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  1. #1
    Jay S

    Revamped portion of chapter 1 (thanks to GaryK and Bea)

    I revamped the first half of my Chapter 1 with the advice from Gary Kessler and Bea.

    Would love some honest opinions.

    If Gary Kessler is reading this, I'm sorry, I just couldn't get rid of the Star of David book. It's important to the plot and needed to be there in the beginning.

    If Gary Kessler or Bea is reading this. Is this a step in the right direction?


    Chapter One – Seven Years

    Maegan stretched her book bag to the limit as she shoved her most treasured books into it. She was leaving her husband for good, and a lifetime collection of books was all she cared about.
    “Please, let me help you” said the housemaid. Her heavy shoes echoed as she walked into master bedroom. “Until he signs the divorce papers I am still in your service.”
    “I’ll be fine,” said Maegan. She blew her hair out of her eyes and exhaled as she caressed the cover of shabby-looking book with an embossed Star of David. The pages of the book were gold trimmed but dog-eared and bent. She dropped the book into her bag. “Honestly, I don’t need any help.”
    “But what if he shows up?”
    “He won’t.”
    “But what if he does?” The housemaid stood in the door frame and touched her hands around her tight kept-bun. She wasn’t budging.
    Maegan let her head drop as she laughed. “He has a harem of women waiting to take my place. If you want to help me, you can put this into the car as you leave.”
    The housemaid staggered back as Maegan pushed the book bag into her chest. She heaved, “Have you thought about how his mother will react? Perhaps she’s spoken to him. She might have told him to force you to stay.”
    Maegan let out a short, barking laugh. Her mother-in-law would have sooner helped her pack than beg her to stay.
    Tears dripped from the housemaid’s cheeks. “You can’t be replaced, Madam.” She paused. Her eyelashes were fluttering. “It’s just . . . it’s never been done.”
    The two women jumped at the sound of the front door slamming shut. “Maegan!” shouted a gruff voice. “Maegan, come down here.”
    The housemaid let out a gasp before turning around and rushing down the stairs. Maegan could hear the clopping of her shoes growing fainter in the distance as she bent over to pick up her ragged violet book bag. In an instant her hand seared with pain. Every day the pain worsened, like small prickling needles being forced into her skin.
    In the corner of her eye, Maegan glimpsed the strewn-out papers detailing her near-finalized divorce from her husband, Marcus Boleyn. In their better days, she had referred to him as Marc, if not simply for his mother’s distaste for shortened names.
    It was not as though Marcus had been a terrible husband throughout the marriage, Maegan thought. When they had first met, they were inseparable, despite warnings from friends and family. Too many thought that her lower-middle-class, freethinking mind would clash with his wealthy, conservative outlook. But against all warning, she was sure that it would not matter how different they were. They still loved each other, and to her that was all that mattered. It would take seven long years for their differences to take form, and for it to become very clear that it takes more than love alone to build and maintain a stable marriage.
    Maegan wore her black and white sneakers with pride down the wide halls. She could feel century-old paintings of previous tenants glaring down at her as she strode toward the garage. The shoes had always annoyed Marcus as he often expressed that a woman in her position should always be wearing high-heel shoes, especially in public.
    “Darling,” said Marcus, appearing around the corner. Maegan jumped and clapped her hand to her chest. He was wearing what she knew to be his idea of casual, dark blue pinstripe slacks, a semi-formal dress shirt, and a smart-looking jacket. “Where . . . where are you going?” She tried to ignore his soft English accent. It was one of the first things that had attracted her to him.
    “Off to live with my mother.” She attempted to pass by her husband. She wanted no more conflict. They had fought for months now, and it was getting them nowhere. Her husband grabbed her arm and pulled her toward him.
    “Don’t touch me,” she lashed out. It was to no avail. Marcus was foot taller and built like a brick wall.
    “Let me guess.” Marcus held his wife’s arm firm. “You got into another fight with my mother and now you have decided to go running back to your mum to teach me a lesson. You’ve done this before, and you’ve always come back.”
    “This has nothing to do with her.” Maegan gritted her teeth. “I know all about you and your girlfriend. She used to my friend, you know?” She was sure he could not have looked more shocked if she had slapped his across the face.
    “Oh and don’t even get me started on your mother. She’s been pushing you away from me for years. The only thing that shut her mouth was when she got her grandkids, but she doesn’t even seem to care about them anymore.”
    “Where are the twins?” asked Marcus. His eyes squinted, but Maegan knew him well enough to know when he was pretending to care.
    “Like you give a damn.” She released herself from her husband’s grip. “It took us three years to have them, or don’t you remember?”
    “I remember.”
    “Well remember this.” Maegan put face an inch away from her soon-to-be ex-husband’s. “Your new whore doesn’t want anything but your money, and once she has it she’ll be gone.”
    “What do you want me to say?” shouted Marcus, knocking over a small table. “Do you want me to apologize?” Maegan did not know what she wanted from Marcus. An apology would have been a start.
    “Don’t even try to act all pure and virginal,” he continued. “You and that Yank aren’t just friends and everyone knows it.”
    “Oh, go to hell, Marcus,” sneered Maegan, as she opened up the door to the garage. It was the same old fight all over again, she thought. Her best friend Mary Roepke had died young, leaving an equally young widower and son behind. Her consoling of Joseph Roepke was an act of friendship, not betrayal.
    Marcus slammed his hand to the door to shut it before Maegan could leave. “You can’t leave me. You won’t have any money and you won’t have any access to the doctors and the proper care you need.”
    “I will do just fine, thank you very much,” said Maegan, through her teeth. She had to bite her tongue to stop from showing any emotion. She did not want another reminder of just how much she was giving up by leaving her husband. “Stop treating me like I’m on my deathbed.”
    “Look, I get it. You’re independent. I’m not going to pretend that I haven’t seen this divorce coming, but now that we know you have multiple sclerosis I just can’t let you run off. You are going to need people to take care of you and the kids, and that takes a lot of money.”
    Maegan snapped, “I don’t want your money and I don’t want your goddamn pity. It’s over and it’s been for a while. I can raise my sons just fine without you, your whore, and your stupid mother.”
    Marcus jerked Maegan from the doorway and slammed her into the wall. “You’ve done nothing but blame my mother for your problems,” he shouted. “You ever think that maybe it might be your fault that this bleeding marriage has fallen apart?
    The fight had to end, thought Maegan. It all had to finally end. “The paperwork is ready and awaiting your signature.” She slipped under his arm and walked out the door.

  2. #2

    Re: Revamped portion of chapter 1 (thanks to GaryK and Bea)

    "She was leaving her husband for good, and a lifetime collection of books was all she cared about."

    This isn't the way you present back-story to a reader. It's an info dump - a short one, but still an info dump. It's a conclusion, telling, not showing. You need to incorporate this information into the story, not just tell it to the reader.

    My opinion, of course.

  3. #3
    John Oberon

    Re: Revamped portion of chapter 1 (thanks to GaryK and Bea)

    She's shoving a lifetime book collection into a book bag? Not a heavy reader, I take it.

  4. #4

    Re: Revamped portion of chapter 1 (thanks to GaryK and Bea)

    Ha! That's funny, John.

    Maybe it's more like a garbage bag.

  5. #5
    John Oberon

    Re: Revamped portion of chapter 1 (thanks to GaryK and Bea)

    Hi, Leslee. I've been away at La Jolla for awhile. Long time no type.

    Jay, I keep hitting things I think odd. For example, whose hands did the maid touch around her tight-kept bun? I think you mean a hair bun and not a butt bun, right? And whatever kind of bun it is, it's the housemaid's and not Maegan's, right?

    When Maegan gives the book bag to the maid, Maegan says, "If you want to help me, you can put this into the car as you leave.” No problem, hereya go maid - but then the maid acts like there really IS a lifetime book collection in the bag. She staggers and heaves. So either Maegan is Super-Girl or the maid is quite a wimp.

    Then Marcus enters the scene, the maid leaves, and Maegan bends down to pick up her book bag. Didn't she just give the bag to the maid who left? Did the maid drop it or are there two book bags? I don't know.

    The whole piece is filled with oddity and imprecision like that, both in language and action. It kinda makes me think that English is not your first language, or maybe you just don't have a firm grasp of the vocabulary you're trying to use.

    You pad your verbs and it muffles them. Characters need not "let out a gasp"; they can simply gasp. Doors need not slam shut; they can just slam. Yes, Maegan "could hear", but it's better if she just "heard". Better yet, how about something like this:

    The clopping of the housemaid's shoes grew fainter as Maegan picked up her ragged violet book bag.

    You could probably cut this thing by about 15-20% and improve it quite a bit.

  6. #6
    Jay S

    Re: Revamped portion of chapter 1 (thanks to GaryK and Bea)

    First of all, yes, English is my native language. That statement was hardly helpful.

    But otherwise thanks for letting me know where I can tighten up a few loose ends as well as contribute to the clarity.

  7. #7
    John Oberon

    Re: Revamped portion of chapter 1 (thanks to GaryK and Bea)


    It was not intended as an insult. You exhibit some of the oddities of a non-native. I'll give you a few more examples, but they're throughout the piece. It's not just "a few loose ends".

    "In an instant her hand seared with pain" - Huh. No pain problems the last time she picked up that bag and shoved it at the maid. Need a comma after "instant".

    "In the corner of her eye" - Out of the corner of her eye. Your way sounds like she sees strewn-out papers in her own eye.

    "strewn-out papers" - To me, this means the papers were all over the room willy-nilly, as if she threw them in anger or something. Is that what you meant to say?

    You see? All through it, there's odd language and action...inconsistency and imprecision. So...since English is your native language, my guess is you're not a detail person. You need to find yourself an anal writer friend to pick up on this stuff, or develop carefulness yourself.

    After you fix those problems, you would do yourself a favor to eliminate any variants of the verbs "to be" and "to have" and all those "ing" verbs as much as possible. Just use simple past or present tense and get rid of the clutter in your language. Examples:

    Her mother-in-law would have sooner helped her pack than beg her to stay. - Her mother-in-law would sooner help her pack than beg her to stay.

    Her eyelashes were fluttering. - Her eyelashes fluttered.

    The housemaid let out a gasp before turning around and rushing down the stairs. - The housemaid gasped before she turned and rushed down the stairs.

    In their better days, she had referred to him as Marc, - In better days, she called him Marc,

  8. #8
    Jay S

    Re: Revamped portion of chapter 1 (thanks to GaryK and Bea)

    Her hand sears with pain because she has multiple sclerosis. It's a symptom of her illness which is both unpredictable and can be extremely minor as well as extremely crippling.

    Strewn-out papers. I don't know if you've ever seen divorce papers before but they are many and require many signatures. They would be easily strewn-out over a table.

    "To let out a gasp" and to simply "gasp" paint different pictures.

    Some of the other stuff seems to make sense and can use a little tightening, but it's mostly all petty. The fact that you bring up the one sentence about her mother-in-law and the word "have" shows how little really is staggeringly wrong.

  9. #9

    Re: Revamped portion of chapter 1 (thanks to GaryK and Bea)

    "Would love some honest opinions."

    Apparently not.

  10. #10
    Gary Kessler

    Re: Revamped portion of chapter 1 (thanks to GaryK and Bea)

    A comma after "in an instant" is author's choice. The Chicago Manual of Style, 6.25, keeps this in a gray zone (maddenly, for editors). It says short introductory clauses don't require the comma, but then gives examples of four words (comma) and two (no comma)--leaving three words in a no-man's-land. All of the publishers I work for thus consider three words as under the mandatory comma cutoff. The same section says one should be used where you want the reader to pause. If Jay doesn't want the reader to pause after an onrushing clause like "in an instant," that's his perogative as an author.

    I also agree with Jay on the strewn-paper's issue. The erstwhile editor here is trying to impose his own "not necessarily so" perspective on someone else's work.

    Same with such phrases as "letting out a gasp" and "her eyelashes were fluttering." Yes, there are terser, more straightforward means to express this. Whether or not an author decides to go with the minimalist route, though, is the author's style preference. Those wanting to strip it all down can jolly well do their own writing.

    There's a tendency on this (and other writers boards) to look too hard for problems and to try to reduce everything either to cookie-cutter minimalist pablum or to how the one giving the critque writes. The blessing of literature is its variety. It's good to show Jay and others other possibilities so they have options (and reasons for them), but both writers and readers have a broad range of what they enjoy and what resonates with them.

    I'm for letting Jay have his own style. The creed of the professional editors is "first do no harm."

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