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  1. #1
    Ray Veen
    Guest

    Thorough critique greatly desired

    Here's the thing: this excerpt is pretty long - 2500 words. I know that's a way longer piece than people are usually willing to critique, so, I'm not asking for you to read the whole thing. If you only look at the first 500 words or so, that's completely fine. I've basically included the whole first chapter for those of you who're hard core critters and like to see the whole scene.

    Anyhow. I posted some of this a month ago (it was about my fourth or fifth draft), but since then, I've completely re-written the hook, edited my booty off, and now I feel like I'm getting close to being ready. Please tell me if you agree. I'm looking for any and all critique, but I'm most interested in your thoughts on the narrative voice. I do have a few minor reservations, but I don't want to bring them up now, for fear of coloring anyone's initial perception.

    I sincerely love you people, and I hope you enjoy this.

    It's a young-adult (specifically older teen) urban fantasy.


    ------------------------------------------------------


    FIERSOM'S BROOD



    So there were ten of us flying down the interstate in a Dodge Caravan. Six teenagers, one baby, and three spirits.

    Two of the spirits were in backpacks because we didn’t have any better way to carry them. Dr. Singh’s spirit was bonded to a colony of timber ants; we couldn’t have them crawling all over the floor, so even though he was our friend, we had to zip him into the backpack. The demon was different. He was our prisoner and we didn’t want him getting away, so we took the little chunk of broken concrete he was swimming around in and shoved it into another backpack.

    Anyway, the baby was being held by my sister Miriam. She probably should have been in a car-seat, but she’d just materialized earlier in the day and we weren’t expecting her so we weren’t really prepared. No diapers or baby food either.

    And the third spirit? I should have mentioned him first considering it was our father and all. My brother Simon was holding him. Actually, he was holding the colorful little baby block that had collapsed around him when Father tried to…

    You know what? Nevermind.

    I picked a terrible place to begin.

    I’m really sorry, but I’m gonna have to back up. This story really starts a couple weeks back; it was my fourteenth-and-a-half birthday. Now, I haven't really kept track of my half birthdays since I was eight, but I still know the date, and as it turns out, it was kind of important.

    It was the exact day I found out I had mental powers. Oh, and then a couple minutes later, I also found out I wasn't an orphan.

    So yeah, it was a wild day.




    Me and my foster parents were in the living room waiting for a guy named ‘Drew Chandler’ to come pick me up. All I knew was that he was taking me to my next home, and my job was to ‘sit still’, ‘smile’, and ‘keep my smart mouth shut.’

    Herm kept pacing across the living room, running his fingers through his thinning hair, and glancing out between the blinds pretty much every four seconds. Then he’d check the world’s plainest clock and sigh (if you’re picturing a circle with numbers on it, then your mental image is way fancier than the actual clock). I was the one that should’ve been stressed, but I wasn’t. Not at first anyway. I’d been through this a million times, so I was treating it like any other home transfer: staying cool, keeping my mind open on all channels, ready for anything. Cuz that’s how I roll.

    So Herm was all kinds of nervous, and actually, it was kind of funny. I almost laughed a couple times, but I really didn’t want to do that – not with my foster mother Lavida on the love seat facing me. Her big brown eyes were kind of glazed over, staring down at her lap; I guess looking at her empty palms. I knew she was feeling bad, and then I started to feel bad, but I figured I wasn’t gonna change anything by being upset. So I put one of my feet up on a suitcase and sank back a little into the couch, sort of forcing myself to relax. The couch, by the way, was beige, like everything else in the room. All I can say is that Herm and Lavida are ‘beige’ people. They also like tan, light brown, and sand color.

    Herm saw my foot, stomped over, and shoved it off the suitcase.

    “You know the rules, Noah – feet belong on the floor.”

    All I said was, “Sure Herm – you’re the man.” Even though these were my suitcases. And they were about to be carried out the door forever.

    “What do you mean by that? Was that supposed to be sarcastic?”

    “Noooo… I’m just agreeing with you. Your house, your rules, right?”

    “Are you mocking me? I can never tell if you’re mocking me.” He looked at Lavida. “Is he mocking me?”

    “Calm down, Herman, he’s not mocking you. You are just nervous and it is making you sensitive.”

    Herm pointed his finger at me. “Don’t you try to pull anything while Mr. Chandler is here, you understand? None of your jokes that nobody understands and nobody thinks is funny, hokay? You just be quiet and smile, hokay?”

    “Whatever you say, Herm.”

    “And don’t be sarcastic.”

    I held my hands out to my sides in a helpless gesture. “I’m not… why are you so nervous? Afraid you’re not gonna get rid of me?”

    “Of course not.”

    “Of course not, Noah.” Lavida agreed. “It is just a big day for you. And Herman wants to make sure it goes smooth. We both do. We want to see you make a good impression and start your new life right.”

    “And we want Mr. Chandler to think that we were able to teach you some manners while you were here.” Herm added.

    I rolled my eyes. “Okay, geez. I get it. I’ll be on my best behavior.”

    Herm’s eyes got squinty, his jaw rolled back and forth, he was obviously working up some kind of comeback, but then the doorbell rang.

    He instantly forgot our little conversation, and rushed to open the front door (which was beige). Then this tall guy breezed in looking like a young TV lawyer or stockbroker or something. Healthy tan, sandy hair, bright teeth, and a build that was way too athletic to be a full-time paper-pusher. The introductions were all business and took about three seconds flat. When he met me, I could see his eyes dart over my shaggy hair and earrings, but his expression stayed perfectly professional.

    “I apologize if any of this seems abrupt,” he said to Herm, “but Noah and I do have a plane to catch. I wonder if there’s somewhere you and I might have a word in private?”

    I knew he was talking to Herm, but it was unexpected. And I didn’t like it.

    So I interrupted my foster-father. “Uh… so should I come too, or…”

    “Sorry Noah.” Chandler gave me a tight smile. “Your foster father and I have a few things discuss, it’ll only take a moment… Mr. Morales?”

    “Hokay.”

    Now…. In all of the transfers between all of the foster homes I’d been in, no one has ever left to talk about me in secret. On the surface, I guess, it shouldn’t have made me so uptight, but I had this sense that something funny was going on. I can’t explain it. Maybe I was more nervous than I wanted to admit, but it was suddenly like I needed to hear what they were going to talk about.

    Mr. Morales turned to head down the hallway towards the dining room, Mr. Chandler turned to follow him, and I was burning with white-hot curiosity.

    And honestly, that’s all I did.

    I didn’t have to chant, or snap my fingers, or throw down a mixture of sulfur and eye of newt. The power was just there.

    I wanted to go with Herm – and so I did.

    My physical senses, anyway.

    There was nothing to warn me that it was going to happen. It was like somebody suddenly flicked on a movie projector, and aimed the image directly over top of a television that was already playing. Two complete sets of video, overlapping, filling my entire field of vision all the way to the edges. Light, color, motion, even sound. And mixed in somewhere was the smell of the morning’s coffee starting to get old and burned (I shouldn’t have been able to smell it from the living room). The unexpected sensations started to wash over me, overwhelm me, and yeah, it surprised the crap out of me. I made a sound – a gasp I guess – and reached out and clutched the couch arm. In one image, Lavida’s face melted, like she thought I was starting to get emotional about leaving, but in the overlapping image, the walls of the hallway were sliding past me on either side.

    We turned right into the dining room and Herm swung his head around to look at Chandler. The motion made me sick. The real me was sitting perfectly still on a couch, staring at Lavida, and suddenly I was seeing the whole dining room spin around me. My stomach and my eyes had a serious disagreement.

    And I said, “Whuuu….”

    That’s slang for ‘whoa, don’t move around cuz it makes me want to throw up’.

    Lavida must’ve thought I was on the verge of tears, because she swung her bulk over to sit beside me. Next thing I knew, she’d pulled my head down into her chest and was patting my back and head. Lavida’s a large woman, did I mention? She was saying stuff like, “there-there – it’s gonna be okay”, but Herm and Chandler were chatting too, and it was all jumbling together.

    It helped that most of my regular vision was now filled with Lavida’s enormous frontal chest area. I tried to focus on the image in the dining room while Herm kind of looked around – he was in control of where our gaze went, not me. His eyes darted from an empty coffee cup, to an unfolded newspaper, to a scattering of toast crumbs. It’s not like I could read his mind or anything, but I knew he was wishing that they’d done a little more cleaning after breakfast. Cuz that’s the way Herm was.

    “So… Mr. Chandler. Are you hungry?”

    “No. Thank-you.”

    “No? Would you like something to drink? We have juice and coffee…”

    “No. Really Mr. Morales, Noah and I have to get moving. I just thought it’d be better to take care of this quietly.”

    From inside Herm’s head, I hear him gulp. “Hokay.”

    They started talking about a maintenance contract or something, and I realized that I could hear their voices from the living room, too, only it was muffled. For a second I’d started to think I was imagining the whole thing, because of stress or whatever, but I couldn’t be. The clear voices in the dining room perfectly matched the rhythm of the muffles in the living room. It was freaking real. I had to rub my hand across the fuzzy surface of a couch cushion to be sure that I was awake. I could feel Lavida’s big warm body breathing. She was rubbing my hair and whispering sad encouragement in Spanish.

    In the dining room, my eyes watched Chandler’s hands raise a briefcase to the table, then snap open the gold clasps. He pulled out two small forms, paper-clipped together, and passed them to Herm. Or me. Or whatever. Our eyes zeroed in on the front piece, which was smaller, a green rectangle – a check.

    His gaze shifted to the amount box: one-hundred thousand dollars.

    My butt nearly lost its grip on the couch.

    What the heck? Was this guy ‘purchasing’ me or something?

    “That is the amount we agreed on?” Chandler asked.

    From inside his head, I heard Herm gulp. Again.

    “Yes sir, it is.”

    “Excellent. Then I just need two signatures and we’ll be on our way.”

    “Ho-kay.”

    I suddenly felt some less-than-pleasant emotions towards Mr. Morales. What was the stinking deal here? Did all my foster parents get a fat check for putting up with me? Like I was so terrible that they needed a toilet full of cash to ease the pain? My smoldering blood kind of burned off some of the surprise and I thought, Good for them. I hope they use the money to patch up their saggy little ranch house.

    I knew the Morales’ needed money, like all of my foster-parents. What couple needs an extra teenager tearing through their cupboards and jacking up their bills? I figured Herm and Lavida took me in for the paycheck, not to fill some empty place in their hearts, and that was totally cool with me. Because I didn’t need them either. Don’t get me wrong; I still thought the Morales’ were okay people. In fact, the fourteen months I spent with them was practically a record, but they were no different from any of the other ‘families’ I’d supposedly been a part of. All smiles and welcomes the first day, then rules and lectures until the day I left.

    And after a lifetime of foster homes, the one thing Noah Fiersom has learned to do well is buck up and move on.

    Mr. Morales signed the form with a happy little flourish, the man snapped his suitcase shut, and they started to leave the dining room. Before they got to the end of the hall, Herm leaned close to Chandler and whispered, “Is it true you are taking the boy to his real family?”

    Chandler flashed him an irritated expression. “Please, Mr. Morales, he’ll hear you.”

    That’s when the weird ‘window-in-Herm’s-head’ closed. My breath went out of me like I’d been punched in the gut and I sagged back into the beige cushions. When Lavida saw me collapse or whatever, her eyes filled with tears.

    “Oh, Noah, it’s gonna be okay.” She wrapped her arms around my head and pulled me back into her chest (she’s a big woman – did I mention?). “We’re going to miss you so much…”

    I guess she thought I did the whole sag and grunt thing because I was sad, which I wasn’t.

    Was I?

    No. I’d really done it because when my vision left Herm, I felt like I’d just seen a car explode, or somebody tumbling from a skyscraper. I guess you could call it ‘shock’. Still, it felt good being hugged by Lavida. Did she know about the check? If Herm was keeping it a secret from her, I swear to God…

    “I really hate to cut this short,” Mr. Chandler said, “but Noah and I have to be at the airport in twenty-five minutes.”

    More tears. More hugs. Handshakes. Promises to write. And then I was rushed out the door with my last two suitcases. Next thing I knew, we were rolling down the street in Chandler’s rental and I was staring out the window, watching the familiar lawns and houses slide past.

    It happened that fast. My head was spinning, my heart was skipping, my life was changing, and I had a lot to think about. And believe it or not, the mind-jumping episode wasn’t the biggest thing I had to deal with.

    For starters: the Morales’ were one of the better families I’d been placed with. They were exactly my tenth set of foster-parents, so I was pretty used to goodbyes, but there was something different this time. There was the check for one thing.

    And then there was the fact that I’d never be placed in another foster family.

    Because I was going to meet my real family.

    Yeah.


    I had heard that part.



  2. #2
    jayce
    Guest

    Re: Thorough critique greatly desired

    This is good. The opening hooked me, the voice works. I read down to "it was a wild day"--I want to read more but work calls me, so I'll come back and finish later.

    Good job. Really.

  3. #3
    Dave O
    Guest

    Re: Thorough critique greatly desired

    At first when I read the very beginning I was kind of like "eh."

    Not that its not (double negatives FTW) well written, just the way the scene was set up didn't really click with me. In the first few words of the book, we have some doctor bonded to ants and his father bonded to a baby block, a bunch of other people I don't know...

    It seems like Noah shared my sentiments, because he started the story over, and that's for me, when it got interesting. You set the scene well, your characters are all fleshed out nicely, and you're hinting at "something bigger going on thar."

    I would want to read more.

  4. #4
    Rogue Mutt
    Guest

    Re: Thorough critique greatly desired

    That first section seemed a little too transparent, like you were trying to hook me by throwing all this weird stuff about ghosts and demons and suddenly appearing babies at me. And then the real story begins. It isn't exactly the same, but I couldn't help thinking about "Harry Potter" in that your character is living unhappily with people who aren't his parents and then is taken away when he develops magic powers. That sort of thing isn't unique to Potter either, but most of your audience would probably have read that.

  5. #5
    Ray Veen
    Guest

    Re: Thorough critique greatly desired

    Thank-you very, very much jayce and Dave.

    Mutt - That first section seemed a little too transparent, like you were trying to hook me by throwing all this weird stuff about ghosts and demons and suddenly appearing babies at me

    As a matter of fact, this is exactly what I'm doing, and I am worried that it's too transparent, too gimicky. A couple versions started right out with the scene, though, and it was just too dang boring. Not sure how to find a happy medium.

    And I'm not happy with the similarities to Harry Potter, but this remains the best place to start my book. Luckily Rawling doesn't have a copyright on the whole 'kid-moves-on-to-fantastic-new-life' scenario. Incidentally, my 'muggles' don't play a recurring part in my story, but the fact that the teenagers were sent away to be raised by other people -- that becomes very important.

  6. #6
    Denise Keller
    Guest

    Re: Thorough critique greatly desired

    Ray,

    I liked it. If its a sign, I laughed out loud a couple times.

    I'd have to expend more mental energy to come up with something better, but here's what I thought so far.

    I agree with Rogue Mutt about the beginning, but that doesn't mean I don't think it couldn't work. About the Harry Potter connection, well, it depends on what you do with the rest.

    Some small specific stuff, totally just my knee-jerk response as I was reading:
    Mr. Morales threw me because the kid hadn't referred to him that way. Broke the momentum for me.

    Don't tell me you shouldn't be able to smell the coffee. I mostly got that on my own. Just say "three rooms away" or something, and that would be good enough.

    Lividia being huge contrasted with my mental image of her for some reason. Maybe not for others, but if you throw in clue that she's enormous when you introduce her, it wouldn't be so jarring, just in case. And maybe instead of telling me about her frontal chest area, mention she has a neon hibiscus print on or something. Does that make sense?

    Wow, keep up the good work.

    Denise

  7. #7
    Derek Wayne
    Guest

    Re: Thorough critique greatly desired

    So there were ten of us flying down the interstate in a Dodge Caravan. Six teenagers, one baby, and three spirits.
    (I like this, but if it were me, I would change "spirits" to ghosts. Spirits has too many meanings and it threw me. Spirits can be anything from an alcoholic beverage to a state of consciousness to a deity. I think it's too early for anything that could be unclear. Also since the second sentence is a list continuing from the first sentence, shouldn't it be separated by a semi-colon?)


    Two of the spirits were in backpacks because we didn’t have any better way to carry them.

    Dr. Singh’s spirit was bonded to a colony of timber ants; we couldn’t have them crawling all over the floor, so even though he was our friend, we had to zip him into the backpack. (maybe a word other than "bonded" would better indicate that his spirit is broken down into these ants.)

    The demon was different.(refering to the demon made me think this was an eleventh entity in the van--maybe the demon's spirit?) He was our prisoner and we didn’t want him getting away, so we took the little chunk of broken concrete he was swimming around in(swimming "IN" broken concrete? I think this needs clarification) and shoved it into another backpack.

    Anyway, the baby was being held by my sister Miriam. She probably should have been in a car-seat, but she’d just materialized earlier in the day and we weren’t expecting her so we weren’t really prepared (I don't like "weren't" in the same sentence twice--maybe say unprepared). No diapers or baby food either.

    And the third spirit? I should have mentioned him first considering it was our father and all. My brother Simon was holding him. Actually, he was holding the colorful little baby block that had collapsed around him when Father tried to…

    You know what? Nevermind.

    I picked a terrible place to begin.

    I’m really sorry, but I’m gonna have to back up. This story really starts a couple weeks back; it was my fourteenth-and-a-half birthday. Now, I haven't really kept track of my half birthdays since I was eight, but I still know the date, and as it turns out, it was kind of important.

    It was the exact day I found out I had mental powers (doesn't everybody have mental powers??--maybe this should sound more mystical). Oh, and then a couple minutes later, I also found out I wasn't an orphan. (and that I had siblings??)

    So yeah, it was a wild day.

    --I think you've got a good start, and I think you picked a good place to begin. It just needs a little work.

    DW

  8. #8
    Ray Veen
    Guest

    Re: Thorough critique greatly desired

    Denise, Derek -- you guys are giving me exactly the kind of feedback I'm looking for. Thank you so much.

    And a shout back to Rogue: I hope I didn't seem defensive - because I'm not. I'm seriously looking for any and all weaknesses and I appreciate you pointing them out.

  9. #9
    Denise Keller
    Guest

    Re: Thorough critique greatly desired

    There is a price...wait til I get up the nerve to post mine...

    Denise

  10. #10
    Patrick Edwards
    Guest

    Re: Thorough critique greatly desired

    Ray, I have to say I only read the first section, but I thought it was very well-written and damn good.

    I love the narrative voice. Doesn't seem hokey or anything (I think you took it to the edge of the abyss that is Hokeyville, but you only teetered...before maintaining). I absolutely think it's very good.

    Another thing I like is the variation on senence structure. Keeps me on my toes, and it's fun to read.

    (When I get time, I'll check out the rest. But if I were reading this in a bookstore and had read thru that first section--and wasn't too embarrassed about standing there in the YA section...bald spot, gut, and all--then, I'd probably purchase.)

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