Friday, August 31, 2007

I've been tagged

Christina Berry tagged me while I was on vacation last week. Despite the poor grammar in rule #2, I decided to play along.

The Rules:

1. You have to post these rules before you give the facts.

2. Players, you must list one fact that is somehow relevant to your life for each letter of their middle name. If you don’t have a middle name, use the middle name you would have liked to have had.

3. When you are tagged you need to write your own blog-post containing your own middle name game facts.

4. At the end of your blog-post, you need to choose one person for each letter of your middle name to tag.

5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

My middle name is Marie. Something relevant to my life. Hmmm. This reminds me of an assignment in high school where we had to think of a positive trait about ourselves for each letter of our first and last name. Not doing that! My take on this will be five things that would change my life significantly if I didn't have them.

M Marriage. On August fifth, Brian and I celebrated 12 years of marriage. Brian is my biggest support base, whatever I'm doing. He does my grocery shopping (I hate grocery shopping), and cooks when he has to. Most importantly, he makes me laugh. I can't imagine life without him.

A Art. Hey, I'm going in the order of my middle name, not importance. Painting and writing are both forms of art. My creative outlets. When I go very long without doing one, I have to do the other.

R A right relationship with God. I'm not saying simply a relationship with God--that's so obvious it goes without saying. Being His child is the core of my existence. But a right relationship with God is something I have to maintain. I too often let other things come before my quiet time. That definitely changes my life for the worse.

I Internet. When I was a writer without a computer, it was a lonely existence. I don't know any writers in my area. When I got involved with writer's groups and critique partners online, it expanded my world. I especially appreciate the community I found in ACFW.

E Eggs. (Give me a break, I have a cold. That's the best I could come up with.) I need my protein. Cereal doesn't cut it for me. When I don't have my eggs for breakfast, my energy dips during the day. Good healthy farm eggs. Yep.

Now I'm supposed to tag one person for each letter of my middle name. I don't have five blogging friends. Well I do, but a couple have already been tagged. So I'll tag the other three and the tag game overlords can slap me on the wrist.

Teena Stewart
David Fry
Vicki Tiede

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


by Sharon Lavy

Chapter One

Danielle Wilson heard a buzz and noticed the light flashing for Room 435. She wouldn't mind chatting with Sophie Locke a bit before going off shift. Setting down her steaming cup of coffee, she turned the call light off and pushed the intercom button.

"Hey, Sophie. What do you need, hon?"


Wait, was that a groan? Not a good sign.

"Sophie? Sophie?" What's that noise?

Her patient had been fine the last time she'd checked. Leaving the nurse's station, Danielle rushed toward Room 435.

Before she entered the doorway, Danielle heard the same sound she'd heard over the intercom. Sophie thrashed wildly in her hospital bed, rolling from side to side. Large beads of perspiration dotted her forehead. Dark brown hair stuck to the sides of her face, her cowlick plastered just a little off-center. [Maybe leave it at her hair being stuck to her face. The cowlick thing implies that a cowlick can change positions. Probably not your intention.] Sweat saturated her gown.

A low moan came from Sophie's throat. "Hurts," she whispered.

It looked as if Sophie might injure herself. Danielle padded to the side of the bed and reset the call button. Placing her hand on her patient's shoulder, she spoke softly. "Where do you hurt, hon?"

"All . . . over." The thrashing slowed, but not by much.

Danielle sensed she'd need some help. Sophie might roll off the mattress. First pulling up the rails on the bed, she pushed the call button.

"You need something?" The voice of Danielle's best friend, Veronica Davis, floated through the intercom.

"Can you help me out here, Ronnie?"

"Sure. I'll be right there."

Taking the day-sheet from the folder clipped to the side of the bed, Danielle checked her patient's meds. She was on a four-hour schedule and just as Danielle had remembered, Sophie last received her medicine at four-thirty, only an hour ago. She was fine when Danielle had given her the scheduled dose. Why was Sophie having this vicious siege of breakthrough pain?

Danielle sighed with relief when Veronica entered the room. "Thanks for coming so quickly. I need to get Sophie some meds, and I don't want to leave her alone."

"Sure, I'll stay with her." Veronica found a cloth and wiped perspiration from Sophie's brow, pushing her hair back from her face. Then she moved her feet away from the edge of the bed and covered her with the sheet. Sophie rolled over on her side and moaned.

Why was she in so much pain after just an hour? Maybe she needed stronger meds. Danielle took her patient's chart and hurried to the nurse's station. Francine, her nursing supervisor, stood with her back toward her, but Danielle recognized her strawberry blond hair. [It slows things down a little to say Francine was standing with her back toward her. Also, not every action needs to be shown, but my instincts here say that if you have Francine facing away, you should show her turning around. So you’d avoid that by simply saying Danielle approached Francine.]

"I need morphine for Sophie Locke. I've never seen her in such agony." Danielle pointed to Dr. Radcliff's prescription.” I have her chart here. She's allowed more medication for breakthrough pain. I was afraid she'd injure herself because she was thrashing so hard."

Francine's voice was soft and melodious. "Dani, are you crying?"

She often warned Danielle about getting too attached to her patients. It was a hazard of the job for all the nurses on this floor. Since Danielle's father died of liver cancer when she was seventeen, she was especially vulnerable. [Good opportunity for internal conflict. A nurse who gets too involved.]

Danielle blinked. "I think I have something in my eye."

"Well, okay, if you're sure." Francine opened the narcs cabinet and handed her subordinate a vial of morphine. She put her hand on Danielle's shoulder. "Let me know when you return the vial."

As Francine went back to her project on the computer, Danielle snapped the seal off the vial. She filled the syringe with twenty milligrams of morphine. After that, she capped the needle and placed the vial back in the cabinet. She carefully logged the medicine, then picked up her supplies.

"All set," she told Francine, and hurried back toward Sophie's room.

Moaning. An acrid smell filled the room. [If you do one sentence like “Moaning,” maybe you should do two. I don’t know, though. It doesn’t seem to fit the rest of your style.] Veronica stood beside the bed, holding a basin under Sophie's chin.

Danielle placed the syringe and supplies on the bedside table, then found a damp cloth. She didn't like to see Sophie so sick. As she cleaned her small square face, she spoke softly to her all the while.

Veronica took the basin to the sink. "I'll get another gown and clean bedding." After she rinsed out the basin, she quietly left the room.

"Just a little stick, hon." Danielle gave Sophie her shot of morphine and threw the used syringe and needle in the sharps container.

Pulling the edges of the sheets from the bed, Danielle was careful not to jostle her patient. Each time she pulled on another side of the sheet, the bitter smell of hydrochloric acid, which Veronica hadn't caught in the basin, filled the air. Sophie moaned.

Danielle wiped Sophie's mouth again. "When Ronnie gets back, we'll get the rest of you cleaned up."

She didn't want to disturb Sophie's fragile bones any more than necessary, so she carefully rolled the sheet to keep the dampness away from her patient.

Veronica re-entered the room, laying the bedding and a clean gown on the side table. She'd also brought a can of air freshener.

"I need to use the bathroom," Sophie whispered.

Veronica picked up the fitted sheet. "I'll change the bed while you take her to the bathroom.”

Sophie grasped Danielle's hand. "I was going home tomorrow."

"I know. I'm so sorry, hon, but now we'll have to get your pain meds regulated."

The little bathroom was chilly and Sophie shivered. When the water felt warm to Danielle's hand, she helped her patient clean up and get into her gown. Then she led her to the freshly made bed and pulled the sheet and blanket over her. A strong pine smell filled the room. She stood by the bed holding her patient's hand. She'd stay in the room until she knew the morphine had kicked in. [Go back and look at the number of times you refer to Sophie as “her patient.”]

"Pray with me, Dani."

Danielle began to pray quietly. "Dear Father God, be with my friend Sophie, and her caretakers. Be her comforter, dear Lord, and help us as we walk through this valley together." She continued to pray and felt the tension leave as Sophie slowly relaxed.

Danielle lingered beside the bed for a few minutes. She had seen breakthrough pain before, but it wasn't usually so quick and violent. Her patient shouldn't have to suffer like this and she hoped it didn't mean Sophie's cancer was raging out of control. Perhaps Dr. Radcliff could prevent this from happening again by changing Sophie's meds. Danielle sighed and left the room to finish her charts.

"Hey, Dani." Chris Wilson leaned over the counter of the nurse's station. "Will you be finished soon?" [It might be best to leave off his last name since it’s her husband. I hadn’t remembered Dani’s last name is Wilson, so it’s too formal a way to introduce a husband.]

"Hey." The sight of her husband still turned Danielle's legs to jelly, and to think that tomorrow [tomorrow is a present tense word] they'd be married eight years. She admired his short blond hair, his funny little ski slope nose, and his bright, wide smile. "I'm running a little late tonight. Can you get Michelle from Ms. Anthony's Day Care? I'll come home when I finish here."

"I'll do better than that." Chris grinned at his wife. "I picked up some sweet corn on the way over here. Michelle and I will fix supper."

Chris enjoyed cooking, and four-year-old Michelle loved to help her parents in the kitchen. {Danielle looked forward to the evening.} [That’s kind of a flat statement. Either give it a little more punch (sorry, I can’t come up with a suggestion) or skip it.] Brian and Veronica Davis were coming for dinner. Their daughter Lauren was the same age as Michelle. The girls went to daycare together.

"Great!" Danielle giggled. "That will impress Ronnie and Brian."

Chris bent his six-foot frame farther over the counter and leaned toward his wife. [her. His wife makes it sound like his POV.] Danielle rose onto the balls of her feet to reach him and he gave her a kiss. A loud kiss. Mmm. It made her giggle. She loved the smell of his aftershave, and she loved his kisses, but sometimes his public expressions of affection were so . . . so embarrassing. She watched her husband until he was out of sight. Feeling silly, she tried to keep the grin off her face, but couldn't.

Danielle smiled as she sat and worked on her daily-sheets until her evening replacement, Wilma Hammed, joined her. At first glance, Wilma looked a little like Sophie. However, Wilma wore her hair longer, with a widow's peak in the center of her forehead.

Wilma grabbed a stool next to Danielle. "What's so funny?" she asked.

"Nothing." Danielle giggled. [That’s her third giggle. And a giggle is such a particular kind of laugh—girlish—that it should be overused. I think the one after the loud kiss will be enough to show how she reacts to her husband. The fact that he can make her giggle with a kiss after 8 years of marriage is sweet.] "My husband just stopped by to see how late I'd be working tonight.”

I'll bet she's thinking, What's with this girl? Danielle thought. [No offense, but that first thought is taking the easy way out. You could show Wilma’s expression instead.] Gotta get a grip here. "Oh, I'm just embarrassed because he's so smoochie." Danielle grinned, then sighed and shrugged "He doesn't care who's around. You'd think after eight years I'd be used to it . . . eight years tomorrow.”

Wilma gave her a curious look. "Oh. Well, congratulations.”

Danielle nodded, then sobered. Wilma was a single mother. Maybe she shouldn't gush over her own happiness. She went over the patient charts with her, since Wilma would care for these patients on the night shift.

This probably isn’t the end of your chapter, but they way things slow down toward the end here, makes me wonder how much of this is necessary. Every book will have slow moments—just make sure they’re necessary moments. And only you’ll know that.


Sharon’s website is

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Child Holds the Key

By Zoe McCarthy


Summer leaned over and zipped the backpack that lay beneath the dashboard. The zipper caught and she fought to free the edge of canvas stuck in its teeth. [Deleting this paragraph would give you a stronger beginning. You’d just have to rephrase the next two sentences so we know we’re in Summer’s head.]

Pablo stomped the gas pedal and the van surged forward.

She jerked her head up, just missing the dashboard. “What’s wrong?”

“Truck on our tail.”

She twisted to see out the back window while groping for her seatbelt. A white truck was on top of them, its horn blaring. The van swerved. She let the seatbelt go and threw her hands against the dashboard. The belt snapped back under her armpit.

“Maybe you should stop. See what they want.”

Pablo checked the rearview mirror. “I think they want the van.”


“For drug trafficking. Policía do not stop church vans. Hold on, I am going to try to lose them.”

Pablo wrenched the wheel. The van careened off the highway onto a side road and hit a pothole, popping Summer like popcorn against the roof.

She gripped the dashboard and spun her head toward the back, a salty, metallic taste permeating her mouth. The truck was still with them. She turned to the front. Another pothole. She rose and fell, air whooshing from her lungs. Blood spattered her arms.

A thud from behind. A jolt.

The ravine—too close. “Pablo! Rock!”

Pablo yanked the wheel. The van swerved, caught a piece of the rock, and soared. The nose plummeted and crashed into the far side of the ravine. {Her body sailed through glass, her arm scraping along the loose seatbelt until her hand snagged the belt, dislocating her shoulder and rotating her body. Her temple slammed into a rock.}

[All in all, the bracketed section has too many details. While it helps us picture what’s going on, it isn’t realistic. Everything would happen so fast, she wouldn’t be aware of her arm scraping along the seatbelt, or even her shoulder being dislocated. Her awareness of her temple slamming into the rock is questionable. Maybe end with her body sailing through the glass. (Opinions, readers?)]

Silence. [Not necessary. Who’s hearing the silence? Well, you know what I mean.]


Sunny followed Art out of the empty bar into the crisp autumn air. She finished counting her tips under the security spotlight while he locked the door to The Night Out. She looked up as he reached a hand back toward her, palm up. She stuffed the roll of bills into her purse, extracted her car keys, and dropped them into his hand. It had turned cold while she’d been stuck in the smoky bar. She pulled the lapels of her jean jacket together and hurried after Art to the Ford Fiesta. He opened the driver’s door and then held up the dangling keys.

“Thanks, Art, you’re my knight in shining armor.” She took the proffered keys.

“What, no tip?”

“Sorry, Charlie, I need every penny for next semester’s expenses.” She slid into the driver’s seat.

“You think you can make a career of this decorating thing, huh?”

“Just a couple of more courses until I have my interior decorating certificate.” [Caution. This kind of read like an info dump.]

“My advice. Don’t quit your night job.” Art shut the door and raised a hand in farewell.

Sunny mouthed her thanks and started the engine. She pulled out onto the deserted road.

She slapped the steering wheel. [combine the previous two sentences.] “Yes!”

The two back-to-back shifts had been worth it. She’d be able to register for Perfect Baths and Lighting Techniques for Your Home.

She rolled the window down a couple of inches to air the smoke from her hair and clothes. In spite of the cool air rippling her hair, she yawned. She couldn’t wait to get into bed.

She parked in the short driveway next to her two-bedroom house. She let herself in the door leading into the kitchen [not really necessary] and was welcomed by the blinking light on the answering machine. That was one ancient item she’d gladly replace when she was established in the home decorating business. She’d get a cell phone with all the latest services. It’d be a necessity.

She dumped her purse and keys on the kitchen table and glanced at the answering machine. Maybe her messages could wait until morning. But if her one client, Mrs. Donahue, had selected the fabric for her slipcover, she’d want to start her day early. She punched the answering machine’s playback button on her way to the refrigerator. She hadn’t eaten since breakfast and was in dire need of a glass of milk.

The machine beeped. “Hey, babe. Okay, you’ve had five days to miss me and change your mind. I don’t think you want to throw away a good thing so easily. The guys and me will stop by The Night Out tomorrow night after the drag races, and we can kiss and make up.”

Empty-handed, Sunny let the refrigerator door drift shut. Hadn’t she made herself clear? Her spine shrunk an inch, most likely from the weight of the bowling ball in her stomach. This was exactly why she shouldn’t have broken her rule to never date the men who frequented The Night Out.

The machine beeped again.

Now how was she going to get rid of Dusty? Computer geek or out-of-work construction worker like Dusty, several dates and they thought they owned you. [Is Dusty both things? Or is she thinking of a past relationship? It’s not quite clear to me.]

“It’s mom.”

Sunny froze. Was that her mother’s voice? She sounded like someone had died.

“No matter how late it is when you get in, call me.”

She reached for the portable phone and punched in the familiar sequence of numbers.


“Oh, Sunny, I need you to come over.”

“Mom, what’s happened?”



“It’s Summer.”

Sunny’s gaze shifted to the refrigerator where a sunflower magnet held her older sister’s high school graduation picture. “You got a letter?”

“I…got a letter.”

“That’s terrific news.” Why wasn’t her mother rejoicing? That’s what they’d been waiting for.

“It’s not from Summer. Come over, honey.”

Sunny’s heart pounded. “What about Summer, Mom?”


“Gone, like in gone from the mission?”

Her mother’s voice broke. “She’s dead.”

Sunny sank to the rug in front of the sink. “Oh, Mom, are you sure?”

“The letter is from a priest at the mission. Oh, Sunny this is too much.” [That’s three “ohs”. They might be justified in this situation, but you still need to be careful or you’ll sound melodramatic.]

“Hold on Mom. I’ll be there in a minute.” She dropped the phone on the counter and grabbed her keys on her way out.

Sunny maneuvered the empty streets to the middle-class side of their Southside Richmond neighborhood. Lights from TV’s flickered in several windows along the way. How could people still be up at 2:30 A.M. mundanely watching TV while her sister was dead? Summer couldn’t be dead. Something that horrible couldn’t happen while people were doing normal things, like sleeping or watching TV.

She pulled the Fiesta into the driveway of her childhood home.

“Mom, I’m here.” The screened door squeaked. She made sure it didn’t bang shut behind her.

“I’m in the den.”

Sunny found her mother dressed in a frumpy bathrobe sitting on the sofa with her legs pulled up to one side and stacks of photos surrounding her. She was staring at a photo in her hand. When Sunny approached, her mother gave her a tear-stained smile and turned the photo to face Sunny. Six-year-old Sunny and seven-year-old Summer grinned up at her. They held watermelon slices under their chins, their blond hair sticking to their juice-covered cheeks.

Sunny collapsed to the sofa, spilling a stack of photos to the floor. She held her mother tightly, her tears flowing while her mother patted her head and made little shushing sounds into her hair.

Sunny drew away and swiped tears from her face. “What happened to Summer?”

Gertrude handed her a tissue and then picked up a sheet of paper from the end table. [Personally, I’d prefer “her mother” to Gertrude.] “Here’s the letter I received from a priest in Costa Rica. It’s five weeks old. Did you know she was in Costa Rica? No, I guess you didn’t. Nobody knew where she was. I got the letter around noon today. The mailman comes at noon. I guess you knew that, too, but I didn’t want you to hear about this at work.”

Somewhere in the back of her mind, Sunny stored her mother’s ramblings to examine later. This wasn’t the moment to try to determine grief or meltdown. She took the letter from her mother’s trembling hand and started skimming the words.

Gertrude put her hand on Sunny’s. “Read it aloud, honey. Maybe if I hear it, I’ll believe it.”

Sunny swallowed and read:

“Dear Mrs. Knight,

I am grieved to write you the sad news that Summer was killed when the van she was riding in went off the road into a deep ravine. I am hoping you will come here. There are some unusual circumstances concerning the accident. There is also little Anna. I am thinking you will want to come for her.”

Sunny looked at her mother.

Gertrude’s red face crumpled and she nodded her head. “She had a daughter, honey. I have a grandbaby, and you have a niece.”

Sunny stared at the tiny smudge of mascara below her mother’s eye that somehow hadn’t been removed by one of the many soggy tissues piling up on the coffee table. Then it sunk in. Summer had a baby. Curious, her gaze fell back to the letter.

“We all mourn Summer’s death. She was a true sister in Christ and helped many people in the village. I am sorry this is how you must hear of her death. We have no telephones here in the mountain village. I send directions on how best to get here from San José. It is a two-day journey, first by bus and then by mule. I am very sorry for your loss. I pray God comforts you and blesses you with a safe journey here.

In Christ’s service,

Father Martinez”

[One formatting issue—if she’s reading it out loud, does it need to be indented and set apart from the rest of the text? ]

The beginning shows promise. A mix of excitement, mystery, and personal issues.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Never Changing

by Lois Marella

Chapter 2 – Tears in bed

Elise Sorens-Ogawa helped her toddler, Sarah, into her favorite and well-worn pink nightie covered with hearts, then walked with her to the bathroom.

“Mom says to squeeze the tube from the end, Joshua,” Micah said as a matter of fact to his five year old brother who had white foam bubbling from his mouth as he brushed his teeth. He tried to fix the tube that Joshua had squeezed in the middle. Joshua rolled his eyes.

“Alright, boys, just do a good job brushing your teeth,” Elise said in her soothing voice and patted both of their heads. “I think Joshua’s hands are too small to squeeze the tube right, Micah, but thank you for trying to teach him, Sweetie.” Micah turned to her and smiled. Elise winked back. [Sounds like a good mom.]

“Okay, your turn, Honey,” said Elise as she lifted Sarah up onto the bathroom counter and started brushing her teeth. [Said is a perfectly good word—when it’s needed. If you already have an action in place, it can be eliminated because the action tells us who’s speaking.] When everyone was finished, she scooted the boys to their bedroom. Micah was on the top bunk-bed, with Joshua below. Elise sat on the nearby desk chair with Sarah on her lap. Elise said their night time prayers, then tucked the boys in and gave them both a hug and kiss.

“Mommy will get you in bed now, Sarah,” Elise whispered as she took Sarah’s hand and led her into her own room. “There now,” she said tucking in the sides of the blanket around Sarah, “all nice and cozie.” She sat down next to her and wrapped her fingers around Sarah’s. Elise sang a short lullaby and leaned down and gave Sarah a butterfly kiss on her cheek which made her giggle. Her children’s laughter always warmed her heart. She left Sarah’s room and then headed to the kitchen to wrap Glen’s dinner in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge. He’d have to warm it up in the microwave when he got home. She finished cleaning up the kitchen and headed towards the master bedroom.

Elise looked at the clock and wondered how long Glen’s meeting would go. It was already 8pm. She donned her satin nightgown then washed up, crawling into bed at 8:15 and started to read. [“Started to” is a phrase to avoid. Did she read or didn’t she? Most of the time it can be skipped and you’ll have a stronger sentence for it.] By 9:00 she was tired and turned off the light. The minutes crept by slowly and Elise’s heart started to become heavy. I wish it was easier to take care of the kids by myself from morning to night. Emptiness started to invade her and she could feel the darkness of unhappiness spread inside of her. You know my heart even when it is hard to pray. Father, please help me feel joy.

A tear slid out from her eyes and soaked into her pillow. Glen’s job had become bigger and bigger, requiring more of his time, more of his energy and often seem to preoccupy his mind when he was at home. She understood that competition was fierce, and the dot com companies were starting to fold one-by-one. Everyone was on edge, fighting to keep their jobs since there were so many well-educated, hot resumes walking around Silicon Valley vying for their jobs. [Long paragraph. Break it here.] Another tear dripped onto her pillow. God, I know I can do it. I’ve been doing this for a long time now. What is my problem? Single mothers do this all the time, and have to work on top of what I do… She took in a deep breath and held it, trying to hold her emotions at bay. I didn’t get married to be alone. I am a single mother. Pangs of guilt coursed through her body now. Elise didn’t want to question God. All the emotion just made her face red with feelings. [she can’t see her face, so it’s best to avoid a POV issue. The next sentence is stronger anyway—it shows the emotion.] She clenched her fist into a ball and sat up, reaching for a tissue, but one wouldn’t be enough.

“Mommy?” Joshua’s thin shadowy figure came into her room.

“Yes, Honey?” Elise sounded a little stuffy, but she tried to sound as normal as possible.

“I can’t sleep, Mommy.” He came closer and sat on her bed. “Are you okay? You sound like your nose is plugged.”

“Yes, Honey. Don’t worry.” Elise finished blowing her nose. ”Why can’t you sleep?”

“Daddy’s not home. I wanted a goodnight kiss from him before I went to sleep.” He said as he rubbed his eyes and leaned his head on her shoulder.

“He might be home late tonight, Honey. If you go to bed right away, maybe you’ll see him when you wake up for a good morning hug.” Elise embraced his small shoulders and kissed his head. He smelled like strawberry shampoo.

“But sometimes he’s gone back to work before we get up, Mom.” His shoulders slumped and he hung his head.

Elise swallowed the lump in her throat. So, her children did notice that there were days when they wouldn’t see him. [Not necessary in my opinion.] They needed their father. She took in a deep breath. “I know, Honey. It is just that Daddy is really busy at work. He works hard so we can live in this nice house and have food to eat. He cares for us a lot.” The energy it took for her to defend his absence seemed monumental.

“I know.” Joshua mumbled, seeming unmoved by her reason.

“Maybe we can do something special this weekend. All five of us.” She put him on her lap and squeezed him tight. She nuzzled his neck and gave him a kiss on his cheek. “Come on, Sweetie, I’ll tuck you back into bed.” She took his hand and led him back to his room, where she helped him into his bed and pulled his covers up to his chin. She kissed his forehead. “Love you, sweet Baby.” She said softly.

“I love you, Mommy.” He whispered back.

“See you in the morning, okay?” She whispered.

“Okay.” And with that, he turned over and seemed content to try to fall asleep again.

She half-smiled in the dark, even though she was incredibly sad. Father, I love the children you gave us. Help me to know what to do.

“What is going on?” Micah chimed in quietly from the top bunk bed, perching himself up on his elbow.

Elise stood up and patted Micah on his leg. “Nothing, Honey. Joshua just couldn’t fall asleep, but he’s back in bed now. Don’t worry, okay?” Elise drew a long breath, uneasy that both boys were awake still.

“All right, Mom.” Micah pulled the covers up and moved into a fetal position

Elise tiptoed out the room, only to find Sarah standing at the opening of her bedroom. “Sarah, what are you doing?” Elise whispered. Now she was losing hope that the kids would ever fall asleep. Her shoulders slumped a bit from her weariness.

Sarah whined softly.

“Oh, Honey.” Elise wrapped her arms around Sarah and pulled her up onto her hip. “I was just helping Joshua get back into bed.”

“Pee,” Sarah whispered.

Elise smiled and rubbed the tip of her nose onto her daughter’s cheek. “No, Honey. He just was having a hard time falling asleep, that’s all.” She hugged her daughter tightly, enjoying the closeness.

Sarah wrapped her arms around her mom’s neck, tightening them and whined.

“I’ll tuck you back into bed and give you a big hug and kiss, okay?” Elise made her way towards Sarah’s bed, with the gnawing concern about her daughter’s speech development. Father, when will she start speaking in sentences? [Ooh, another painful issue to deal with. Good. ]

“Pee.” Sarah said again.

Elise could feel a tension headache starting to form and she sighed. If only Glen was there helping to put the kids to bed. “Okay, Sarah.” At least if he was there, they could tag team, or split the responsibility. She would feel less tired, especially at the end of the day when her energy was at its lowest point, as well as her patience. How she wanted to be everything for her children, but it was just too difficult doing it alone. {How single mothers do it after working all day was a mystery and sadness that she often wondered about.} [You’ve already mentioned single mothers, so you probably don’t need this.]

After Sarah went to the bathroom and was tucked back into bed, Elise made her way back into her room and got back into bed. Her body screamed at her for sleep, but her mind was on Glen. Something needed to change. He needed time with the children whether it helped her or not. He was their father. The children were not the only ones missing out. So was he. So was she. [Her thoughts are going back over similar territory. That happens in real life, but in fiction it should be consolidated.]

Nights seemed difficult. [Seemed is another word that weakens writing.] At least during the day, she was so busy with the children, running errands and doing things around the house that her mind was occupied with busyness. In the quiet time of night, she would repeatedly feel that there was something missing, something she thought she had firmly in the palm of her hand, but it no longer was there. She had misplaced it or lost it or perhaps was confused that she ever had had it. She combed her hands through her short hair and curled up into a fetal position. She didn’t want to think about her loneliness now. She just wanted to drift off to sleep and not feel the emptiness inside of her. Her children were rewarding – a mutual sharing of life and love, but emptiness came from elsewhere… the absence of her husband. Somehow, somewhere at some point, their relationship had turned luke-warm, then cold and distant. What she yearned and longed for was her husband – the man she married and the love she needed. Both seemed to evade her.

She woke up and around. I fell asleep? She looked at the clock. Wow, 10:30 already. She looked at the other side of the bed. She could see Glen’s form outlined in the dark. A sad smile crept over her lips and she slowly lowered her head back on her pillow, adjusted the blankets and found another comfortable position. He’s home. The thought comforted her and she drifted back to sleep thinking that she needed to make things better between them. Before she knew it, she was asleep. For now, she didn’t need to worry. [You say she drifted back to sleep, so you don’t need another sentence saying she fell asleep. Then, you have her thinking after she’s asleep.]

I feel for this woman in such a tough situation. Good job on that score.


This afternoon I’m leaving for a short vacation—our church’s family camp. So there won’t be any more posts this week. The timing stinks, after having no critiques last week. But it couldn’t be helped.

See you Monday!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Back to critiques

Today's author has asked to remain anonymous for one reason. They want an honest assessment of whether or not this beginning works. And it might be easier for you to do a tough critique if you don't have a name attached to the words. So let the constructive comments flow.

I highlighted the places the author slipped into present tense, and the formatting stayed when I posted here. Let me know if I missed any. I didn't do this to pound it in, but it demonstrates just how easy it is to switch tenses without realizing it.

Chapter 1

Did life perjure itself, or did I?

Lift, pull, sink. Up, up, up.

I raised one knee, and with a firm grip on my ski poles, I pushed and pulled my body up the snow-covered slope another foot—give or take—sinking into winter’s milk-colored landscape. A backpack loaded with granola, raw almonds, dried apricots, a bladder of water, and extra clothes drew my shoulders down toward the slope. Just 552 feet to go, I figured. I’d counted this journey up many times but this time was different.

I raised my other leg hoping to gain more elevation with each effort. Lift, pull, sink. An action I’d accepted as a child and grew to loathe as a teenage girl. Why did Father’s great-grandfather have to squat where a snowplow couldn’t go? Wasn’t there “squatable” land in on the valley floor available back then?

Lift . . . pull, sink. . . I stopped. This effort to gain more ground had failed. Why go on when taking air in and letting it out was the only productive action my body would allow?

The feathery snow floated and flailed from the flat daytime sky. The weather didn’t surprise me. January’s effects had left an imprint upon my soul, no different than the rest of Boundary Valley natives. It’s the longest month, whose horizon inches into and out of the darkness, hinting and hoping of spring—mud—warmth from the ruthless storms. What does surprise me, Ella Maureen Bybee, is that I’m here at all. [You slipped into present tense there, when everything else has been past.]

Twelve years had passed faster than the previous twenty before my exodus from the highlands of Northern Idaho. I had assumed I’d never ski up to this cabin again. Swore on everything I could name, high and low, you’d have to haul me up on a sled—dead—to return.

But I stood, barely, with goggles fixed against my face. Flurries whispered some-kind-of-nothings through the borrowed beanie that veiled the top of my ears. I’d returned with far different assumptions etched into my thoughts, and my heart. I knew better than to believe the frigid timbered walls could protect me from what lurked around the cabin, in the woods, buried with summer’s smoldering embers beneath the weighty winter snow. I knew that when I entered probable squalor and cold, normalcy had never existed.


Normal is an assumption at its best. And I’d discovered over the past year that assumptions could be the greatest falsehoods we believe—and we actually tell them to ourselves. [I like the paragraph up to this point. But the introspection goes on a little long.] But could humans help it? Could we resist the temptation to leave empty blanks between the spoken lines of others? Could our minds cease connecting one action to another? Could we stop drawing raw conclusions regarding the constant changes taking place before our eyes?

Could I?

Lift, pull, sink. Lift, pull, sink.

I had to return.

Up, up, up.

No choice, really. Well—I guess I did have a choice, or had another assumption clouded my now soggy mind?

A burn, deep within the fibers of my quads, my calves, tweaked what used to be customary. I’d once presumed this mode of transportation was typical for all mankind. This routine used to bring on bouts of sporadic laughter between my brother and me long before I knew about the truth assumptions tried to hide.

I continued up, up, with a pull here and there. Air raked against my diaphragm, expanding my alveoli now riddled with mold and loss stitching throughout my side. [I’d cut the last part. I don’t see how it fits in the sentence.]

I stopped. Hacked the discards from my past out of my lungs, and sipped on the water my body hungered for, all of the time. I took in another deep breath before woozy had its way with me. I didn’t want to need help now. To me, need turned into an overused word that had lost the core of its meaning amid a culture full of want. [I like the hints in this paragraph. A health problem, needing help. And that last sentence is really good.]

Ascending this slope was harder than it used to be. Until my forced migration back to the Rockies, I’d walked and breathed at ten feet, give or take, below the level where the brackish water stroked the mud and sand along the terrestrial borders of my existence. I live, or should say lived, in a two-story duplex five blocks off City Park. That actually makes it about sea level where I sleep—slept.

For over a decade, the cliffs, ice, and slopes at 8,200 feet had no longer caged me in. I’d mingled through the cobbled streets and high-rise buildings, all stayed by levees meant to protect, dank air that nourished my thirsty skin, and lakes and rivers full of the heartland’s mire trying to leave its dregs along the way.

I’d left the Deep South to return to the Rockies, no longer shied by the “Where ya at’s” and “How ya do’s?” freely shared by people of all makes, models, and shades of skin. Jazz brushed colors against my blank heart. Gumbo warmed the senses of my soul. The N’awlins’ hospitality I once took guard against, healed the gaps I tried to vainly hide.

I stopped the struggle for my ascent up Bybee Ridge. My toes tingled along each toenail that had pushed against my old, leather boots strapped tight across my feet. {No longer used to} [Be careful of overusing this type of thing. You’ve done a good job already of letting us know she’s been away for 12 years and has to readjust.] the mercury-dropping cold anymore. Nor the layers zipped, snapped and “Velcroed” all carefully positioned to not expose, rub, or fight against a joint that served a purpose—to get me where I needed to go—up—one more time.

Just one.

Monroe and Shirla knew I had come back to Boundary Canyon. And maybe Durk who worked Monroe’s dairy the night before this particular morning. I’d hoped my return hadn’t slithered off the tongues of those hungry for something other than “the weather, stock, and hay” down at The Valley Grill and Chill over Carla’s watered-down coffee brew. The last thing I wanted was uninvited company, or assumable words regarding what used to be—my life.

“You’re skin and bones.” Shirla’s first words to me in person in over a decade as she stood in her kitchen. [This sentence is over-specified. If that makes sense. Too many prepositional phrases strung together, which makes it choppy to read.] She worked eggs beneath her whisk over a gentle propane flame. “Skin and bones.”

The triplet [huh?] emphasis she’d placed on her personal description of me panged against the inside of my ribcage. I looked around to see if she talked to me. Monroe stood next to me munching on a steaming cinnamon roll. He chased it with more than a single gulp of raw milk. A growing belly hung over his belt fastened on the notch nearest the end of the leather strap that he’d probably hand tooled himself.

Nope, not him.

I looked down at my jeans. They struggled to hold onto my hips. I pulled them up higher, rising above my waist. I supposed she’s right. I’d hardly eaten since going five days without. [I like hints, but this seems too obscure.] In a single moment in time, my appetite had curdled amid wafts of putrid waste and the decay of flesh that had consumed the air.

I pushed up and inhaled, taking in flakes of snow that melted in the warmth of my mouth. I exhaled. The action-reaction tweaked the memory bred into the fibers of my legs, arms—body, really. The lowlands had eaten what remained of my flesh. Would the highlands gnaw on my bones?

Only one way to know. I pushed, up, up, up.

I stopped when I caught a glimpse of the cabin through my foggy pants for air. The perpetual hush of winter shivered through my ears. A silence never heard away from the falling snow. I surveyed the scene. Tree branches drooped from the trunk, burdened by winter’s cry. Perfect flurries chiseled by January’s biting air nestled around the pine needles peeking through the tiny holes for light, for air. The blanket of purity even teased me, deep. How deceiving this picture can be. Is it really worth a thousand words? I guess it depends on the voice that you believed—inside.

Where I once had called home sat in shambles on the slope. I expected nothing less, or should I say more. More from someone who I had come to realize possessed nothing more to offer. What I needed from him, he couldn’t give. {What I’d received? I’d rather give back.} [I don’t want to mess with your style or voice, but I’d rather see that as one sentence.] In fact, life delivered much more that I don’t desire than what I do, but why?

A tear welled up behind my eye, but the air was too frigid to let it course along my cheek, out of the warmth my body had generated. Too cold to stop and break down. It’s just too cold.

Brown shutters covered the windows. Snow—white down to gray—layered a good three feet upon the roof. Evidence that more than one winter storm had passed through the mountains since the longest season of life had started back on September first, I’m told. A half-stacked woodpile lines the front porch bordering both sides of the entrance. The other half lay scattered beneath a shroud of well-set snow. An axe handle peeked through a windblown hole.

I sighed.

The cabin would be cold.

Conflict is established. She needs to go home, but doesn’t want to. I like the potential in this beginning, but I think it needs to move a tad faster. I’m reluctant to make any further suggestions of where to cut. This is so different from my style, and I don’t want to interfere with voice.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Pastel painting

This is a pastel painting I did a year ago. It's not a great photo, I just gave up on getting a good one. I'm no photographer.

The pastel itself is nothing to brag about. So far I've only dug out my pastels once a year to enter my county fair. I painted three this year, but I had them behind glass before I remembered I was going to take pictures of them.

They're sitting on display at the fair right now. I got first place on all of them... but there were no other entries in my categories. Kind of a shallow victory that way.

Pastel is a lovely medium to work in. I fell in love with it, but when I finish my entries for the fair, I've always tucked my pastels away again. I'd like to improve my skills, so I'm leaving them out where I have easy access.

Pastels are so versatile. They lend themselves to loose, colorful pieces like this. Or detailed, nearly photographic quality like this. I envy both styles and can only dream of coming close to the level of talent those artists have.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Swimming with the fish

My parents live on the Mississippi river, only five miles from my house. Water is one of my passions. I'm over at their house every hot day of the summer, swimming, snorkeling or lounging on an air mattress.

I try to squeeze every moment out of summer. After all, this is Minnesota and our winters generally last six months. That gives me plenty of time to pursue my other passion--staying inside where it's warm.

I love the peace of the river. When I'm in the water, ducks swim past less then 10 feet away. Or we'll see muskrat or mink. I also enjoy chasing fish while I'm snorkeling--trying to get as close to a northern or bass as I can. Sunfish are much less of a challenge.

They won't tolerate being chased any more than other fish, but they have curious natures, so if I stay still, they'll often come within a few feet to see what I am. And in the last few weeks, my dad has taught the sunnies that humans are a source of food.

He started feeding them, throwing the food a few feet away, then a little closer. In less than an hour, he had them eating straight from his fingers. Then he got the rest of us in on it--my mom, husband, nieces and nephews. What do we feed them? Snails. My dad crushes them and takes out the innards. This is something way beyond my eww threshold, but I'll take the snail after it's shell-less and let the sunnies eat from my fingers. Fish suck in food like a vacuum. Kind of a neat sensation.

The first day, we fed 2 sunnies. The next day, 4 came. Now there are 12 who come begging. All well and good if we have something to feed them. If we don't, they keep trying. They'll nip at our fingers and toes. Sunnies don't have teeth, just stiff ridges inside their lips. So it doesn't hurt when they suck at a fingertip, but it's startling if I'm not expecting it. And they stalk us. We feed them in the shallows, so I thought they'd learn that if we're out deeper, we have no food.


At the first sight of arms and legs in the water, they come swimming into the deep. Oh sure, at first it was fun. "Aw, here comes that sunny. How cute." He swam at me with a determined look in his eyes. I thought he was going to swim between my knees until, YOW. He tried to eat a freckle above my knee. On a leg, they can get enough flesh to hurt. The thing left a hickey! I'm thinking, great. I have to go home and explain to my husband why there's a hickey on my inner thigh.

They're really getting aggressive. My husband, Brian, was feeding them and ran out of snails in that area. One of them sort of bumped into his chest. Then another one rammed his diving mask three times. What was that? Some kind of fishy shake-down? Human contact turned innocent fish into an angry mob.

We got out of the water and sat on the dock. I looked to the right and saw half a dozen sunnies beside the dock. Watching us. Waiting.

One day I was floating in the water--a great way to relax stiff shoulders and neck after a morning of writing--when I felt a tug on my wedding ring. Thieves, too! Trying to take my ring and pawn it for more snails. And they made the attempt another day. Then tried for my mom's ring a couple of times.

Okay, it's still sort of neat to have our own little pet fish. One of them has developed a fondness for the bright blue and purple flowers on my swimsuit. It will hover just inches in front of me, looking at those flowers. Then it'll circle around. As long as I keep my hands out of the water, and keep a wary eye out for signs that it's going for a spot on my leg, it's kind of fun.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hidden Snares

by Tina Helmuth

As promised, here's the opening scene from my Genesis entry. My category is Historical (not romance).

Even though I'm a finalist, the writing is far from perfect. So here's your chance to critique me. Go ahead, I can take it. And just for fun, guess the setting: year/location.


Jenkin huddled in the shadows as armed men emerged from the castle keep. He watched them herd his friends like cattle into a cage atop a huge cart. Horror deadened his limbs. This wasn’t part of the plan.

His lungs pumped hard to bring him air. He strained to hear the voices carried on the wind, but he couldn’t tell who spoke.

“We checked every room. There are no more servants inside. We have them all.”

“The family?”

“They were all together; one son, two daughters, Earwin and his wife. That’s the whole family, right?”

“Yeah, that’s all.”

“Stone dead, all of them.” The words echoed within the great walls.


Jenkin reeled and clung to the wall behind him. Dead? Impossible. It was supposed to be a robbery. No real harm done. Steal a few things and go. People might get scared, but not hurt. He wouldn’t have opened the gates for them if he had known.

It was new moon, which aided the trespassers’ dark deeds. One of the men climbed into the driver’s seat of the wagon and whipped the horses. The rest mounted and followed.

Jenkin climbed to the gatehouse and stood at the arrow slit to watch the cart pass. A few riders fell back and stopped outside the stables. They tried the doors, but Jenkin had barred them. Stealing the horses was part of the plan, but he’d never had any intention of letting it happen. When the men tried the cottage, he tensed. Baden slept inside. The old man couldn’t defend himself. The lying vermin would take him too, or kill him.

Jenkin stood ready to spring into action, but the door held. Finally the men gave up and left. He remained frozen for countless minutes.

Stone dead, all of them.

It couldn’t be true. He’d been given a solemn word.

The word of a cheat and a thief, a liar and a forger. What was that worth? He turned toward the keep. A forlorn sputter of candlelight flailed against the windows, as if trying to escape.

Perhaps the men just had wagging tongues. He might find the frightened family huddled together in the Great Hall. A burst of hopeful energy carried him across the courtyard and through the door. The Hall was empty. The sleeping level, then. He took the stairs three at a time, urgency screaming in his chest.

Halfway down the corridor Jenkin halted, his boots sliding sideways on the stone. Blood soaked the rush mats beneath five bodies. On top of each rested a small crucifix. The smell of blood clogged his nostrils. When he discerned the source—sizeable holes in their chests—he had to fight his rebelling stomach.

His eyes locked on the two sisters with arms entwined. The deep brown eyes of the first stared blankly at the ceiling. Golden hair covered the second face, for which he was grateful. He couldn’t have borne to see those merry blue eyes without any life in them.

No life.

He threw back his head and howled. “Snake! Vermin! You lied to me.” The family dead. His way of life gone. All for the promise of a few shillings as his part of the plunder. He whipped around, his accusing glance taking in silver candlesticks and gold ornaments. “What plunder?” Nothing had been taken. Not one scrap.

He clutched a rich tapestry and yanked it from the wall. He knocked the candlesticks to the floor in a satisfying clatter, then overturned the table. “Take it! Take it all! Just give them back to me. They’re my family, too.” He dropped to his knees and sobbed. “Why? Why did you do this?”

The question drove him back out into the too-still night. He ran to the cottage and found Baden sleeping undisturbed. He opened the end of his own straw tick and dug around. His fingers closed on the papers he’d stolen. Earwin’s will. The answer had to lie behind the wax seal.

He heated a knife over the fire, all the while glancing at Baden to make sure he didn’t wake. Painstakingly, he slid the knife under the seal, melting it from below while leaving its stamped surface intact. Free of the wax, one flap of the thick papers sprang open. His eyes devoured the text until one phrase knocked the breath out of him. If he had read it weeks ago, he’d have known more was afoot than a simple robbery.

The fork-tongued weasel. He wouldn’t get away with it.

All his care with the seal was for nothing. No one must be allowed to see that will. He tossed it onto the glowing coals and watched the edges of the paper curl and burn.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Out of ink

Friday's post was the last critique I received.

So until more come in, this blog will switch tracks. Tomorrow I'll post the first 1,000 or so words of my Genesis entry to give you a taste of the kind of writing I do. The rest of the week will be other tidbits of my life, including photos of some pastel painting I've done--if I can take a decent photo of my work.

This lull gives all of you who have been critiqued a second chance. Did I only critique half a chapter? Send the second half. Did you submit a prologue because chapter 0ne was too long? I'll do a two-part post on the chapter.

Or... Did my comments inspire new ideas, show you things you never knew were a problem? Do you have a fabulous re-write you want to show everyone? Send it in, and I'll post it, comment-free.

And lastly...

I'm currently lobbying for a wage increase for those of us trying to get published. In the meantime, I've had to get creative. I'm starting to do paid critiques--either a partial manuscript, or whole. Maybe some of you lurkers like my critique style, but don't want your baby subject to public criticism. My rates are reasonable. Just email me with a word count and I'll let you know how much it would cost.

I'm a great believer in free critiques. Crit partners and groups are great resources. Take advantage of those if you can. But if you feel your manuscript needs that extra touch, I'm very thorough. And the first 1,000 words are free.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened at the Ball Park

By William Post

Chapter 1

“The Wind Up”

“Mikey, I don’t know what I’d do if I weren’t playin’ ball.” Charles Aloyisius Mack spit out a wad of tobacco as the rain fell outside the dugout. It’d been raining fifteen minutes and was threatening to turn worse. Thick black clouds rolled closer to the top of the cheap seats in center field. Water had been accumulating in them since their long journey from the sea [this bit of information distracts from the story] and looked to burst at any second.

“Ha. I know [not necessary] I’d be busting dirt clods on my Daddy’s farm in Kansas.” Mike Puller spun a ball on his fingers to alleviate the boredom, which grew as oppressive as the humidity. “Heck, my Daddy still spits fire when I talk about playin’ ball. He just don’t understand why a grown man would put on funny pants and throw a ball around, instead of puttin’ in a hard days work plowin’ on a corn farm. Sometimes I don’t understand it myself, but if they want to pay me one-fifty a month to play, I’m not gonna tell ‘em they’s crazy.”

Both men chuckled. {It was a sweet deal. They were fortunate to wear funny pants and throw a ball. It was 1927 and} [could you put 1927 right under your chapter heading?] Charlie was in his twelfth season with the Redbirds—actually ten and a half, thanks to the Great War.

Sergeant Charles Mack had slogged his way through the trenches of France along with a few million other sore-footed soldiers. Only funny thing about his part in the war was the medal. He took out a German machine gun nest, but certainly not heroically. He was just showing another soldier, who happened to play for the Giants, how good his throwing arm was.

“That grenade felt a little heavier than a baseball,” Charlie said to Mike. “So I used it to demonstrate my put-out throw to home. I just pulled the pin—it blew out those Jerries. My commanding officer happened to be in the trench that day and saw the whole thing—at least he thought so.”

Charlie wasn’t the only major-leaguer in France. Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, and Christy Mathewson were among the Yanks trying to stay alive to play ball again. Now and then some of the soldiers would get together for a game. Charlie’d play ball any chance he could—the feel of a bat in his hands helped him get through the madness.

For these makeshift games, someone would measure off a field, someone would put down satchels for bases, and a few precious socks were wrapped into a ball if one wasn’t available. A stout tree limb or rifle butt would double as a bat.

Charlie entertained Mike with the story of one such game in the spring of 1918. “We talked a Captain into umpiring. It was the old sock-ball and when suddenly Christy Mathewson showed up. He had heard about our games and hunkered over to get in a few innings. He brought a real baseball and a real bat. Course we had to let him pitch, and boy did he.” Charlie blew out a long whistle. “Five straight innings—nothing got out of the infield. Yours truly never could hit Matty.

“We had a young lad named Joshua Lynburg, pitching for us. Unfortunately we never got to see him pitch in the bigs.” Charlie looked down. “He never made it home.”

He shook off the sadness and continued his tale. “Lynburg was holding his own against Matty. Not a real exciting game for scoring, but one great pitching duel. However, in the sixth inning we heard the rumbling of artillery. I was in left; Josh was up zero and two, when all the sudden we heard that sound. You never forget it or what to do when you hear it. The screaming whine of big artillery shells heading right for your head. It seemed like the Krauts wanted to spoil our game, so they lobbed a few high-flys our way. Artillery landed smack between second and center. We didn’t even have a chance to run. We just hit the dirt and prayed.”

Charlie chuckled. “When the dust finally cleared and we staggered up, nobody was hurt. We looked in the crater and laughed till tears streamed down our cheeks. Those idiots lobbed a dud. The worst injury sustained was the dignity of two fellas who wet their pants.” He slapped his knee.

When the war ended, Sergeant Mack returned to the open arms of the Redbirds management. His contract was still good, his position safe and he’d be treated to a “Charlie Mack Day” at the ballpark. He was glad he helped “save the world for Democracy” [I’d skip the quotes around both those phrases.] more importantly, save his keester. Still, the loss of time bothered him. He felt owed for the time away from baseball.

When Charlie finished his story, he sat on the dugout bench, and gazed out at the rainy day. While waiting for the downpour to subside, he thought about time. [Until now, it wasn’t clear when Charlie was telling Mike these stories. I felt like I was floating through the whole thing—not knowing when I was. Make it clear, but it’s still going to be backstory. Although interesting and entertaining in this case, backstory will always be problematic because the story isn’t moving forward.]

Suddenly [that’s a word that should almost never be used in fiction], lightning crackled across the black sky.

“Aw heck.” Mike Puller ran his big hand through his sandy hair. “Now we ain’t never gonna finish this game.”

“Don’t worry, Mikey, the rain’s tapering off. We’ll finish.” Charlie said to ease Mike’s heavy fear of lightning from his childhood days in Kansas. [Not necessary] As soon as he said it, lightened struck again.

“One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand—”

“What are you doing?” Charlie interrupted. [the em dash makes it clear this is an interruption, so it’s not necessary to say Charlie interrupted.]

“Didn’t your mama ever tell you to count from the thunder to the lightning?” Mike frowned.

Thunder rumbled, and in unison the two star outfielders counted. “One thousand one, one thousand two.” They glanced at each other and chuckled.

Instantly [along the same lines as suddenly] the sky brightened. “Hey, I think we’re gonna get this game in.” Mike wiggled his eyebrows.

The umpires and the managers, Connie Mack of the Philadelphia A’s and the Redbirds own Art Knox, conferred at home plate. They gazed at the sky and argued.

Mike, Charlie, and the rest of the Redbird’s players bit their fingernails, inspected the sky, and strained to overhear the conference at home. The pitchers stopped their warm up, as they waited for those two magical words. With last looks skyward and nodding of heads, the conference broke up.

“Play ball.” The lead umpire yelled.

Players and fans cheered. Redbirds raced out to their positions and started the beautiful ballet of tossing the ball around the infield. Charlie Mack, Mike Puller and their fellow outfielder, Jimmy “Red” O’Kernan, raced each other to their respective positions. Red was about half a step quicker and beat Charlie. Mike brought up the rear.

Red O’Kernan was small for an outfielder—five feet nine—but made up for it with good Irish tenacity. He was ferocious at the plate and on defense, coupled with his quickness made him a tiger in right field. He’d chase down fly balls and crash into walls. His fearlessness off the field was legendary, too. Once he challenged Ty Cobb to a fistfight, after the game. It never happened though. Red forgot about it after hitting a game winning homer and celebrating with too many swigs of Scotch.

In contrast to Red, Mike Puller, was six four with thick muscles. As the quintessential center fielder, he could cover the wide open spaces of Redbird Park with his rangy strides, and easily steal what the opposing team thought were home runs, by leaping up the ivy covered wall.

Mike and Red were quite different. Mike, the gentle giant, was shy, naïve, and carefree, who was content to watch his teammate’s antics at parties and bars on the road. At home, he preferred to stay in with wife of five years. He and Clarice went on long walks and built dollhouses—the source of unending ridicule from his teammates. Truth was that Mike was the most content of the three Redbird outfielders.

Charles Mack wasn’t happy unless he was playing baseball. If he could play a doubleheader seven days a week, he’d gladly do it. The off season was the worst time of year for Charlie. He tried to create pick-up games and even resorted to playing with kids on the sandlots—anything to play.

[The above 4 paragraphs are pretty much backstory, too]

{Some people called Charlie Mack the best player in the game. Others disagreed. Most folks were split between Ruth and Mack. But in 1927, the argument was settled. Both players were having career seasons. Home runs, RBI’s, hits, the two men crushed every offensive statistic, and dueling homers. It was a special time in baseball. All spring and summer the rivalry heated, especially with the boys in the press who attempted to top one another’s grand prose.} [You’re in omniscient point of view, but when you go that far away, talking about “others”, it leaves the reader floating again.]

In fact, on this rainy day against the A’s, Charlie hit two homers to tie the Babe for the season. He hoped after the rain delay, he’d have one more in him.

After warming up, the Redbirds players tossed the practice balls back to the dugout. Bob Shannon, the knuckle-ball-throwing pitcher was set. The infielders were crouched and ready. Puller, O’Kernan and Mack were positioned correctly. The crowd gave a low roar. The umpires were set and warily eyeing the players and the sky. The A’s batter dug in to face the first pitch. That’s when a noiseless lightning shot through the sky to the ground.

“He’s been hit!” Someone screamed from the stands.


This was actually the beginning of a short story, not a novel. It was split into 2 chapters, but I took the liberty of deleting the chapter break for our purposes. I’ve read the whole story (close to 9,000 words) and, as Bill is aware, the beginning doesn’t give a good indication of where the story is going. It heads in a sci-fi, Twilight Zone direction. Bill has a link to the entire story at his blog, Bill's Waste of Air, in the post for July 31st.