Friday, September 28, 2007

Third vs. first person

First a quick update. I had a fairly productive writing day yesterday--a combination of research and writing. My goal is to write a 50,000 word rough draft in two months. If I write 2500 words today and tomorrow, I'll be halfway through that goal right on schedule. Since I've never set a goal for myself, I consider this a success, even though I've fallen behind a bit.

Someone wanted to know what my WIP is about. I told you it was based on a true story--my great aunt's, for those of you who use that term (my grandma's sister, for those who don't).

She was a missionary in the Philippines when WWII broke out and the Japanese invaded the islands. She and one other missionary woman headed for the jungled hills to hide out. Discovery meant being shot down in cold blood, or being taken to a prison camp. After four months of living under this kind of tension, she was captured and spent the rest of the war in Santo Tomas Internment Camp in Manila.

Since all my creativity is focused on weaving a compelling story into a concentration camp setting, I appreciate that Richard Mabry asked me a question in yesterday's comments.

"Now how about your 'take' on writing in the third person vs. first person. And would you evern condone having some scenes in one voice and others in another?"

My preference, both for reading and writing, is third person. Why? That's kind of hard to pin down. I sort of feel that with first person, the character is telling me their story, while with third person I can put myself in the character's place easier.

That reason sounds kind of odd. Mainly, I just like what I like. I have a harder time getting into books written in first person. There's an adjustment period where I have to get used to the pages telling me "I did this, and I did that." After that adjustment, I do enjoy first person.

The advantage of it is a more intimate feel. And for the writer, perhaps easier characterization. I wrote one short story in first person, and the character became an extension of me. It's easier to remember that you're always in the character's head when everything is phrased "I".

But I prefer third person, because I prefer multiple POVs. Do I condone writing a book with both? Well, let's say I would never recommend it. You have to have lots of talent to pull it off, and a great story to pull the reader along so they barely notice the transitions.

Let's take one great writer who has done this. Brandilyn Collins in her Hidden Faces series. I'm a huge fan of hers, and I loved this series. So let's establish that. But that adjustment period I was talking about? I would get settled in to the first person voice, and then it switched to third person for the villain. Getting to those sections was kind of like punching the cruise button. But then it shortly switched back to first person and I'd have to readjust all over again.

If Brandilyn wasn't such a great writer with such compelling stories that simply don't let go, I may have given up on the books. As is, I've read the series twice so far. But "Dead of Night" was my favorite in the series. The villain was written in first person, too. No adjustment, just a smooth ride. And then there's the fact that the suspenseful climax in that book was awesome--had my heart pounding.

So if you're not sure whether to write in first person or third, try them both (but not in the same book until you're multi-published). Some people are meant to write in first person, and don't find their true writing voice until they switch to first person.

Any more questions? Any topic you'd like me to blog about?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Multiple POVs

Jack asked a question in the comments, and I thought I'd answer it here, where everyone can see. I didn't have a post in mind for today, anyway. And I want to let you all know I'm still here and hope to get back to critiquing soon.

Life got in the way for several days here and there, and I fell behind on my word count. I'm trying to make up for that. But that has nothing to do with why I'm not critiquing--I find the crits a welcome break and generally tackle them during non-writing hours. Once again, the trickle of submissions has stopped. But I'm spreading the word, so stay tuned!

Okay, on to the question. To boil it down, Jack asked if I saw any drawbacks with weaving another POV (point of view) into his story. Any traps he might fall into.

I always have more than one POV character in books I write. (Okay, working on #3 right now. Don't mean to sound like a seasoned pro.) I personally like the depth this gives the story. A different character can be privy to something the other character(s) would never know. It adds another layer and a broader scope.

On the negative side, with multiple POVs, you lose some of the intimacy with your main character. Some see this as a negligible drawback. Others see that intimacy as so vital they'd never dream of having more than one POV character.

I happen to think a good balance can give you closeness with the characters, as well as a broader story. My advice, try it out and see how it fits.

Here's a list of things to avoid. Not necessarily aimed at Jack, who was only talking about adding one character. They're just good general guidelines.

  • A superfluous character who doesn't add anything to the story. He's just there for filler because the word count wasn't high enough.
  • Too many POV characters. If a character has a minor role in your story, does the reader really need to see things from inside his head?
  • Confusing scene beginnings where the reader will have to start over after two pages because they thought they were in someone else's head. In other words, make it clear whose POV you're in from the first paragraph whenever possible. If not the first sentence.
I'm flying by the seat of my pants for this post. Those are the three things I've seen most often in my critiquing experience. Nothing else comes to mind at the moment. Readers, if you think of other things to watch for, please post them in the comments.

That's one of the things I like about the readership I've attracted. Some of you have been writing for years and have at least one manuscript that's ready for publication. One or more of you have been published. While others are just starting out--working on their very first draft ever.

And they're the truly brave ones. To send something to me for public critique on a first draft? I applaud you.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I take it back

I want to retract something I said in the last critique. Well, not retract it completely, but there are exceptions to something I laid down as a rule. I was talking about the perfect length of a paragraph and I said, "No paragraph should be more than a line or two longer than that one."

As a general guideline, I stand by that. Long paragraphs tire a reader's eye. Breaking the text up into shorter paragraphs keeps the reader going. But just like everything else in writing, variety is the key. The length of sentences within a paragraph should vary, and the lengths of paragraphs should vary, too.

If you're just starting out in writing, don't force this. If it doesn't come from a natural rhythm, leave it alone. But in the polishing stage, it's something to pay attention to.

There is a place for long paragraphs. Say your character needs to make an impassioned speech. The long paragraph is made for that. But you get about one of those per book. (Okay, I made that up. But you don't get many.)

If it's a slow scene and you're trying to create a calming lull, longer sentences and paragraphs is the way to do that. But keep some variety in length. And don't make the paragraphs too long. Remember as you're typing your manuscript, you've got a whole 8.5 inch wide page to fill. This makes the paragraphs look shorter. Squeeze that into book form where the page is 5.5 inches or less, and that paragraph might take up the entire page. And readers everywhere will groan and maybe toss in a bookmark to tackle that page later.

In action scenes, the pace should be moving quickly. Thus shorter sentences and paragraphs are called for--even one-sentence paragraphs occasionally for emphasis. I'll repeat occasionally for my own benefit. I tend to put in too many one-line paragraphs. One critique partner had to tell me to stop being such a drama queen. She didn't use those words, but that was the idea. The one sentence paragraph is a powerful tool when used correctly. Doesn't matter what genre you're writing, in my opinion.

In other news, the Genesis contest results were posted to the ACFW loop yesterday. I took second place in the historical category. Thanks to those of you who saw the announcement and congratulated me in yesterday's comments. I didn't even expect to final, so second place is pretty good.

I wasn't able to make the conference. But I'm going next year, when it'll be held in Bloomington, Minnesota. About a three and a half hour drive for me. I'm starting to save up my money now, and not having to buy an airline ticket will help the finances. Not to mention my nerves. I've never flown and the thought of flying terrifies me. I'll get over it someday, but I want my husband at my side. Otherwise, I'll squeeze some stranger's arm bloodless.

Anyway, I'm excited about next year's conference. As you probably already know, we'll have the use of the Mall of America rotunda for the booksigning, and Barnes and Noble will host the conference bookstore. Another advantage is something Michelle Hutchinson will be particularly interested in. (I've heard about her chocolate parties.) There's an excellent fudge shop in the Mall. Then again, what kind of store isn't in that mall?

Even though I've never been to an ACFW conference, I can say with confidence, do everything you can to make it next year!

Monday, September 24, 2007


Yesterday was the first official day of fall. And we had 80 degrees. It'll get close to that again today. September 14th I was complaining about the cold. I didn't know it then, but my husband told me we had snow flurries that morning. It stayed in the 40s and low 50s for about a week.

Now I'm back in shorts and loving it. It's the best of both seasons. I can walk outside and feel warm, but it smells like fall. I love the smell of fall. To take advantage of the weather, my hubby and I went for a walk in the woods. Here's a few of the pictures I took.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Too true for fiction

God does amazing things to protect His children. So unbelievable that if you tried to put it into a novel, you'd have readers throwing the book across the room saying, "Yeah, right!"

It started when I had to run an errand that involves traveling thirty miles on back-country roads. My part of the story isn't amazing, but it's something I'm thankful for. About five miles from my destination, the little battery symbol light came on.

I knew it probably meant alternator problems. I only know that because it happened with a different car on a trip out east and the car completely died. But my husband was driving then and he knew what to expect. I was alone and all I could do was pray that the car wouldn't die. I was on a stretch with no houses and I didn't want to walk five miles.

The engine missed once (everything seems to stop for a split second and the car lurches) but I made it to my destination. And silly me, I turned the car off because it's an errand that can take 20-30 minutes. Hey, at least I had access to a phone there. That's right, I have no cell phone.

The car started and I made it back home--with the engine missing about three more times. When my husband came home from work, I told him of my little adventure and said I was surprised I made it home. He said he was too, especially since I'd turned the car off. Then he asked if he'd ever told me the story of the two little Mennonite women. And this is the amazing part.

These two Mennonite women traveled to a different town--to a bad part of that town--I'm assuming for some mission work. When they headed back to their car, they saw two big, scary guys sitting very close to the car. So close they were afraid to get in, but they did. I imagine these two men glowering at the women the whole time. (My husband didn't say so, but he's not big on details in his stories.)

The car started right up and the two men jumped back, looking scared, then ran away. Odd reaction, they thought. Did those men think two nice little ladies were going to run them over? They drove home and all was well. But the next morning the woman tried to start her car and nothing happened. She called her husband out to the garage to take a look. The husband popped the hood.

There was no battery in the car.

No wonder those men had looked so scared. They'd witnessed a car starting after they'd stolen the battery out of it! I would have loved to hear their thoughts in that moment.

God is so good--and what a sense of humor.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Historical fiction, part 2

by Jack Watkins

“What’s the matter Abby? What happened?” Through red swollen eyes, Abby looked up, let out a shrill cry. She jumped up with out-stretched arms, wrapped them around Hanks neck and began to sob uncontrollably, while moaning, “Oh Hank, Hank, Hank.”

[Abby’s actions should be separated from Hank’s dialog by a new paragraph. Plus Abby speaks at the end and two speakers should always be in separate paragraphs.]

All manner of thoughts raced through Hanks mind as he comforted his sister. “Abby stop your cryin’ and tell me what happened. Where’s Ma, Dad, Joey, Liz? What happened?” he finally exclaimed in one breath. [Let the structure of your dialog speak for itself.]

“Oh, it’s just terrible Hank. It’s just terrible,” she blurted out between sobs.

“What’s so terrible?”

“Oh Hank, Joey’s gone,” she wailed and went limp in his arms. [When people say someone is gone, the first thing that pops into my mind is they’re dead. Could you have her say Joey left?]

“Whatta you mean he’s gone? Is he hurt? Now calm down Sis, your making no sense a’tall.” Hank pried Abby away from him, held her at arms length, looked her in the eye, and yelled, “Stop all this nonsense and tell me what’s goin’ on.”

Abby looked up at Hank with sorrowful eyes, and mouth quivering. “Oh Hank. Joey ran off and joined the Army, and Pa’s blamin’ it all on you. He says you turned him with all your high fallutin’ flyboy stuff. Says Joey’s been worthless around the farm since you left. All he’s been doin’ is dreamin’ about flyin’ off and fightin’ Japs and Nazi’s. Couldn’t get a lick a work out of him. Oh Hank it’s just terrible. What’s gonna happen to us all? Everything is fallen apart.” Out of breath, Abby once again fell into Hanks arms and buried her face in his chest wailing.

Walking back to the house, Abby gained some control and related to Hank how Ma and Pa had just left the day before to find Joey.

“Pa thinks that Joey went to San Antone to sign up. At least that is what the note Joey left said.

“What note?” Hank asked.

Setting herself into the porch swing Abby replied, “Well, Hank, you remember when you were home last and you was telling us all about your flight training and all?”

“Yea sis I remember,” Hank said as he sat next to his sister.

“That’s all Joey talked about for weeks after you left. He was gonna join up and go fight. Pa did’n pay much attention to it. Just thought it was Joey spouting off and dreamin’. You know Joey. Pa didn’t think Joey was serious and all, knowin’ that he couldn’t sign up without his permission anyways. Well yesterday mornin’ Joey begged Pa if he could go into town to fetch the mail and Pa relented. He never came home. Ma found a note in his room saying he was sorry and everything, but he had this duty to sign up like Hank and James and all the rest of the boys.”

“So they just off and went to San Antonio? There is no way they’ll find him. The Army is takin’ ever’ warm blooded body they can find now. I know lotta of boys lyin’ bought [‘bout] their age, no questions asked.”

“They thought they would look up James and Sarah and see what they could find out. Pa was plenty mad when he left. At you!”

“At me! What did I do? Anyway I thought James was being shipped out. ”

“Last I heard, he was ordered to be an instructor or something. Since he has so much experience flyin’. Robert Henry you know what you done. You practically told Joey to run off and enlist. Joey was bewitched by all your talk. I heard all the things you were telling him that last night you were here. You ought to be ashamed of yourself Hank, tellin’ all those lies about the girls and drinkin. Pa taught you better than that.”

[Is it important to include Sarah and James here? We don’t know who they are and that much information gets in the way of emotions. Above, Abby sounds very logical when she’s explaining what James is doing. Then she jumps into hot emotion. “Robert Henry, you know what you done.” That heat should be up front.

And in general, Abby’s dialog is a little long to sound natural. Yes, she has a lot to explain, but see what you can break up with a little more give and take between Hank and Abby.]

Hank was shocked at his sister’s revelations. [You’re telling the emotion, not showing it.] “Where’d you hear that Abby?”

“That last night you were here, Hank. You and Joey were out on this very porch talkin’. I heard ever’ word you said Robert Henry.”

“Cut the Robert Henry bunk out Abigail. Joey didn’t believe all of that. I was just tellin’ tales. You really think Joey run off and enlisted because of what I said?”

“Yea I do, Robert Henry,” she said, as she hopped up before Hank could take a swat at her.

[In that scene, we see who Hank is. I can hear his southern drawl, so you did a good job there. Try to bring some of that into the war scenes. He can’t be as relaxed as he is at home, but he can be just as human. Try to find a balance between the detachment he has to feel in order to get the job done, and the person he is.]

16 Oct 1944
Southwest of Munich Germany

Enough daydreaming! Hank evaluated the target of opportunity below. He quickly surmised that if they strafed the cars before knocking out the locomotive, there would be less chance the troops could jump off the moving train and escape into the woods. Then they would come around for second pass and drop their five hundred pound bombs. With Lt. Davis tight on his wing he knew that his wingman would follow his lead so there was no need to break radio silence. With two quick hand signals to Jeffrey, Hank rolled the Mustang inverted, pulled back on the stick, and advanced the throttles to full Emergency Power, 67 inches of manifold pressure. As the nose passed through the horizon and the train came into view, he rolled the wings level and zeroed in on the trailing car. His plan was to fly down the length of the train and lay a stream of fifty caliber projectiles from his six Browning model MG53-2 machine guns. With the 1600 horses at max power the Mustang accelerated quickly as it nosed over.

[Readers, especially you males, I need your opinion on this. Here’s mine:

Jack, you’ve done your research with all those specifics. But too many slow down the action. Remember, these are his thoughts. “…a stream of fifty caliber projectiles from his six Browning model MG53-2…” Is that really how he’s going to think of it in the heat of the moment? Or is he going to think about flying down the length of the train and letting loose a stream of bullets? For that matter, it might be better to just see the events play out instead of hearing his plans ahead of time.

Please voice your opinions in the comments to let Jack know how this comes across. This wasn’t done accidentally—it’s a specific style he’s going for. So, male and female alike, you can act as his focus group.]

Hank lined the trailing car up in the K-14B gunsight, armed his guns, and checked his altitude. He was passing through five thousand feet, and the vertical speed indicator (VSI) [skip the initials this time] was showing a four thousand foot per minute descent. In sixty seconds Hank would need to shallow his descent or risk be unable to pull out of the dive. Passing three thousand feet Hank opened with a short burst to check range and accuracy. With a touch of rudder and easing back on the stick, Hank squeezed the trigger and watched as the tracers and bullet impacts walked their way up the train. [good description] As he released the trigger he noticed some activity on three flat bed cars close to the front. What appeared to be tarps were pulled off guns mounted on the flat bed cars.

[If they looked like tarps to him, it’s okay to just say tarps. Otherwise, it slows down the action. Then rephrase the rest so it’s active, not passive voice. Actually, start your rephrase with the overly polite and formal, “he noticed some activity.” Try something like, “Toward the front of the train, troops streamed onto three flat cars and yanked tarps off of mounted machine guns.” Now I can see much more clearly what’s happening.]

Hank pulled up hard and to the left. All Mustang pilots knew a single round to the liquid cooling system would bring a Mustang down, because the critical components of this cooling system were in the forward and lower sections of the fuselage. They also knew the Mustang was more vulnerable to ground fire than it was to enemy aircraft. As in all aircraft designs there are give and takes. What made the Mustang so sleek and fast was it’s in-line liquid cooled engine. What made it vulnerable to ground fire was it’s in-line liquid cooled engine. As a result, the ratio of losses to missions flown was higher on these ground attack missions for the P-51 than they were for the P-47 Thunderbolt with its air-cooled engine. That is why most Mustang pilots preferred not to fly the ground attack missions.

[Streamline this paragraph:

Hank pulled up hard and to the left. Most Mustang pilots preferred not to fly the ground attack missions. What made the Mustang so sleek and fast—its in-line liquid cooled engine—was also what made it vulnerable. A single round to the cooling system would bring it down.

You might want just a little more information than that, but don’t overburden the reader with detail. (Again, only my opinion.)]

Hank felt the impacts of 20 mm projectiles as he climbed and his worst fears were realized when he noticed his coolant pressure dropping. [Slip the part about the liquid-cooled engine in here. It’ll fit more smoothly because you have a perfect excuse to talk about it.] With pressure dropping, Hank knew that the coolant temp would rising shortly. Looking back over his shoulder to locate his wingman, he saw Lt. Davis opening up with all six, fifty cals, and as Jeff pulled up he saw two five hundred pound bombs drop from his wings.

[How does he think of his wingman? Lt. Davis or Jeff? Stick with one or the other.]

“Knock ‘em out Jeff!” Hank shouted. Then there was a huge fireball where Lt Davis’ Mustang had been. Hank realized, that as he had pulled up, the German gunners had turned the full firepower of their antiaircraft guns on Lt. Davis’s Mustang. He never had a chance. An enormous explosion engulfed the locomotive. A cloud of steam mushroomed into the sky. Troop cars went careening off the track in every direction. Secondary explosions obscured the rest of the train as Hank turned his head back.

[That paragraph should be broken up. Not for length but because of content. Also it needs more emotion, something with more impact than “there was a huge fireball.” Get some action verbs in there. And Hank’s analysis of what happened is too clinical. Here’s a rewrite. Not what it should be—I don’t have that kind of time—but just to give you an idea of the basic elements to include and where to break the paragraphs.

“Knock ‘em out, Jeff!”

He looked down and saw a huge fireball where Jeff’s Mustang should have been. The air left Hank’s lungs. Jeff hadn’t stood a chance against the full power of the antiaircraft guns.

But his final act succeeded. An explosion engulfed… (the rest is fine as is.)]

With no time to mourn the loss of Lt. Davis, Hank quickly assessed his situation. He was over 300 miles from his base, with an engine that was rapidly losing coolant. He needed altitude and some time to choose where he could set the Mustang down. However, the terrain southwest of Munich was not very suitable to land an airplane. [Give an example of the terrain. “not very suitable” is too vague. Rocky? Too many trees?] His only hope was to head west as far as the engine would last and bailout at a safe altitude. Thankful that he had committed to memory the location of German troop concentrations he had received in the intelligence briefing, [shorten: Thankful he’d memorized the location of German troops,] he pointed the nose of the Mustang west. He had been able to trade speed for altitude, as he was now passing through six thousand feet, but his speed was decaying rapidly and he did not know how much longer his engine would last. [In that sentence, you summarize the situation and then explain it, which sounds redundant to me. Choose which one you want.] Hank reduced the power on the engine and opened the cooling flaps to the full open position to get as much cooling as possible. “A lotta’ good that’ll do,” he thought. “If there is no coolant to cool, it won’t matter how much I open the cooling flaps.”

[Too many “cools” here. “If there’s no coolant, it won’t matter how much I open the flaps.” And you repeat the word open in the previous sentence.]

Hank started going over bailout procedures. There are two ways to bail out of a P-51. The pilots operating manual(POM) states: [With the last two sentences, you stole the scene away from your character and started talking directly to your readers. Just say what his two options are instead of quoting the manual.]

To bail out, either of two procedures may be followed:

1. Release canopy, roll airplane over on its back and drop out.

2. Release canopy, climb out of cockpit, lower yourself onto the wing and roll off.

The pros and cons of each procedure rolled over in Hank’s mind. He kind of liked the idea of rolling inverted, pushing on the stick a little and letting the negative G’s force him out of the cockpit. He remembered verbatim the POM’s procedure for releasing the canopy in flight:

The cockpit enclosure may be released as a unit in an emergency. The Emergency Release handle is located on the right forward side of the cockpit. To release the canopy, pull the handle all the way back. Remember: Duck you hear as you pull the handle to avoid a head injury. [This one might be okay.]

Duck your head, Ha! Hank swapped hands on the stick, ducked his head, and reached down with his right hand and pulled the release handle. Nothing happened. He pulled again. Still the canopy did not release.

Ok, Hank, fly the airplane first . A phrase his first flight instructors had impressed on him head whenever you were in an emergency. Wouldn’t do much good to spin this baby in while solving this problem. He thought about his other options. He could slide the canopy back and climb out, and if that did not work, it looked like he would have to “dead stick” it in. He did not like that option. Not much level ground down there to set her down on. He also did not like the idea of climbing out of the cockpit with the canopy not fully released. [Don’t look now, but you’ve lost your contractions. :o)]

Hank glanced at his instruments one more time. Coolant temp was already past redline. Manifold pressure and RPM’s were dropping. The engine, that precious Merlin began belching white smoke out of the exhaust stacks. Hank felt a vibration build. Then BAM! The prop stopped. Silence, except for the slip stream.

Hank’s mind went into automatic. His vision narrowed and everything seemed to slow down. Speed decaying, push the nose over. Check attitude. Set up best glide speed. Time was running out. Hank took his fist and started banging all around the base of the canopy, still flying with his left hand. Once more he reached down and pulled the release handle. This time he forgot to duck.

Great ending to a chapter.

I think you’ve got a good idea for a story here. It’s a little hard to tell because so much of it is action. And the overall tone sounds too formal, other than his visit home. Am I right in assuming you’ll continue alternating between two separate timelines? I like that idea. It’ll give the reader a break and let them see another side to Hank.

Again, I’ll ask for your feedback. I know a lot of you like to stay in the background. And leaving a comment here means either disagreeing with me or disagreeing with Jack. Keep it anonymous if want. But if you do, I think it would be helpful to say whether you’re male or female. It’ll interest me, at any rate. I have a theory that it might be because I’m a woman that I don’t care to know the model of the gun that’s being fired.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Historical fiction, Part 1

by Jack Watkins

16 Oct 1944
Southwest of Munich Germany

Captain Robert Henry (Hank) Sawyer, USAAC looked down to his left. A flash of white caught his eye. He looked over at his wingman 1st Lt. Jeffrey R. Davis and pointed down to his left. The deep blue sky was clear and peaceful. What a beautiful day. What I am doing here fighting this crazy war? I should be home baiting a hook.

[Almost every book I’ve ever read starts out by naming their character, first and last name. I’m a little torn here, because including his title gives a clear identification for your character, but it’s a little long. And including the name he actually goes by in parentheses makes it even longer. Plus parentheses aren’t really done these days.

Then, look at the first sentence for its ability to hook your reader. If you didn’t have his title, it would read, “Hank Sawyer looked down to his left.” No offense, but that’s not exactly gripping. He’s an Air force pilot in a fighter plane. Craft a first sentence that’s exciting.]

Hank and Jeffery were flying their North American P-51D Mustangs at fifteen thousand feet with reduced power on their Rolls Royce Merlin engines to save fuel. Their mission that day was to look for targets of opportunity, and be available for ground attack in support of Patton’s Third Army troops. The briefing that morning at the base in Orconte, northeast France, had not indicated any Luftwaffe activity in the area, so the chances of downing another FW-190 or ME-109 were pretty slim. They had received no calls to support troops so they had drifted east towards Munich behind the German lines. With the forbidden Black Forest behind them to the west and the beautiful Bavarian Alps to the south the chances of spotting troop concentrations increased. Rumor had it that the Germans were building up for a last counter-offensive.

[There are a lot of specifics in that paragraph. That might be just fine if we were given a longer look at Hank as a person before you get into the details of his mission.]

Hank rolled to his left, and now saw the billowing smoke of a German steam locomotive and what looked like a troop train heading west towards the front. This was the first time he had seen a troop train, and although he was an ace two times over with eleven kills, his stomach turned at the thought of strafing troops on the train. Better them than me. He had heard reports that some German units were down to conscripting boys and old men to fill out the ranks. When will this insanity end? Hank hated the killing, but he knew the GI’s on the ground would appreciate eliminating any German troops he could, especially if they were the hated SS Troops. This is for you Joey! Avenging his younger brother Joey was always on his mind. He was still listed as Missing In Action ( MIA) [Just say MIA. I’m willing to bet your target audience knows what it means.] after jumping with the 82nd Airborne on D-Day. It was rumored they had landed right in the middle of an SS Panzer group. His dad would never forgive him for that. Hank remembered the day he came home on his first leave after completing basic flight training.

[The length of your first paragraph is just about perfect. No paragraph should be more than a line or two longer than that one. Your second paragraph should be broken in two, and your third maybe even three.

Also, reach for the emotions in that scene. You give a hint of it, but it’s telling instead of showing. “Hank hated the killing, but he knew the GIs on the ground would appreciate…” Kind of dry.

I understand what you’re going for. It’s a troop train. He’s not in combat with these men—they aren’t trying to kill him. They seem for a moment like innocent passengers. But they’re heading for the front. When they reach their destination, they’ll start killing Americans. Better them than me isn’t quite accurate and it doesn’t go deep enough. That’s the problem with some direct thoughts—they skim the surface and can end up sounding trite.]

15 May 1943
Caldwell County, Texas

The all night bus ride from Sherman, Texas had stopped in San Marcos where Hank got off. After washing his face and straightening his tie, he stepped out of the bus station a little disheveled and tired. He swung his bag over his shoulder and had walked no more than a block from the station when an old farmer in a beat up Ford pickup stopped and offered him a ride.

“Where you headed, sonny?”

“Oh, to my folks place near Fentress, just this side of it about a mile.”

“Well hop in, and throw your bag in the back. I’ll be drivin’ right near there headed back to Prairie Lea.”

“Much obliged sir. I’m Hank Sawyer, our place is next to the old Eastwood place on the river.

“Yea, you must be Robert Sawyers boy. I know your place. Hadn’t seen you since you were a boy. I see them there wings, what are you flying?”

“I just finished Basic Flight Training.”

“Well I hope you do well. My boy is leaving for England to fly bombers soon.”

Hank thanked the farmer for the ride and had walked the mile and a half to the house, crossing the old creek bridge and relishing the early afternoon smells and sounds of late spring. Freshly planted corn and cotton were peeking up through plowed furrows. A distant crow cawed its presence. As Hank got closer to the house, he anticipated an exciting reunion with his family. They had no idea he was coming. There had been no time to send a telegram.

Hank cut across a pasture and looked off in the distance hoping to see Pa plowing the back field. No one in sight. The house that he had helped Pa build in 1939 came into view. Squinting his eyes against the bright sun hoping to catch sight of someone in his family. [I’m not a stickler for complete sentences. But this one’s a fragment that’s dressed up to look like a complete sentence. I had to read it twice to make sure I didn’t overlook a noun. “He squinted against the bright sun, hoping to catch sight…” Or “Squinting against the bright sun, he hoped to catch sight…” I eliminated “his eyes”. What else can a person squint? :o)] He had all sorts of things to tell them. Surely they would all want to know about his flying and all of the grand times he was having. I bet Joey will talk my head off. Hank walked around the front of the house and opened the gate to the white picket fence that Ma had always dreamed of.

The house was quiet. The old Model “T” was not in the shed, Dad was probably in town getting some supplies. It was midday and Hank figured he would find his Mom preparing one of her delicious dinners for Pa, Joey and the girls after a hard morning of working the fields. He walked onto the back porch and opened the door to the kitchen. Ma was no where to be found. The wood stove was starved of any fire. No whistling kettle. Glancing into the dining room Hank called out, “Ma, hey anybody home?” No dishes on the table. That’s odd. He completed his walk through the house which did not take long and stepped back outside on the back steps. He looked past the smoke house and wash house, towards the barn. The windmill was slowly spinning in the light breeze.

He took a step towards the barn and glanced toward the chicken coop thinking Ma might be feeding the chickens. Nobody in sight. Hank continued towards the barn, and as he got closer he thought he heard a muffled cry over the familiar creaking of the windmill. The barn was about sixty feet long and had two enclosed storage areas, surrounding an open stall area. Hank had spent many an hour milking cows in those stalls. A slight grin creased his face [For POV clarity, you shouldn’t mention things he can’t see himself.] as he remembered the time ol’ Antoinette the cow kicked him and swatted him with her tail after he had just finished filling up a milk pail. He had tumbled off the milking stool, knocked over the pail, and ended up laying flat on his back, staring up at four huge cow teats.

[The memory breaks the mood and seems out of place, although it’s a touch of humanity and humor that I hope you find another place for. He expected normal, bustling farm activity but the place looks abandoned. Then he hears a muffled cry. Even including the description of the barn after that cry seems odd. For one thing, he’s not in the barn. Narrative is, for all intents and purposes, the thoughts of the character. Why would he think of how long the barn is and of its layout after he hears a cry? That slightly eerie feeling you start to build will be better served by cutting the description and the memory.]

The muffled cry came clearer as he unlatched the gate to the barn yard. Sounds like Abigail. Abigail, or Abby as she was more commonly known, [Just call her Abby from the start. That’s how he thinks of her.] was a gregarious fifteen year old.

“Abby, is that you?” he called out as he rounded the corner of the barn. There, sitting on the milk stool next to the feed trough was Abby, face buried in her hands. Her long, dark hair tumbled across her lap.


This is not where the scene ended. So no drama is intended by cutting it off here. It was simply the closest spot to the middle of this chapter, so I split it here, not the author. The second half of this will be posted Wednesday.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Lily Pastel

This is the last of the pastel paintings I did in August. It's my favorite of the three, mostly because it's something I might actually hang on my wall.

And it was fun to do. It's an 11x14, whereas the others were 8x10. When I do a larger subject like this, I finger blend almost exclusively. It took three different colors to make that particular purple/plum color.

I'll have another critique for you Monday. Oh, and my word count goal? I was doing great, but the past two days I got too deep into research and didn't write. I have to make up for that today and tomorrow, hopefully incorporating some of that research.

You southerners still want some of this cold weather? It's 36 degrees this morning, forecasted to warm to a toasty 46 by afternoon. I'll send you 20 degrees of cold if you return the favor with an equal amount of warm.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

[This post has been removed]

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Wolf Pastel

This is the second pastel I painted for the fair. My niece loves wolves and decorates her room with them.

So I painted this one for her.

With the colors of her room in mind, I chose the bright blue sky and added the purple northern lights type effect. In retrospect, I wish I'd taken more time with the background. But the wolf was so detailed, that's what I concentrated on.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Shark Pastel

This is the first of three pastels I entered in my county fair this year.

But I have a lousy camera. Most of my highlights and some of my lowlights were lost in the photo. The underside of the water looks much more realistic in person. The light source should show up as a nice glowing streak in the center.

I love water, as you know. And I like to flip onto my back when I'm snorkeling to look at the water's surface. That's why I chose to do an underwater picture.

I've never snorkeled in the ocean, only in lakes and the Mississippi. So why a shark? It's just a recognizable silhouette. Although I did have some people tell me they liked my dolphin picture. Oh, well.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Science Fiction - Part 2

(If you missed part one, scroll down to Wednesday’s post.)

by Grace Bridges

That evening, Mario took a walk around one of Building 17’s courtyards. Coloured lights swung on strings above eating-places where hundreds of people in workers’ grey buzzed with everyday conversations. He passed a vid-hall and paused to peruse the posters for movies. Great. Yet another History of Monday flick.

Everyone knew the history of Monday back to front and inside out. But the powers-that-be were always funding new movies, each cheesier than the last. They couldn’t change the facts. The recitation from a children’s vid-show began to play through Mario’s absent mind.

We have all come from a place called Earth. After the First Travellers discovered our planet on a day they called Monday, and discovered our people could live here, the people of Earth clamoured to be brought to this place. There was great poverty on Earth, and many people lacked food and shelter. One man listened to the voice of the poor. That man was Maxwell Baxter. He built a large space-vessel and loaded it with all kinds of supplies and machinery, then invited any who wished to travel with him to a new home. Many thousands bravely accepted. After a long journey, we landed here. Contact with Earth was no longer possible at this distance. The First Generation fought to establish the New World, but there were fights over the planet’s wealth. So Maxwell Baxter’s grandson created the society we live in today: nothing is wasted, and no one must suffer want. Everyone works as they should, and the emo-reader prevents unruly passion. May the Baxters rule over us forever!

Mario spat in a corner. He’d actually heard that crap so often that it was stuck inside his brain, for better or for worse. It even survived the mindwipes, although he suspected that was deliberate. The Baxters lived in the fortified and heavily guarded Baxter Region, and wore no emo-readers, if you believed what people said. […if rumors were true.] [I don’t know if the use of second person in this way is only my personal dislike, or if it’s something an editor wouldn’t like. I suspect it should only be seen in dialog.]

A scream reached his ears from the other end of the courtyard. He turned and saw the workers from the surrounding tables rushing to get away to a safe distance. [That’s wordier than needed: “scrambling away.”] The unfortunate woman’s emo-reader was beeping the signal for eighty percent of critical level, and everyone knew that eighty almost always became a hundred due to fear alone. The chip’s beeping grew louder still, sealing the fate of its wearer. Then a deadly silence fell.

Mario froze and watched in morbid fascination as the courtyard’s transport tube detached itself from the wall and moved to hang its mouth over the hapless worker’s head. She stared up at it wide-eyed for just an instant. Then came a sucking sound, and she was gone.

The people in the courtyard breathed again, collectively, and returned one by one to their meals and conversations. A small figure sat on a bench next to where the vanished woman had been, hands covering her face. Mario recognised the girl he had worked next to today [that day], and wondered if she had been friends with the other woman.

The smell of roasting chicken pierced his senses and he remembered his hunger [I don’t care for “he remembered” lines. Say his stomach rumbled or something.]. Walking up to the food-stall, he joined the back of the line and shuffled forward with the others. He gazed at the ground, willing himself to think of nothing. A pair of boots came into view and he looked up, surprised that someone would come up so close to him.

The pale face and blonde dreadlocks registered in his belaboured memory once more, and he smiled.

“I saw you in the field, right?”

The girl’s face fell, but she held her steady gaze. “Oh, Mario, don’t you know me anymore?”

He grimaced, rubbed the bridge of his nose between thumb and finger, and looked up to find her still waiting. “No, I, uh… I guess not. I think they mindwiped me last night.”

Shock, then sympathy chased across the features before him. “I’m so sorry. Then you won’t know anyone from before.” Inspecting the palms of her hands, she apparently found them lacking in cleanliness, and gave them a quick rub on the lower back of her grey sweatshirt. Then she stuck out a hand in greeting. “I’m Caitlin, and it’s a pleasure to meet you, Mario, although I’m sure we’ve been through this a hundred times.”

Mario shook her hand slowly, shaking his head. She knows something I don’t. [Trust your reader—that thought is obvious already.]

“Next, please!” called the man behind the stall, and Mario’s head jerked around. He reached the counter in one long stride.

“Two, please.”

The server handed him the two birds, and he turned back to look for… what was her name again? There she is. Caitlin. She accepted a chicken and they found an empty table nearby, under a tree imprisoned by paving stones. Mario gave way to his hunger and tore great hunks of meat from the fowl’s carcass. Caitlin picked at her food, but still managed to eat nearly half of her chicken before Mario finished his.

Questions began to form in his mind, and he picked the simplest to begin. “Was that a friend of yours who just got taken?”

Caitlin nodded. “Irina.” She dipped her head and stared into the skeleton of the chicken before her. [I was waiting for the line, “She was your friend, too.” Move the next sentence down one line, because it’s Mario’s action, not Caitlin’s.] Mario licked his fingers, but they were still sticky. He drummed them on the table.

“So, Caitlin… you know me, don’t you?”

She twisted one side of her mouth into a smile, turned serious again, and gazed about at the courtyard filled with diners and dotted with paved-in trees. He saw something in her eyes, and wished he knew what it was. Finally, she spoke.

“Mario, you’re impossible. I don’t know how you manage to keep any friends at all.”

His brow creased. Do I even have any friends? I can’t remember. [I’d rather see him ask a wry question here. “I have friends?”]

She sighed. “Okay, okay. I know this isn’t easy for you. Let me put it this way. You have a high propensity for overtaxing your emo-reader.”

Mario’s jaw dropped open. “You mean last night wasn’t my only mindwipe?” [consistency—when he knew he’d been mindwiped, he said “again”. You established that he knows it wasn’t his first time.]

Caitlin shook her head. “You were doing quite well before that. The last one was at least twenty days ago. Well, you’re lengthening your stamina, so I guess that’s good.”

He buried his face in his hands, remembering at the last second that his hands were full of chicken grease. Too late. His head snapped back up, but he could feel the oily sheen on his cheeks. Caitlin laughed, and pulled a wet-wipe from the dispenser at the end of the table. He scrubbed at his hands and face, and dropped the wadded paper on the smooth surface.

“Let me get this straight. You know me – uh, quite well?”

She nodded.

“And you say I’ve been mindwiped more often than most?”

Caitlin pursed her lips before answering. “I don’t know about more often than most, but certainly more often than me.”

“You’ve been mindwiped as well?”

“Sure. Sixty-three days ago, to be precise. You were doing well at the time, and you filled me in on what I needed to know.”

Mario sat silently. Information overload. But I have to know. “And do you know why you were mindwiped?”

A haunted look crossed her face. “You told me I’d been really down lately. Apparently I was unsatisfied with my life, and upset because my friends kept getting mindwipes and forgetting me. It was so hard to start all over again, and it happened so often.”

And it’s happening again right now. He saw her suddenly in a different light. This is a strong woman. [Making that a direct thought oversimplifies it. Almost like you’re dumbing it down for your reader, but I know that isn’t your intention. Instead, have him see the strength—something in her eyes, the set of her jaw.]

“But you’re doing better now, right? Sixty-three days is way better than my record!”

“I suppose. I’ve been suppressing all those feelings, and it works.”

Another thought came to Mario, and he spoke it. “What about me? Why do I get mindwiped so often?”

Caitlin glanced to both sides. The nearest tables were still empty. She leaned forward on her elbows. “You keep falling in love.”

“With- with who?” Mario’s voice trembled.

Caitlin looked down.

[Keep her dialog on the same line with her action.] “Mostly with me. But I wish you wouldn’t.”

[Mario straightened from his slump in an instant, shock and fear written across his face. He leapt up, nearly tripped over the bench seat, and ran for his dorm entry as fast as his legs would carry him.

Caitlin stood then, triggering the table’s waste disposal unit to open its dark mouth. It ground the chicken bones to grit, and she stared after Mario as he vanished. He never looked back.] [You head jumped. We’ve been in Mario’s POV the whole time, so you can’t switch to Caitlin without warning. And this brief time in Caitlin’s head doesn’t tell us anything, so it’s not necessary.]


Mario pounded down the hall to his room, and sighed with relief as the door swished shut. Now that he was inside, it would not reopen until the morning, and that was at least eighteen hours away. The vid-screen flickered and the image of the blue-green ocean filled the wall. The sound of the water was calming. No doubt that’s why I chose this as my basic vid-feed. He leaned against the inside of the door, closed his eyes and listened to the waves. Finally his emo-reader gave double instead of triple beeps, and as his breathing settled down, even the single ten-percent beeps gave way to blessed silence.

He breathed deeply and peeled off his clothes, stained with the dust of the earth and the grease of the chicken. The tracksuit dumped into the laundry chute by the door, he stepped into the shower to get cleaned and dried. [Your trying to avoid starting every sentence with “He”, but the phrasing is a little awkward in that last sentence. Almost like the tracksuit is dumping itself.]

With difficulty, he managed to pull a nightshirt over his head, then he sat on the edge of the bed and browsed through the menu offered by the vid-wall system. Is there anything more calming than ocean? Ah, yes. Fish.

Colourful goldfish and angelfish appeared larger-than-life on the screen and swam around aimlessly in a forest of gently-swaying waterweed. He sat and watched them for a while, equally aimlessly, but it felt good. Are they real, or computer-generated? I can’t tell, but you know, I don’t think I care. After a while, he lay back on the bed with a mindless grin. Once again, the dangerous emotions were banished, and he dozed off contentedly. [Get rid of what’s in the italics here. Not important.]

Mario dreamed, but there was nothing to see; only a voice speaking to him. It spoke the same words again and again, starting over when it got to the end. The effect was incredibly soothing, and yet as it repeated, Mario found himself feeling more and more awake. Soon he discovered he was not sleeping at all, and opened his eyes. The giant fish still swam aimlessly on the vid-wall, the dark night reigned outside his window, and it was nowhere near morning. But the Voice still spoke, and now he listened to it and understood the words for the first time.

Listen to me – I must be first. Do not confuse me with another, and do not speak carelessly of me. Be still and listen, and I will speak. Obey what I ask, and the Guides I will send you. Treat life in a manner worthy of me. Esteem loyalty and do not give in to bent desires. Respect what belongs to another. Speak the truth at all times, and do not wish for anything I do not give you, for I will give everything you need.

Mario listened a while longer. Strange words. He had never heard anything like them before. Who would say such things? Though unfamiliar, their beauty enthralled him.

After many repetitions, he began to say the words along with the mysterious Voice. A freshness flowed through his aching bones, and he swung himself up to a sitting position. Some time later, the Voice stopped speaking, but Mario found that he knew the words by heart. He spoke them once more, alone this time, then fell silent. The back of his neck was prickling, and he expected the emo-reader to beep any second now, but time ticked on, and the quiet continued. Mario had the strange sensation that someone was waiting for him. The feeling did not subside, so he spoke.

“Who are you?” For an instant he waited.

I am the Voice of one who calls you. Will you do as I say?


I can help you resist the mindwipes. You never have to forget again.

“You expect me to believe that? Hey, how are you speaking to me anyway? What is this?”

I will explain soon, as you grow more able to understand. Believe, for you have felt how my Words have calmed you.

True enough, thought Mario. “What do you want me to do?”

Repeat my Words as often as you desire. They will make you strong. Speak them to others if you wish. I will help you escape from the mindwiping. Only believe, and journey on.

Apparently, the conversation was over. Mario whispered the Words over again, then a second time, and a third, before he fell into a deep and calming sleep.

I wanted to keep reading. You’ve created a dilemma for Mario—he’s in love and the mindwipes can’t quite erase what’s in his heart.

I’d like to see the first conversation between Mario and Caitlin play out a little differently. For more emotional impact. When he says, “I saw you in the field, right?” and she realizes he doesn’t know her any more, she shouldn’t say much more than, “Oh, Mario.” He can see her crushed expression just before she flees. (Grace accidentally sent me more that she intended, so I saw in the next scene she tries to avoid him because it hurts too much to keep losing friends.)

This will give Mario a more active role in the beginning—a goal—as he pursues Caitlin to find out what she is to him, and why he was mindwiped. And it will sustain the mystery just a bit longer. Do you agree, readers?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

You do care!

Many of you have encouraged me in starting my new WIP, and I've been asked what my word count goal is.

I'd like to write 1,250 words per day, 5 days a week. That's really not many words a day. Easily accomplished. But I have a lot of research to do that will eat up much of my writing time. And this goal will give me a 50,000 word rough draft by the end of October. I can then flesh that out to somewhere between 80 and 100k.

And it will need fleshing out. I'm more than a little troubled by the skeleton scenes that I'm producing. In everything else I've written, full scenes have appeared. They weren't as textured as they needed to be, but they were complete scenes.

What I'm writing now is in more of an outline form. But not. It's the footprints for what action needs to take place in each scene. I guess I'll build the body later. Lots of people write like that, but I'm not one of them. This is different for me. And that's why, so very many months ago, when I started typing out scenes like this, I quit. I've lost it. I can't write anymore.

But that's not the case. At least I hope not. This is just a different book for me. First of all, it's based on a true story. I thought it would be easier to plot a book like this--the main events are already in place. Instead, I'm finding it a bit hampering. I'm a seat-of-the-pants writer. This time the story isn't mine to mold and shape as I see fit. Yes, I'm fictionalizing it, but I still don't have total freedom.

You see, the heroine was a relative of mine--my grandma's sister. She passed away more than 11 years ago. My family knows I'm planning to write her story. Everyone loved and admired this woman, so I'm feeling a bit of pressure there. I want to capture her personality, but the story I'm telling is when she was a young woman fighting for survival, and I only knew a grandmotherly figure who owned 12 cats.

So the skeleton of the story is how it has to be for now. I'll just go with it. This project has been haunting me for such a long time, it will be a relief to have all the scenes plotted in two short months. By then, I'll know this woman I'm creating a little better.

I'll check in once in a while to let you know if I'm staying on track. It's only been two days so far, but I've met my goal, plus some.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Science Fiction - Part 1

This excerpt was written by Grace Bridges. If she has a working title for the piece, I didn't see it. If I missed it, I apologize, Grace. I can put it with the second post. Just a reminder for what the colors mean. Red is something I think could be deleted. Blue is a comment or addition.

Part 1 – Monday-morning-itis

The clang of the work-bells forced its way into Mario’s consciousness. A sliver of light pushed through his eyelids, and he pried them open.

Dang. It’s morning again. Monday morning. The old joke was anything but funny. On Planet Monday, every day was the same. He threw back the thick rough-woven blanket and heaved himself upright with an effort. [To me, heaved already implies an effort.]

What was I up to last night? he wondered as he lurched into the plastic wet-cell that towered beside his bed. I sure don’t feel like I’ve been sleeping nineteen hours. He slid the pane across the entry opening, and the shock of the cold water made him flinch. After thirty seconds it switched off automatically and he stood still as the airdryers around the cell’s base kicked in. The air wasn’t really much warmer than the water, but it felt good.

Stepping dry out of the cell into the two-by-four floor space of his living quarters, he opened the long drawer built under the bed and pulled out a grey tracksuit, standard issue. Some things never change. He chased the thought across his consciousness. That’s significant. But why? To be honest, nothing ever changed. [This one’s just personal taste. I’d prefer it without “to be honest.”]

Unless… He peered out the tiny window above the bed. Square grey buildings met his gaze, and above hung the eternal grey clouds. Unless I’ve been mindwiped.

He groaned and let himself sink onto the brown bedcover. Not again! Looking up at the transport tube access in the ceiling just above head height, he examined its round rim. Just as I thought. No dust. That meant the tube had been used recently. Monday planet all but consisted of dust, and it gathered again within hours of cleaning. Slits around the edges of the floor kept it mainly dust-free by regular suction, but the transport tubes had no such devices and were usually quite bearded. That is, if they hadn’t been used in a few days.

He sat blinking and shivering as he stared unseeing at the vid-wall’s moving feed of Ocean region. Last night, I was sucked up that tube. And they wiped my memory again. Partially, at least. It was a technique used to remove extreme emotions among the workers – a technique no one remembered going through, funnily enough. But everyone knew it happened, since afterwards only facts remained – gone were feelings, memories of friends, dreams and aspirations. [You’re explaining what the mindwipes do, which the reader needs to know, eventually. But if all feelings and memories of friends are gone, at this point how does Mario know they’re gone? Could this explanation come from another character later?] Did I fall in love, or what? Mario scratched his head, put on his boots, then the second bell sounded. He rose and moved to the door as it swished open simultaneously with all the other doors up and down the hallway.

[Nice set-up of the world. Grey clothes, grey buildings, grey sky. How dreary!]

The 200 inhabitants of the third floor stepped out of their quarters as one. To be precise, the third floor of Wing B, Building 17, Area X9, Foodstuffs Region, Planet Monday. The doors swished closed again and the workers turned to march towards 17’s Central. Mario strode over the hallway’s threshold to the third-floor lobby and accepted a breakfast pack from the dispenser in the doorway. Biting off the cap, he began squeezing the warm coffee-flavoured sludge into his gullet and continued towards the mass transport tube. He joined the queue in front of Wing B’s accessway and guzzled the rest of his breakfast while he waited.

Monday-morning-itis. The clown who named this planet deserved to be assigned to Sewage region. Just because they discovered it on a Monday… since when do you have Mondays in space, anyhow?

He chucked the empty plastic foodsack in a waste unit to the left of the accessway, and stepped into the blackness. The familiar whooshing sound of the surrounding air calmed him somehow, which was a bonus for the emo-reader inside the chip implanted in his neck. If they don’t detect strong emotions, they won’t send me to be mindwiped. But I guess it’s too late for that. Again.

The chip in his neck beeped, warning him to prepare for landing. He bent his knees to take the impact, and shot out of the tube feet-first to land at the edge of a vast field of oats. Mario flexed his elbows and knees, noting new bruises on his wrist, shoulder and lower leg, as well as the usual ankle stress from landing. As far as he knew, the transport tubes had never killed anyone, although they sure did dole out a beating-up to those who used them. But he’d come off lightly today.

[You admit that these tubes are hard on people. Too hard, I’d think. I don’t believe the human body could hold up to it day after day.]

To his left and right, other morning-dazed workers slowly righted themselves and faced the day’s task. X9 was Monday’s oat capital. Their harvest was used mainly for the breakfast porridge served by dispensers in every part of the planet. [So that coffee-flavored sludge in a tube was oat-based?]

Nineteen hours, and counting. Yes, the days were long here, but then, so were the nights. [The length of their days is too long to allow me to suspend my disbelief. Could you cut it back to say a 30-hour day? You'd still have the dreary feel of a long day, but it would be something I can believe humans can endure. But working 19 hours every day of the week--you'd have short worker lifespans.] The line of workers moved forward, picking the oats and releasing the stalks to be sucked into the transport tubes that filled the grey sky with their spidery network. [Another good description—spidery network.] No longer set to suck human bodies, they now gently removed the harvest for processing in X9’s huge barns some miles away to the east. To the west, the first of the dormitories was barely visible on the horizon. Ahead, to the north, grew oats and oats and oats, fading into the skyline where they met the cold whiteness of the clouds.

Mario paused to pull up his jacket’s hood and tighten its edge around his face. Monday had no weather to speak of, just night and day, but it sure was cold. [This makes me wonder—if he was born here and knows nothing else, how does he know about other weather?] As he threw himself into the rhythm of the work, he pondered again.

What happened yesterday? What did I do to deserve this mindwipe? As he struggled to remember, he caught sight of dark-blonde dreadlocks peeking out under the hood of the worker to his right. A sudden shock of delight went through his heart, and his chip gave a single low beep. 10% of critical emo-level has been reached. Adrenaline pumped though him.

Ten percent wasn’t really dangerous, but it could get that way [Maybe “become so”? I don’t want to step on author voice, or character voice, but that sentence could use a little more sophistication.]. He worked a little faster so as to get ahead of his neighbour, then he quickly cast a glance back. The lumpy dreadlocks framed a pale and petite face, with brown eyes that gazed steadily back into his own. His heart began to hammer, and two beeps sounded. Twenty percent. Calm down, kid.

A girl! Maybe I really did fall in love! I want to remember!

Peeking at her again a few minutes later, he decided she didn’t look old enough to have been to Reproduction already.

At six thousand days of age, and again at seven, a woman would be transported to the somewhat notorious Repro region to do her duty keeping the planet’s population constant. Those whose offspring showed the best genes could even be called back a third time to balance out any losses.

As for the other part of the equation… Mario didn’t like to think about it much. Young men who worked exceptionally hard or fast were selected to spend “holidays” of varying lengths in Repro region [These sound like proper names, so both words should be capitalized: Ocean Region, Repro Region.], in exchange for doing their “duty”. The thought sent prickles down Mario’s back. There’s something wrong with that system. He didn’t know what. But as he had never been anything more than an average worker, he was not likely to be offered this “privilege”.

He had, however, participated in a work exchange that took him to Edu region for a week, where the offspring were cared for until they were old enough to work. Now that was fun. Amidst the laughter of the children, it was easier to imagine that maybe, just maybe, life didn’t have to be like this. Nineteen hours of daylight and work, followed by nineteen hours of darkness and rest.

He ignored the ten-percent beep provoked by the memory, and concentrated on his work, thinking about all the breakfasts these oats would soon provide.

Hours passed, and the transport tubes stopped sucking up oats long enough to deliver a mid-morning meal to each worker’s feet. Along the line, people sat in the dirt to consume wholemeal jam sandwiches, an apple, and the contents of a vitamin drink-pack. Mario stretched out his legs on the ground as he chewed. It sure is hard not to think about that girl. [I don’t care for that thought. I’d rather see him look around for the girl, then check himself.] But there was no other way to avoid the beeping emo-reader and preserve whatever was left of himself after so many mindwipes. He looked up at the opaque sky above the transport tubes.

There must be Something… Beyond.


You've created an interesting world. When you fix those couple of minor things, you'll have a world that works and is believable.

My only other complaints is too many italicized thoughts. The standard for books being published these days is to use italics only when absolutely necessary. A thought is italicized only for emphasis. The rest of a character’s thoughts should blend right in with the narrative. If you’re going to have a direct, italicized thought, it should be especially important.


Faith Awakened by Grace Bridges
- In virtual stasis to escape a deadly virus, an ex-slave finds more than just survival.

Paperback, soundtrack CD and free e-book available now at

Be sure to come back Friday for part 2.