Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Because I can't leave well enough alone

I entered a first page contest on Nathan Bransford's blog page with the first page of my WIP Mayhem (I've rewritten this thing how many times now?  Maybe this time I'll get it right.)  Good move, I think, but then I did something a little crazy.  I offered to critique first pages for anyone who wanted advice.  Not that I'm anyone in particular, but sometimes it's good to hear feedback from someone who has no vested interest in you whatsoever.  I could get swamped, or I could get a whole lot of nothing.  I'll post the critiques of those works when their writers give me permission to do so right here on Jestablog.  This could go nowhere, or it could be a whole lot of fun, or I could start drinking heavily and sobbing shortly after I check my email.  There were over 600 submissions to the contest.  Good luck to us all, but especially me, because this is my blog and la la la I can wish myself luck if I want to and you can't stop me nyah nyah nyah!

If you're from the contest and you came to my webpage, you're also welcome to submit your page in my comments section if you'd rather do it that way than sending email.  Also, you get a blessing from the writing googalah.  Tseeng tseeng!  Now you have extra luck in the contest.  


Karen Duvall said...

Hi, Kami. I'd love a crit of my first page. thanks!


The wooden vegetable crate wobbled when I stepped up to reach the dust-caked window. I studied the jeep full of men, looking for someone I recognized, someone from the village. I didn't talk much to the people there, but I still knew who most of them were. Not these, though. All were strangers, and they wore uniforms. Military camouflage that hardly camouflaged them at all. The way they slouched off into the bushes, I could tell they believed themselves unseen. Except that I had seen them quite well. I noted each stitch on their clothing, every whisker on their unshaven faces, even the color of their bootlaces.

I blinked behind the thick sunglasses that shielded my sensitive eyes from the harsh midsummer sun. It was nearing dusk now, so my eyes didn't hurt as much. I normally stayed within the darkened rooms and hallways of the monastery I called home. I was barely a teenager and my family of Maronite monks took good care of me, protecting me from the world outside the monastery walls, yet making sure I was educated about all that went on beyond our Lebanese village by the sea. Only they'd never taught me about soldiers.

I thought maybe I should tell Brother Thomas what I'd seen, but it was so rare we ever had visitors except for the village doctor. This visit was a novelty and I couldn't pull myself from the window. I felt like a hooked fish, the bait my own insatiable curiosity. Just a few more minutes. What harm could there be in waiting just a few minutes longer?

Two civilian-looking men had stayed behind with the Jeep. My keen eyes zeroed in on the taller one, blond and blue-eyed, who stood beside a ruined pillar of an ancient structure that had once been part of a heathen temple, or so Brother Thomas had told me. I noticed the man's angry expression as he swatted away biting flies that buzzed too close to his face, his mouth moving with words I couldn't hear while wearing my earplugs. So I took them out.

"Damn vile country," he spat, his English carrying the cultured lilt of a Brit like the monk who had taught me this language. Addressing the short dark man beside him, he added, "I'd kill that bitch for making me come here if I hadn't already."

I winced at the words, but not because of their meaning, which made no sense to me. It was the loud sound of his voice that bit through my skull and vibrated painfully between my ears. I struggled to separate his voice from other noises nearby, like the buzzing flies, the rustling olive trees, the bleating goats in the courtyard. Head aching, I concentrated, focusing only on the words that were taking shape inside my mind.

Kami said...

I loved so much of this! Really great. I loved the details. I immediately felt tension with the first sentence, an excellent example of creating concern in a reader without having a huge amount of danger (after all, a fall off of vegetable crates isn't that bad in the scope of fictional plots.) You build that small tension into a larger one quickly and effectively by presenting us with soldiers, and someone who is innocent about them. I loved the insatiable curiosity. Since I'm curious about the soldiers too, I'm in harmony with the character.

A few quibbles--
The character must know something about soldiers otherwise s/he (it doesn't bother me that I don't know the sex yet) words like military and civilian wouldn't have much meaning. I'd give the quibble a pass except that I got jarred by it more than once.

'All were strangers, and they wore uniforms.' awkward

'The way they slouched off into the bushes, I could tell they believed themselves unseen. Except that I had seen them quite well.' awkward

'or so Brother Thomas told me.' Unnecessary since you've already told me that everything the character knows comes from the brotherhood. Include Brother Thomas in another way, though. Heathen temple that Brother Thomas held in scorn or that fascinated Brother Thomas or whatever. That way you get the bonus of letting us know something about Brother Thomas.

'What harm could there be in waiting just a few minutes longer?' Unnecessary. ' Just a few more minutes' is sufficient.

'It was the loud sound of his voice that bit through my skull and vibrated painfully between my ears.' You have a great grasp of language, so this passive construction and underwritten description stood out as awkward by comparison. In fact, you can leave it out altogether and the paragraph will still read just fine. You may have to add a phrase about why his/her head is aching, though. 'were taking shape inside my mind' is a bit clunky too, again, only by comparison to the rest of the writing.

Excellent. I would be very surprised if you didn't make the first cut at least. I Googled the Maronites--sounds like a wonderful group to work into a novel. I'd be cautious, though. A published author friend of mine had a contract cancelled because he used a religious group in a novel and they didn't like it. Fortunately he still got paid for it. He was writing a book based on a video game and the game company hadn't checked for issues that might arise. They got a scary visit from some very pissed folks and the contract went downhill from there. This is why so many books include religions that are either so widespread that they're essentially 'public domain' or small sects that were wiped out, etc. It may be a non-issue. Just a heads up. Check Dar Kush (the link is on the sidebar of my blog)--I think Steve wrote about it very recently. Search for video game.

Good luck!

David Wisehart said...

Thanks for the offer. You're a brave soul. Here's my entry:

by David Wisehart

The storm blustered in like a drunken uncle, hovered like an in-law, and dropped nine inches of rain on Turtle Island before Zoey could say "I do."

She stood with Peter at the altar, wearing her traveling clothes, light cotton and old denim still damp from the dash between her rental car and the lodge. Zoey's hair was nearly dry, but her socks and panties clung to her like desperate ex-boyfriends. She wanted to be rid of them, but Father Adams, standing in front of her with a solemn countenance and droning incantation, would surely disapprove.

Peter insisted on keeping to the schedule, despite a storm that nearly drowned the wedding party in the parking lot. Most of them had made it: the bride, the groom, the priest, the best man, the maid of honor, the bridesmaids, and the groomsmen. Only her father was absent. None of the guests had arrived yet, but most were expected tomorrow morning, and the ceremony wasn't until Sunday afternoon. Everything would be fine, Peter had assured her, and Zoey wanted to believe him.

Lightning flashed across the wedding chapel windows, throwing shadows on the panes, phantom branches that clawed at the glass, chased by a thunder that sounded to Zoey like a skull cracking under an avalanche of boulders. The floorboards trembled. Ice rattled in a cup. Light bulbs flickered above the nine men and women washed in by the storm.

That was close, Zoey thought. She took a deep breath. A little thunder. A little lightning. Nothing to worry about.

Unless the power failed.

The Lakewood Resort was twelve miles from Redwater, on a secluded island in the Puget Sound. If a power line snapped, or a transformer was hit, the repair crew would not be able to fix it tonight. Not in this storm.

And the wedding was in two days.

It's okay. It's okay.

Kami said...

Thanks for visiting, David! Sorry I'm so late on this. Work, life, yada yada yada ...

Great tension, wonderful prose, interesting situation. The only thing I had trouble with was the first sentence misled me. Because of the reference to 'I do' I assumed we were at the actual ceremony. Then I come to find out that we're at the rehearsal. I even read back to make sure I hadn't misunderstood.

Everything else works great--tension, pacing, prose. Good work!

Kami said...

Oh, and one more thing, I normally don't glitch on one word but I'm totally obsessed over 'surely' as in surely disapprove. I don't like it! Begone, surely! It's probably just me, or it may be because so many people have joked about 'Don't call me surely.' Besides, it doesn't really fit the rest of the voice.

There, I did it. I griped for a whole paragraph about one minor point that no one else in the whole universe will care about. I feel very petty now.

David Wisehart said...

Thanks for the comments! I really appreciate it.

Good luck with the contest, and all of your writing.