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  1. #1
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2015

    Excerpt-Riding Elephants: Diary of the Memory Keepers

    Mom was desperate to be with my dad regardless of what that looked like. He didn’t live with us, of course, but I assume he felt he had fulfilled some obligation by finding us another place to live. Just one in a string of quiet and lonely little apartments that we lived in and were provided for by my father*. Sort of.

    I remember the night Mom and I moved in with the help of Mom’s brother-in-law, Uncle Jimmie. I remember moving in but not where I came from. Uncle Jimmie tossed a green velvet couch cushion on the floor and smiled as he handed me a whole bag of Hershey’s kisses. He then clicked on the large console television to the Donnie and Marie show,

    “Now you go on, you sit on that cushion over there, be a good girl, grown ups are busy.”

    “It's cold Uncle Jimmie.”

    “You’re alright. Go on, you be a good kid.”

    I was cold and tired as I sat on the couch cushion and watched the screen door open and close, the chilly air rushing in. Mom was carrying in boxes and Uncle Jimmie was straining as he carried in the bigger items. His coal black hair was blowing backwards and he reminded me of a miniature Elvis Presley in his plaid snap-button shirt and usual jean jacket. I turned back to Donnie and Marie but remembering I missed Mr. Rogers that afternoon made me sad. I never missed Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

    The apartment was on a busy street and I heard constant traffic. After Uncle Jimmie said his goodbyes, as he figured we were settled as much as he could help, Mom told me to get some clothes on. She tossed me a pair of shoes and jeans. I reluctantly pulled on my jeans and slipped on my shoes. Mom didn’t say anything, so I just wore my pink nightgown over my jeans and under my coat. It was my favorite, it had a squirrel shaking his tail and it said “Bright Eyed and Bushy Tailed.” She reappeared, took me by the hand, and we headed out into the cold night.

    Mom squeezed my hand uncomfortably tight as the traffic whizzed by and we waited on the curb for our chance to break for it. The 7Eleven sign shown brightly in the dark and my sleepy state. The door chimed as we push through and Mom released me. I watched as she headed to the pay phone on the opposite wall “You stay here, be a good girl” she said. I’d been hearing this command all day long. With furrowed brows she lifted the receiver and inserted her change.

    As I waited, I noticed the man working behind the counter. He was wearing his khaki uniform vest with stripes and he had a bright smile as he looked down at me over the shelves of gum and chapstick. I liked his warm smile.

    I called out to Mom, “Can I have a piece of gum Mommy?”

    “Have your daddy get you a piece of gum” she responded gruffly.

    I looked back toward the man working behind the counter. He had his back to me now and was busy restocking the cigarettes. I looked back at Mom who I could tell was having a tense conversation on the telephone. I reached up and swiped a large piece of green gum and squirreled it away in my fuzzy coat pocket and neither of them noticed.

    When we got back to the apartment Mom caught me chewing the enormous piece of gum and sighed. She also ratted me out to Dad I know because he questioned me about it the next evening when he came to visit. “Why did you steal that gum from the store?” he asked me looking concerned. I looked up at him and back to Raquel Welch and Miss Piggy singing “I can bring home the bacon…” I don’t know, I mean I was only four.

    When the lease was up, Mom told me that my daddy had found us a better place to live. It was a house and I would have a yard to play in and there were other children in the neighborhood. It was a little one bedroom on the south side of town, closer to my grandma Meme. It was very blue inside. There were light blue walls, dark blue trim, and an artificial fireplace that was a royal blue. Mom said it was the style in the homes of all the soap operas and that she found it soothing. I found it cold. The bedroom Mom and I shared was very yellow. The yellow seemed even more prominent at bedtime which I found unfortunately more stimulating than sunny and cheerful. This made it difficult to settle down.

    “But Mommy it’s not even dark out yet” I whined.

    “Jennifer Carol, get your butt to bed, right now!.”

    “No!” I exclaimed.

    “Do you want me to bust your butt?” Mom threatened as I sulked and got back to bed.

    I lay there watching the green leaves sway in the breeze from the large maple tree that loomed over the driveway next to the window. From my vantage point, it was almost as good as lying underneath the tree and it was soothing despite my frustration. I rested, waiting for sleep as the sun slowly went down and the room grew fuzzy. I could see my Mickey Mouse telephone Dad bought me for my birthday sitting on top of the chest of drawers. He stood there, holding the large yellow receiver and appeared menacing in that light. Disturbingly, he seemed to move a little but I had no choice but to lay there entrapped and listen to the Ponca Indians next door in their nightly drumming circle. As the darkness deepened, my attention was drawn away from Mickey and I was now absolutely convinced that six green witches in black robes and pointy hats were going to carry me out on a stretcher while Mom wasn’t paying attention. What seemed long after dark, I finally grew sleepy and reminded myself I was powerless if the witches chose to do so and I drifted off.

  2. #2
    Rogue Mutt
    Mom was desperate to be with my dad regardless of what that looked like.
    I don't know what you mean by "what that looked like." Looked like to who?

    “Now you go on, you sit on that cushion over there, be a good girl, grown ups are busy.”
    Run-on sentence. "Now you go on, sit on that cushion and be a good girl. Grown-ups are busy."

    “You’re alright.
    All right.

    I watched as she headed to the pay phone on the opposite wall

    “Jennifer Carol, get your butt to bed, right now!.”

    “No!” I exclaimed.
    The first sentence should only have an exclamation point or period.

    The second, "exclaimed" is weak. Shouted, screamed, shrieked, or something like that is better.

    Overall you have a series of vignettes, but nothing that really makes for a cohesive story. You need to flesh these bits out more.

  3. #3
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Elkins Park PA
    Mom was desperate to be with my dad regardless of what that looked like. He didn’t live with us, of course, but I assume he felt he had fulfilled some obligation by finding us another place to live. Just one in a string of quiet and lonely little apartments that we lived in and were provided for by my father*. Sort of.
    Always look at your writing from the viewpoint of the reader, who knows nothing but what the words—to any given point—suggest to them. Remember, as they're reading this, the reader has no idea of the situation, who they are, or where they are in time and space. Given that, and given we know nothing about Mom, Dad, the situation and how it came to be, what can this mean to your reader?

    And why does the reader need to know this background information? Won't it be obvious by how Mom acts toward Dad? Won't someone accuse Dad of the things you're telling the reader in this info-dump? If not, we don't need to know it. If so, we don't need to be told here.

    In short, begin your story with story, not history.

    In general, presenting a story in this fashion, in overview, informs the reader on detail, but in the end, it's a report. So we learn some possibly interesting things, but but it's a story only in the sense that a history book is. After all, how entertaining is it to learn that a four year old took a piece of chewing gum? Did the fact that she wasn't punished, or told that it was wrong matter to the plot later? Since she was four, it seems unlikely.

    My point is that you presented over a thousand words, or four standard manuscript pages. And what happened? A child took a piece of gum and the parents noticed. If you picked up a book in the store, and read four pages to learn that, would it exciter you enough to buy it?

    I assume that at some point the protagonist faces things that challenge her, and force her into a desperate struggle to succeed. There's your story, Openjust before things go to hell for her, so we get to know, find her interesting, and know her immediate plans (her scene-goal), so we're recognize when things go wrong without you having tell the reader it happened. Then: drop a body through the ceiling; set the house on fire; have someone try to kill her or accuse her of murder. Give your reader reason to worry for her, not sit and mumble, "Uh-huh," as miundane fact follows mundane fact. Give the reader something that gives them more pleasure than what they would be doing if they stop reading, or they will stop.

    You might want to pick up a copy of Debra Dixon's GMC: Goal Motivation & Conflict from any online bookseller—or a hard copy from Deb's site. It's as gentle introduction to the craft of writing fiction for the printed word—a warm easy read that feels like you're sitting with Deb and discussing what makes writing work. She'll give you the nuts-and bolts, the why and the why not. And she'll answer the questions you didn't know you should be asking.

    Hang in there, and keep on writing.

  4. #4
    Rogue Mutt
    Guess you forgot the link this time when you pasted it Greenstein. Haha #GenericCritiqueProblems

  5. #5
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2015
    Thanks, will check it out. Will you tell me your thoughts on info dumps when you are introducing a character as below?

    After visiting with Billy, we headed over to Meme’s house. Dad opened the door (we aren’t a family that ever knocks) and Meme was sitting on the couch smoking a cigarette.

    “Dammit Robert” Meme angrily muttered thru a clenched jaw as she hotboxed her cigarette and the smoke just kind of fell out of her mouth in a vapor.

    Meme had a rather intimidating voice when she wanted it to be. People said she looked and sounded rather like the character Maude from the television show. She sat there quietly for a long time and lit another cigarette with the cherry of the one she just finished. I watched her seething and truly expected smoke to start rolling out her ears. She didn’t look at any of us, she stared into space, she didn’t appear to be thinking either, just stewing in her anger. As adults, Uncle Mike and I began to refer to this particular mood of her’s as “the hate”. Meme was a mercurial woman in general, but you really had to stay clear of “the hate”.

    “There was money, Robert”, she finally said.

    “No there wasn’t”, Dad responded.

    “There was 300 damn dollars. You let the house go over 300 damn dollars”, said Meme.

    “Well if Braum’s woulda hired me...assholes. Ol’ beady eyes got to ‘em first”, Dad said and his expression was of truly hurt feelings on the matter.

    “I do not want to hear it Robert. Beady eyes didn’t have a thing to do with it”, Meme stated, annunciating precisely, as she pointed her finger at Dad.

    Her finger then shifted to Mom “Janice you didn’t have no business quitting your job out at Tinker.”

    Mom had a secretarial job at Tinker Air Force Base when she got pregnant with Amanda and then decided to quit. “You’ve never wanted to work”, Meme added.

    This was always a sore subject with Meme because Meme worked her ass off. She worked at more than one job at times, still woke at 4am every morning, curled her hair, and smoothed on her Revlon Cherries in the Snow to go to her rigorous factory job at Fred Jones Ford. Meme worked a man’s job but fancied herself a proper lady for instance, ‘ain’t’ was not a word and you always annunciated with the full ‘ing’ on your verbs. Meme had once been Miss Van Buren County Arkansas and her cussin’ and smokin’ were a secret from Vance. On Dad’s side of the family, I come from a long line of hard women, but on Mom’s side the women tend to have ‘nerves’.

  6. #6
    Junior Member
    Join Date
    Oct 2015
    Thank you so much for the reply. What about this? Is it just another info dump?

    Mom was set on being with my dad and that’s even if for only pragmatic reasons. I know that she cared for him and I suppose he for her, but Mom was a blamer. She blamed her own mother for pressuring her to maintain a relationship with him. “Keep that baby with her daddy” is a phrase I often heard from Mom as she mocked my grandmother. It was told to me that on my grandmother’s deathbed she had commanded of my mom to procure an engagement ring before her final breath. Grandma needed some kind of redemption as an elder in the local Assembly of God church. She was a loving woman, but everyone has their limit of shame they can carry. Because Mom was such a blamer, blame fell upon my grandmother and for me there was always that annoying little stage-whisper distracting me from my performance as a child. That soft murmur that told me I was to blame as well, but I didn’t know what for, and for sure not how I was supposed to fix it.

    Blah, Blah this is why she steals the gum and does a bunch of other things later in the story to illustrate her perception of herself a screw up.

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