Monday, March 17, 2014

Walking the Plank, or A bit from my current YA WIP (YABbootcamp challenge)

Tonight's post is a bit scary to post---
BUT I firmly believe in stepping out and doing what drives you despite your fears (and, since we ask students to do this ALL.THE.TIME, I think it is important that we walk our talk, too.)

As part of my YABbootcamp challenge, I am posting a small portion of my current WIP (work in progress) on my blog tonight.

I'd love some feedback on it.

Background: this is the opening of my YA historical novel.  The story moves through time a bit as different strands of it are told from different points of view. It is 1943 in this chapter.

One of the most exciting things to me about working on this story, in particular, is that it combines several of my loves--history, genealogy, and writing.  This book will be somewhat loosely based on my grandfather's family.

I've included a photo of my great-aunt Jackie.  Wasn't she a beauty? She is the real-life just older sister of my character Celia---and I imagine Celia looked very much like this, although to date I have not been able to locate a photo---still working on that!

My daddy is a grey-eyed devil.  I swear he is.

Lord, but I can see him there on the front porch watching me come home from Bud and Neva’s.  He stands, immovable and solid. I can’t see those eyes from here, of course, but I feel them as they watch me.  

Daddy’s face is a mask; his eyes are wet stones, revealing little of his mood, his mouth unsmiling.
This isn’t good---most times, if he’s laughing you’re safe.  If he’s drinking, he’s not laughing—and no good can come of it.  I hear some folks are happy drunks.  Not my daddy.  Not happy at all.

The near constant worry that I mostly manage to keep pushed to the back of my mind tugs at me now making it harder to breathe.  Sometimes the weight of it is just so heavy that I can hardly bear it.  Now, despite the utter gorgeousness of this beautiful spring day I am suddenly left low and worn and weary.  

It happens just like that.  One second you’re whistling a happy tune, feeling just fine, and the next you’re looking at the unsmiling face of a mean old man filled to the gills with cheap gin and bitter frustration.

When you live with a drunk, and when that drunk is your daddy, you learn a second language.  A language without any words.  A language of signals that give clues to the madness around you. Clues to what level that madness has descended at any given time.

 If you’re one of the lucky ones, this keeps you safe; mostly.  If you’re one of the lucky ones.


  1. I love the voice, the persona of the girl you're creating.
    Might you try some different order to the sentences, paragraphs?
    "It happens just like that." That suddenness seems to want to be nearer the beginning of the passage.
    Consider that some of your phrases and images really convey the dread dad inspires...maybe prune back some phrases about him to make the girl's feelings stand out even more?
    Just thoughts.
    I can relate to that mood shift having grown up with an alcoholic father. I know what being on tenterhooks is like.
    Keep on writing!!! Disregard any of my comments not helpful....

  2. I'm guessing this is set in the South because I can't help but read it with a Southern accent! Overall I really like it—good voice, capturing opening line—and I would probably keep reading, though it does feel a little choppy toward the end, like there's something missing between each paragraph. Maybe some better transitioning?

  3. Thank you both for your comments! Yes, it is definitely set in the South. And...I agree on the choppiness---I cut and paste a bit from my first page trying to get as close to "just" 250 words as possible---I agree it hurts the story. Will definitely prune back the phrases on the dad---VERY helpful comments!
    Thank you both so much!

  4. YAY!!!! You did it! And wasn't it easier than you thought? (Okay, probably not, but you've done the hard part now. So impressed, Sonja!)

    First....your Aunt Jackie was sooooo pretty! I love that you've included a picture here. It really sets a tone somehow. Nice choice!

    Okay, let's get down to the nitty-gritty. The voice is wonderful here!! I'm like Megan, I couldn't help but read this with a Southern lilt. I could hear it like the opening of a movie being narrated while the camera pans in on the man standing on the porch. It really gave me a sense of time and place.

    It's so difficult to do something like this when you're only allowed to post a certain number of words. Keep in mind, there are often contests that also want only the first 250 - 500 words. It's a good frame of reference when you're writing the opening to a work, I think. If those 250 words (without any cuts) can't stand on their own and hook the reader, you might need more revision. But......there's also something to be said for developing a voice and a setting and a mood. I think you've done that here in spades. This isn't a high-action thriller. We don't need a lot of movement in the first section, but you've set up a LOT of tension right away, and I think that's fantastic! (I already don't like the Dad, and fear for the MC. Why the heck is he waiting for her on the porch???).

    I think what a previous commenter said is true.....most of this opening is about who her father is and what kind of fear he inspires. You start out really well by making us FEEL her fear....the grey-eyed devil, how the worry is setting in again as she approaches the porch.......but then you sort of lose the momentum by giving us some history. Keep us in the moment. If you can compact some of his description and show us her feelings, her reactions.....I think you'd have a really gripping opening.

    Great job, Sonja, really! I'd love to read more. I think you're well on your way to a really interesting story.

  5. thank you for your feedback! SO helpful in moving me forward.

  6. Good job! I agree with other commentors about voice etc. By the end of the passage I had forgotten/sort of questioned if she was still walking toward the porch b/c there was so much about her father. I am sufficiently afraid of him but would like to know her feelings more.
    I think the paragraphs beginning with Daddy's face and The near constant could actually be moved down to the end of this passage too.
    Take what you want from that!