessly in love. Not only was he much older and her brothers best friend, he was also humiliatingly something else to her. He had been twenty three and she almost seventeen the summer they made love like there weren’t any rules, or numbers, or anyone to shake a finger at them. Shouldn’t he have been the one to deny his most primitive urges? He had felt he was stealing her away, that he had broken open this young girl and made her a woman. And she had wanted it, welcomed it.

    It was more than passion that bound them, they grew up together. From the foundation of memory rose lust and devotion. Lindens’ soul filled remembering his voice, constricted under the weight of emotion, he spoke of wanting nothing else in life but her and of abandoning his fear of shaming their families by loving her openly, and in marriage. He said he would rather give up all his dreams then spend the rest of his life without her, and could conceive of no other way for happiness. Sure, the hands that patted them on their backs when they were young would turn to hide their faces. And so what, she thought. Except the blame would have been cast entirely upon him. Worse yet, the feelings of love they shared would have been belittled to some carnal preoccupation, and she couldn’t-wouldn’t let that happen. After all she gave up for him, she lost him anyway.

    Did he really love me then, she thought. If he really loved me, he would have waited. She would have, or she wouldn’t have taken another breath. Doubt wrapped its tentacles around the faith she had in his love, was she so sure? In his eyes-his eyes-she could see how much he needed her, how painful it was to be around her, and to see her leave for the open road that knew nothing of them. His fight to bury his feelings made her love him even more. Carefully veiled, only she knew how he struggled to cram his foot into the glove of a regular life without her. He made his choice, and there was nothing that could be undone.

    Still, she was the only one who knew about the baby. Giving him to a better family shattered her spirit. She knew what it was to be a mother then, to feel so much for somebody else that she could throw what she wanted aside, to give him a better life than she could offer. She would have eaten glass for him, indeed she felt she had. There was no mending the wound or filling the hole in her heart. It just scabbed over with time. A body had nothing to do but get used to it, and get on with it. She told no one. Nobody held her; nobody was there to keep her together. Only her love for her baby and for his father sustained her and pushed her on. She never believed she could survive anything more agonizing, but later she found she would, surviving was what she was still trying to do.

    Hiding the pregnancy from her family for months vexed her even at that moment to think about it. It made her legs itch, she never thought it would come to an end, and then all the bleeding-what a mess. She began each day with the challenge to maintain a normal behavior which was hard to know what that was, when there was never any reason to think about it. When she could close her bedroom door at night and climb under the blankets, burying herself, she felt she had crossed some kind of finish line. The same goal would begin again the next morning, and the finish line always at bedtime. The tenacity it took to keep their secrets locked in her heart for seven years was killing her spirit.

    He never knew about the baby. She knew he would have swooped her up and taken care of them no matter what anyone said or did, destroying his dreams for the future. He would bear the fist of unrighteous judgment, just as she took the loss of the baby for him. Otherwise, would he have still loved her years later? He may have grown to resent her, maybe even hate her. Linden freed him of that decision, and freed the baby of living with a young mom who knew nothing of providing. She freed him of a father who maybe would only look at his son as a mistake, even though she knew the fathers’ heart was too tender for such resentment. She was a firm believer in the ‘What they don’t know won’t hurt them,’ philosophy, and supposed at the time that she could take the full weight of sorrow for all of them, that she could carry it and not break. Yet there she was; broken, lost, and angry.

    Deep below her heart, the abandoned cocoon of sorrow and emptiness that it was, a quieter voice whispered; “Yes, but this is the beginning. No more ends, the ends are over with, this is the beginning.” Linden had to hold her breath to hear that small voice, the same that encouraged her to take the initiative to ask Brandy for the use of her land. The same voice that told her to buy more food and supplies, that said she wanted to live and that it was worth it and there was a reason. The same voice that tugged her through her worst times and told her it was right for the baby to be given away, it was right to not let the father or anyone else know. The unhappiness she bore was worth the experience of both of them. The baby’s stable and fulfilling life was possible because of her choice to give him to someone better than she, someone who would never do the things she had done. Shame pulled the pin from her neck, dropping her head between her shoulders.

    Being there in 1998, to face a Montana winter alone at twenty three years of age, was the right thing for her to do at that time. It was the first step she took in the direction towards the rest of her life. It was the last step off the path she had to leave behind, a path she had to let go of, even if she didn’t want to-she must. Linden had only to open her mind into the past that waited, always still and forever.

    “Until the spring thaw.” She told herself. There was an end to this. She was sick of ends, she wanted beginnings. She had to sit, to think, to find where she misplaced herself. This was the start of the paper trail. Proof of her existence, and of her deepest, darkest secrets.

    Linden pulled the chair back, and rolled in the first piece of paper. She in her little orange pocket of warmth, floating in an ocean of colorlessness, would go back and tell all. What she held onto those seven years had festered her into nothing but a painful boil of a woman. She hated who she had become, hated the bitterness and resentment, she hated the hating. She reached out to tap down the first of many memories.

  4. #4
    Keith .

    Re: second half of chap. 1... if you please


    Thank you so much for spending your time and energy reading my sample. Thanks for sharing your advice (Spot on, BTW) and experience. I know you had better things to do and didn't want you to think me an ungrateful prick without the common courtesy to say thanks who would ignore you and post more drivel hoping for someone else to come on and give me the praise I long to hear.

  5. #5
    Rogue Mutt

    Re: second half of chap. 1... if you please

    I'd write a critique but I don't want to get punched.

  6. #6

    Re: second half of chap. 1... if you please

    i want it to punch the reader in the gut.

    Didn't happen, but it did make my eyes hurt, so many words packed together, going nowhere. Do what Jeanne said.


  7. #7
    Jay Maddock

    Other Writers

    Thanks for the advice, but i must say, I'm not sure i find the use of posting here. I am working on an epic saga, you can't fit the whole story in one chapter, i believe you build it up. Doesn't the climax usually come towards the end, with all these little heart beat climaxes throughout the story?

    I think it's hard for other writers to separate themselves from their writing craft and look at someone elses in that other voice. I don't mind any and all feed back, i'm just noticing, among the bulk of writers here, that there is a lot of reading too much into things, for example, Keith assuming i didn't plan to say sorry, to put a dead line and a negative comment about my deciding to post the other half of my chapter. Maybe it wasn't about anyone else, maybe i just thought i could do that, and to think i didn't plan to say thanks. Maybe we all should be given the right to post what we want here without the cut downs. There's a difference between critiquing and simply cutting down.

    I wonder why so many writers here expect the first line, the first chapter, and all that to be blood and guts, or something violent, or whatever. Maybe this story isn't going that way, i used to work in an art annex and it amazed me that the person judging the art would always pick something in a style they did, and not critique objectivly, on ability, portayal, etc.

    Again, i'm not being hateful here, just productive. there seems to be a lot of that going on, not just my post, but many of them.

    Thanks Jeanne for being objective, informative, and giving a fellow writer a critique, without the throat cutting, and without being negative (in an unproductive way), and for not reading too much into my character (as in me)but for reading into my novels character, etc. We need more people like you doing the comments.

  8. #8
    Rogue Mutt

    Re: Other Writers

    You have to try luring the reader in and then you can launch into all the backstory and setting things up. If you want to talk about epic sagas, think of the opening to "Star Wars": there's the space battle and Darth Vader boarding the princess's ship and then it gets into all the stuff about Luke and Ben Kenobi and whatnot. If they'd just started with Luke sitting around Tatooine it probably wouldn't have been very exciting.

  9. #9

    Re: Other Writers

    I wonder why so many writers here expect the first line, the first chapter, and all that to be blood and guts, or something violent, or whatever.

    Conflict manifests itself in many ways other than physical violence and blood and guts. It can be as simple as two people wanting different things--a husband who wants to stay home , a wife who wants to go out. It can be as complex as those same two people stifling their true feelings for the benefit of the other. But I think you know this.

    Stories are driven by conflict. What I saw in your excerpt was anguish, torment, and guilt, stated and restated and stated again--but no conflict in the here and now to make me pick a side and become engaged.

  10. #10
    Tricia Willis

    Re: Other Writers

    "they were hard and strong, not soft and tangible"
    Honestly, I really enjoy your description. You have a nice way of creating an image in the mind's eye, even if I'm not really sure where you are going with this story. I'm not going to give any more advice because I'm such a newbie myself, but regarding the line quoted above:
    Tangible: perceptible by the senses especially the sense of touch;
    Perhaps use malleable, supple, flexible...I think those are closer to the word you were looking for.

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