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  1. #1
    Conor Beaulieu

    Need a critique. First Chapter.

    It was a grand staircase, and on the landing was a massive window of amber, honeyed glass. And through this window was a garden, with ancient oaks. And the leaves were falling, in eternal autumn through this window. And the leaves looked like fire on the wind. Falling flames. And on this window hung a painting, a painting of the world on fire. A determined, sad fire. A fire of passion. A fire of knowing we are all coming to an end, and burning in spite of it. And the world was on fire. And the monster wept.

    ~ I ~

    I'm awake long before the alarm clock sounds. I let it scream through the morning for a while before turning it off. Everyone tells me I need a wake-up call, somehow I don't think this is it. A sigh escapes me as I roll out of bed, already deciding whether or not to play sick to stay home from yet another day of senior year. Its not really playing these days, I get so little sleep that I look sick without trying, and the headaches I complain of are all too real. As I hit the light in the bathroom and start the water running, I'm still undecided. I think best in the shower anyways. With the water thundering in my ears I can actually hear. This morning I stay in longer than usual, water stealing the life from my fingers and loaning my skin an angry red stain in return.

    Dressing, I decide to go in today. What the hell, variety is the spice of life, right? I'm wearing one of three identical pairs of jeans I own, and slide my phone into them, wondering for the thousandth time why I even carry it. Not like I have anyone to talk to. Slip my shoes on, plain black Chuck's, and lace them to the top. Step outside into the darkness of a day waiting to be born. XXXXNow is the time when you can feel the light aching to burst and pour out over the world, the only clue a red hue drifting from the horizon.XXX I breathe deep and listen to the night dying; the song of crickets growing ever more quiet, the hum of motors growing ever louder. I'm the first awake, of course. Jake is a year younger than me, and doesn't go in till a little later. Lucky bastard has his first block off every day. Mom doesn't have any reason to wake up early nowadays, she hasn't worked in months. Mike may be awake already, but I wouldn't know; he's miles away, and I haven't talked to him in years. Everyone says I should talk to him, that he's my dad, but I think we understand each other. Its just not time yet. So every two weeks another check comes in, and every two weeks it slips away. Some for rent, most for the stash of bottles in the lower cabinet that Mom doesn't even try to hide anymore. Sometimes I feel guilty, like if that check didn't come in, those bottles wouldn't be there. But I know I'm just being ridiculous. I like to feel important sometimes. We all do.

    I snap out of my daze and take another look around. It's a midwestern October morning. There's a chill you can see in the sky, and an edge to the breeze that sends shivers down my spine as if to remind me that I'm alive. Just in case I forgot. I decide to walk, and shrug my jacket up higher on my shoulders. Its leather, and probably the nicest thing I own. A gift from the Mom of yesteryear. As I start out its still early, but I'm in no hurry. I take my time and enjoy every scrawl of graffiti, every trash strewn pile of leaves, every mote of exhaust. I drink it in. An urban masterpiece, a city-born kaleidoscope, an industrial perfume. Everything in life can be savory, its all about how you look at things.

    As the school comes into view I let out another sigh. I do that a lot. The parking lots are packed, the roads to and from are empty. Late. Again. I laugh as I realize that even being late is a step up for me; I've been M.I.A. for a week or two now, lost count. Stepping through the lobby, the guard on duty gives me a lazy nod. They know by now its not worth hassling me. I'm a ghost in these halls, drifting where ever I want, whenever I want. I decide that where I want to drift right now is a semantics class just down the hall. The teacher knows me, and she doesn't care if I sit in. I think I may have even been scheduled for the class at one point, but it doesn't really matter, not now.

    No sound rises from the hinges as I open the door; nobody looks up or even notices I've come in until I slide into a seat in the front row. Thats when I get a few surprised looks from the kids around me. The occupied seat next to me whispers at me, wondering where I've been. I wonder why he cares. Don't know his name, kind of surprised he knows mine. “Sick”, I say, not bothering to whisper. The teacher offers me a sidelong glance from where she stands, poised before the board. Hasn't been a real blackboard in years, its surface having taken on that permanently hazy look earned by continual use. I wonder how many times the same things have been written on it, how many times those repetitive old ideas have been carved into its face. I bet if I ran my hands over it, I could tell you what it said. Like braille. Truths so self-evident the blind could see them. I listen to them for a while, the teacher and the students. She pitches question after question at them. Underhand. They hit it out of the park every time, just what she wants to hear. Its fascinating to watch, a machine building and rebuilding itself. Every year, with every new crop of heads. Fascinating and a little scary. I slip out of my seat and head out the door. I've seen enough. I don't look back as the doors to the building swing shut for a final time. I can almost hear the hum of machinery behind me.

    Back home I sink onto my bed and try to think. Its hard these days. Sometimes I'm amazed by how difficult it is just to make a single, simple decision. Like getting out of bed in the morning. Should I? Or should I just lay here until I fall back asleep, and hope my dreams take me some place better. What I'm thinking now is that I don't belong here anymore. Never belonged here in the first place. I have no friends, no connections, no ties. All I am is a source of worry to Mom, and Mike wouldn't even know the difference. Jake is a big kid now, and he has a good head on his shoulders. I'm sure he would do fine without me. Hell, probably better than I've done. My eyes wander up to the ceiling light, where my money is stashed. I know I should have it in a bank somewhere, but these days you have to set those up with a parent, and I don't know how long that would last if Mom had access to it.

    I stand up and feel around inside the panel until my hand closes over the envelope. Spiderwebs brush my fingers, and something skitters along the back of my knuckles. I wait until whatever it is crawls off of me before pulling back. No reason to freak out and hurt the little guy, he was just sitting at home, relaxing. The paper feels heavier in my hand than I remember, I guess I lost track of how much I've saved. Maybe its just a different kind of weight. Count off the bills inside. Just a little over six thousand. My hand runs through my hair as I think, eyes closed. School is a non-issue, the chances of me graduating were laughable, at least with my attendance record. Work wouldn't miss me, I'm sure they could fill my spot immediately. Not like I do anything important. The family would be hurt, Jake most sincerely, but he would understand. Mom would play heartbroken for a while, but deep down I think she'd breathe a sigh of relief, knowing she wouldn't have to care for me anymore. I am kind of a hard teenager, and she has herself to care about.

    The next time my eyes open I'm homeless, and my mind is made up. I throw my other pairs of jeans into my duffel, and toss a couple of shirts in on top. Cinch it up and walk through the halls of the house that's no longer my home. After a moment's thought I detour into Jake's room. He's in school right now, probably eating lunch. I open up the bottom drawer of his nightstand and push away the socks he has piled up so inconspicuously. Underneath are his notebooks, the ones he thinks I don't know about. The kid is a damned good writer, I tell you that? He doesn't like people knowing, but he has a mean grip on this whole English language thing. Guess it's not cool in this generation. I open up his current journal and flip to where he's left off. Hopping over to the next page, I scrawl out a note.

    Sorry man, but you were never very good at being sneaky. Known about these things for years. Don't you know you're doing it wrong? You're supposed to hide your nudie mags and condoms in your sock drawer. Weirdo. But anyways, I'm leaving this here because I don't want you to think I'm abandoning you. I just need to get out, start my own story. This must be how it feels when you crack open a fresh notebook. I'm heading out of this place, though. Its just not for me anymore, never has been, actually. I think I'll head to California, everyone says its beautiful out there. I'll mail you back a blonde. I left you a little something in case you need it. I know how you're always loaning money to mom. Don't with this, its for you. I'll keep in touch with you. Take care of Mom.

    Love, your big brother.

    p.s. Don't tell Mom where I'm going, alright? No matter how bad she interrogates you.

    p.s.s. Get some condoms, or at least some nudie mags, you little weirdo. Didn't I teach you how to be a guy?

    I slip around a thousand dollars in between the pages and put it back into the drawer, leaving it cracked a little so he'd notice someone was in there. As I step out the door for the last time, I hitch my duffel higher on my shoulder, and shrug my jacket in close against the wind. Against the world.

    I never look back.

  2. #2
    Smiling Curmudgeon

    Re: Need a critique. First Chapter.


    It's late. I only read a bit of your excerpt.

    Many writers have enemies. Yours is the rogue comma who nested--and replicated--in your first paragraph. thing about commas is they're insidious. Learn how to whack 'em like moles.

    Okay, I scanned the rest.

    I see nascent signs of a voice. That's a good thing. But it's all introspective. Consider interspersing the interior monologue with dialogue. That'll make your tale more immediate. Right now, it isn't. In fact, dump the interior mono. Get me into your tale.

    I suspect you're trying to be too literary. Nothing wrong with that. However, you gotta tell a tale that captures your reader's interest. This reader didn't see anything to make me wanna read more.

    Hope this helps.

    Feel free to ignore.


  3. #3
    Conor Beaulieu

    Re: Need a critique. First Chapter.

    Hey cur, I'm not sure what you mean by the rogue comma deal. The absolute first paragraph was actually written months ago. I opened my processor and it was there. I left it in as a prelude because I liked the tone it set. The color.

    If you could elaborate on the rogue comma subject, I would appreciate it.

    As for dialogue, I really don't intend for there to be much at all in this book. Not in the beginning at least. Also, dialogue kind of scares me. I'm much better at interior monologue, as you put it.

    I don't know what you mean by "I suspect you're trying to be too literary". I'm not really trying to be anything at the moment. I'm 18, and just started writing seriously, so I'm kind of just putting down what I'm putting down, no conscious thought dedicated to it.

    Thank you for your response, and I hope you can elaborate on some things.

  4. #4
    John Oberon

    Re: Need a critique. First Chapter.


    Cur means you use commas too much and in places they don't belong.

  5. #5
    Sam English

    Re: Need a critique. First Chapter.

    Being "too literary" means your work reads like you're trying way too hard to sound "writerly". For instance...all the sentences in the first graph starting with "And", eight (8!) references to fire. And were the leaves really falling trhough the window? Or...could they be seen falling outside?

    "I'm not really trying to be anything at the moment. I'm 18, and just started writing seriously, so I'm kind of just putting down what I'm putting down, no conscious thought dedicated to it."

    Okay...asking for critique, then getting critiqued, then questioning the critique and finally defending your work by saying you weren't "trying" doesn't cut it here. While you may think you "put no thought into it", you did. Cur gave you some great points to consider. Most here recommend only posting your best work for critique. If what's posted above isn't it, clean it up to the very best of your ability and then post. That prevents you from being able to say things like "oh...I wasn't really trying". Asking others to waste their valuable time to assess your work is valueless unless we know that it's the best you can do.

  6. #6
    Robert Wilson

    Re: Need a critique. First Chapter.

    What the others said.

    This needs a of of work.

    On the bright side, its not the kind of activity in which one finds many 18 year olds engaged. Most of them are immersed in video games.

    I applaud you for your attempt at writing.


  7. #7
    Robert Wilson

    Re: Need a critique. First Chapter.

    "This needs a lot of work." (I can punch keys faster than I realized.)


  8. #8
    Battle Angel

    Re: Need a critique. First Chapter.

    I actually liked most of it (first paragraph aside.) It seems like you got better as you went along. And I love the note to the brother.

    It does need some work but keep at it.

  9. #9
    Conor Beaulieu

    Re: Need a critique. First Chapter.

    Sigh...yall are kind of ****s. ****ing re-evaluate yourselves.

  10. #10
    Rogue Mutt

    Re: Need a critique. First Chapter.

    You first, ingrate.

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