5000k post <sigh> (1287 words, not fantasy or SF)

Phyrebrat

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Hello.

I'm starting the fifth (sixth) rewrite of my first novel. After very helpful beta feedback from VenusianBroon, I've got plenty of pointers for improvement.

In the old versions, one of the protagonists, Redd, has lost her children a couple years before the story started. I realised I needed to bring this to a more recent time.

So, now I have written a new beginning for her - which may be the beginning of the book - where I'm going through her grief - and her slow return to life. It's informed by my own experiences so it might be a bit dark - and it has some adult content.

Redd Sommer waited for the two detectives to walk down the short, red-bricked pathway leading to the front gate of the cottage before she closed the front door. Despite everything, she felt stupidly compelled to display decent etiquette as they left. No tears - she couldn’t even if she wanted to - and no weakness. It was a ridiculous act, and one she couldn’t explain. But grief made fools of the bereaved, she supposed.

Grief.

The word itself was insufficient. Too small, too contained and precise. Grief didn’t come close to describing the roiling sea inside that was at the same time a stagnant, flat, unplumbable lake. Losing the twins - not knowing where they were - was more than a stupid ****ing word.

Grief.

So easy. Such a trite way of defining loss. It was what you had when Grandpa died at ninety-one, or when the old duchess who sat everyday at the Wilts & Dorset bus stop for the X1 to Loewe, one day stopped showing up. It was the loss of the family golden retriever after eighteen years.

This wasn’t grief.

It was violation. It was hate - for her and Bo, not from them. It was the gears of reality meshing so the cogs ground each other down and placed good people in the unimaginable. It was proof that life was made up of equations and numbers, and nothing else. No God. Just an eternal entropy.
‘Baby,’ Bo said, appearing from behind and curling a thickly haired forearm around her belly. She leant back into him, staring through the warped bullseyed glass of the front door, and breathed in the stench of weed as he exhaled.

‘They’ve gone,’ she said, needlessly, nodding to the amorphous blue smudges through the glass. She didn’t trust herself to say anything else. What was there to say? At least Bo wasn’t trying to reassure her after four days, James and Jillian would show up at the front door.

Tricked you, mummy!

She turned in to Bo, trying to bury her head in the nook between his jaw and shoulder, her eyes as dry as his were wet. Outside the sounds of the odd car trundled past, down Gorse Lane on its way to Christchurch or Loewe, probably after a day out in the New Forest with the kids. Or the crunch of its tyres on gravel as they pulled into the Kynge’s Inn that sat opposite the cottage at the crossroads that was Gorse village. She couldn’t even hate those families.

Bo said nothing. And that reassured her in a small way that she still felt something. Her love for him. He knew her so well, knew that there was no point in doing anything other than being together, silent. The pair of them observing each other and just being.

Is that what grief was? Being?

Without words they both turned and made their way up the crooked, precipitous staircase to their bedroom and fell on the bed together, a pair of still bodies in foetal contraction and she waited for the being to finish.

###

Redd stood in the small front garden at the small borehole well that plunged to unknown depths.
(Does it go to Australia, mummy?)
Sure, the well had been checked by the police but she knew the twins weren’t down there even before they’d confirmed the thing empty. James and Jillian had always been careful; they called it their magic pot, but still kept a fair distance from it. The thick carpet of tiny green leaves that covered the low wall was now dotted with similarly tiny, white flowers the kids had called ‘Star of Bethlehems’ which had always driven her mad.
“Stars of Bethlehem, sweetheart, not Bethlehems.”

Stupid.

At least she could think of them now. It had been eight months of walking through an eternal foggy night. In fact, she’d not even really walked through life, just… just nothinged through it, listening to the words of friends, family, even her business partner:

It’s the biggest cliche, but time heals…
Just try to think of your life in two halves now…
You never know what’s around the corner.
They’re in a better place now.


She’d sat and nothinged all those platitudes, nodding I knows so much it was a wonder her ****ing head hadn’t fallen off.
At some point she’d realised her and Bo’s loss had become about their friends’ efforts to try and say the right thing without feeling bad, or awkward; like their feelings mattered more than her and Bo’s. She was giving all her grieving away to other people, so out of touch with her own loss she couldn’t even feel it. And that was when she’d finally taken Bo’s advice and sought help, counselling, therapy… better living through chemistry.

The Praxetol had kicked in after about a month of taking two of the green and white capsules a day, and the therapy had kicked in around ten weeks after. Cogs in her heart started to move again. Slowly at first, timorous, but definite.

The strange thing about her grief was that now, as the winter jasmine stars colonised the little well, she’d started to feel guilty. The guilt itself was stupid, and she knew as much intellectually - and Katherine was such a phenomenal therapist they’d worked through it anyway - but it was hard not to feel guilty when you sensed your life returning after the loss of children; she should never feel happy again. Never feel ‘better’.

Katherine had asked her if that might be the best way to honour their memory; give up, live a life of penitence. It was a simple question that had really shaken the guilt from her. It was far too similar to living a monkish lifestyle, and if there was one thing she wasn’t going to emulate, it was the historical mythology of Organised Religion. She’d had enough of that through childhood.

###

The February snows came and covered the house, the garden, the chicken run, and office in a magic white duvet that somehow was right in its timing. Birds returned as the snow thawed and the foxes became more ballsy now the whiteness was gone and they could melt into the bushes easier.

She was fighting a wash load with the cat when Bo came into the kitchen from his office in the garden.
‘What you doing, baby?’ he asked.
‘The bloody cat! Gettout!’ she cried, and Bauhaus jumped from the laundry basket onto her shoulder.
Bo took the cat from her and nuzzled him, ‘She’s a horrid old witch, isn’t she Baz,’ he said.
‘Say that when you have cat hairs tickling your balls,’ she said, flapping some boxer briefs wildly before folding them on the work surface.
As she continued folding the wet laundry Bo paced behind her slowly, more nervous than when he’d proposed in Macchu Pichu. She stood with a groan, hands on her hips and asked him what he was up to.
‘I have to go into Loewe, baby,’ he said, ‘for a meeting. It’s a big deal…’
‘Good. When’ll you be back?’
‘The meeting’s Friday. I wondered if…’ he shifted from foot to foot, looking down at the tiled slate floor.
He wanted her to go with him…
Strange that the anxious chill the thought of going anywhere beyond the local market did not manifest. In fact…
‘You want me to come?’ she asked.
‘Only if you’re ready.’
She started laughing. It was a proper laugh, not a socially-expected reaction to some misfired joke Bo had tried to make; not a practice laugh, the real thing.
‘Why’re you laughing?’
‘Because, yes!’ she said. ‘Yes, I’d love to!’
He hugged her, and as he did she had another new reaction.
She wept.


 

CTRandall

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Overall I like it. You do a good job of quickly getting through both the passage of time and the slow, incomplete process of healing. That really communicates the depth of the mental trauma.

There are one or two passages that I find a bit wordy:
or when the old duchess who sat everyday at the Wilts & Dorset bus stop for the X1 to Loewe, one day stopped showing up.
The death of an unnamed stranger doesn't really compare with the other examples here. I think you could cut it.

she waited for the being to finish
I get what you're saying but it could be a little clearer. Maybe it's as simple as 'scare quotes' around 'being'? Or a rephrasing it as, 'she waited to stop being', though that could be stronger than what you want.

Redd Sommer waited for the two detectives to walk down the short, red-bricked pathway leading to the front gate of the cottage before she closed the front door.
Too much uneccesary detail here. 'Redd Sommer waited for the two detectives to reach the front gate...' is more direct. Right now, the path isn't important.

Similarly, the reference to Macchu Pichu seems out of place. It feels like you've put it in to try and set up an important reference for the reader. I would leave it out and introduce it later, where it's relevant.

Really, all that amounts to nit-picking. Nice work!
 

HareBrain

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It's a good piece of writing. I think it's a risky opening for a character and especially for a whole book, because a reader might assume it sets the tone for the whole thing. Emotional states that are all-consuming, such as grief or the early stages of being in love, are very difficult to include properly in a novel unless the novel is about that state, because the more realistic you are, the more it's just a stream of introspection -- I think they're better included as short, incisive observations sprinkled into the larger narrative. Here you have the incisive observations, but they're all together. A long section about grief wouldn't draw me into a book, but I've no idea if I'm in a majority or minority.

(ETA: and congrats on the 5000th post!)
 

Phyrebrat

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I get what you're saying but it could be a little clearer. Maybe it's as simple as 'scare quotes' around 'being'? Or a rephrasing it as, 'she waited to stop being', though that could be stronger than what you want.

Thanks HB and CTR, all your points are well made. When I read it after your crit, I wondered why I hadn't italicised it as I had further up in the text. Have amended it for now (if it even ends up at the beginning bearing in mind HBs comments).

Similarly, the reference to Macchu Pichu seems out of place. It feels like you've put it in to try and set up an important reference for the reader. I would leave it out and introduce it later, where it's relevant.

That's funny. It's an artefact of being a discovery writer - until I wrote that line I never even thought about how they met, it just came out. So, in the scheme of things it's totally irrelevant and I'll drop it.

I think it's a risky opening for a character and especially for a whole book, because a reader might assume it sets the tone for the whole thing.

This was the comment I was hoping for (well, not hoping for, but an opinion). I Outside of the Chronners' work, I rarely read outside of horror and I have read many novels where the opening is about getting over a loss. But, I can't say how drilled-down the author has gone off the top of my head - only SK comes to mind and he's a poor comparison because of his success and 'house sytle'. I do think I can split the passage up at the hashmark breaks. It's such a short passage I could even use it as a
dreaded prologue
. I like to read those but I'm not a fan of using them, myself. In medias res, and all that.
 

Bowler1

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I feel your pain on rewrites and I'm not sure what number I am on with my stuff, but all your effort has not been wasted.

You started with a powerful emotion that has it's risks, but unlike HareBrain I wasn't left with too many concerns. You moved from pain to recovery/growth quickly while keeping my interest, surprising as you don't actually do anything else other than deal with the characters emotions. At this stage I don't have much of a feel for the story to come, but I do have a connection with the character that would hold me and have me turn to the next page which in the end, is all you have to manage all the way to the end.

Macchu Pichu was ok for me as it had an emotional connection for the character, but the Therapy recommending penitence and giving up felt odd as a little loss of realism for me. I assumed it has connections further into the story and I moved on, but if it doesn't then it is an odd reference to the characters childhood and religion.

Good job from me Phyrebat, and 5k posts.

PS - If I find you in my wardrobe there will be hell to pay....
 

The Judge

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I know, I know, I'm dreadfully late coming to this, but I was busy doing other stuff at the end of August/beginning of September!

Anyhow, congrats on the 5,000 and for continuing with the long-forgotten customs of the ancient ones!

The first scene is very well written and very clearly it's directly from the heart. However, at the same time I found some of it to be too considered, as if she's long dwelt upon the whole concept of grief and has packaged it into carefully contrived neat ideas, when in my (fortunately limited) experience grief is more chaotic and illogical and unreasoning in its early days. I wonder if that first section could better reflect that with more broken sentences and non sequiturs. Also perhaps if it would help to have more sensory input, eg the smell and feel of the twins' jumpers which she's holding, which would add emotional depth without the intellectualising/verbalising.

By the way, I do wonder at her attributing Bo's silence to the fact he understands her and is observing her -- it doesn't strike me as something most women would think of their husbands in that situation or any other. Also, I recall reading that in horrific events such as when a child has been abducted, it's not uncommon for the father to seek comfort in sex, whereas for the mother the sheer thought of it is distasteful in the extreme, which serves to create further distance between them.

The second scene confused me as I didn't click immediately that it was much later in the grieving process, and though it was again very realistic, I don't think it helps to advance the story, and the introduction of the therapist, with a name, serves to elevate the person which I'd suggest is unnecessary filler unless she's going to take part a prominent part in the novel.

As for the third scene, I didn't get on with that at all, to be honest, and I don't think it added enough to the plot to justify its place.

Overall, I share HB's concern about having these three scenes together at the beginning of the novel. I'd suggest just the first scene as a short prologue, then move to another part of the plot with different characters. If it's necessary to show her growing out of the grief have the second -- and if absolutely vital, the third -- scene interposed in a later chapter, so we're not hit with all three close together like this.

Hope that helps a little!
 

Mon0Zer0

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Congrats on 5,000 posts!

You write thoughtfully, and with a great deal of introspection. It's a tough subject to write about.

I'm not getting a feel for the genre in this short extract.

I'm inclined to agree with The Judge on the opening section and Redd and Bo's reaction being unconvincing. It reads too much like a literary meditation on grief, rather than the thoughts of someone in shock.

If your opening scene is the police informing them of their loss then I think it would hit harder showing the police telling Redd and Bo, so we can see their reactions - a little more showing.

I tend to agree with The Judge again about this not giving us any sense of what direction the plot is taking.
 

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