An unselfish wish made on the horn of a unicorn will come true. Our wish? To support the writing community by giving constructive tips and criticism through submissions. Check out the submissions tab for more information. We can survive the crucible of fire together.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Long form crit: EVERGREEN

Thanks to Jadzia Brandli for submitting! And apologies for the lateness -- my day took an unexpected turn. This is the first chapter of her YA contemporary WIP, EVERGREEN.

Chapter One

Chimerical—imaginary. Improbable. Unrealistic.

“The whole life you have thought up in your head is chimerical.”

I said this exact sentence to myself in the mirror this morning. I needed an example sentence for my word of the day and it was the first thing I thought of. I didn’t like that sentence, because it debunked the fancy I had been carrying around for some time now, that the life I was living wasn’t real and, instead, it was the life I had playing out behind my eyelids that was legit.

“Legit,” I said, while staring at my waffles.

That’s a word for another day.

-- >>Delete this. There's no scene break here.

Dad had this chimerical idea that if he ignored me every chance he got, I’d disappear. Crumble. Become nothing. No more Elliot. No more cancer. No more failure.

That’s me.

A failure.

When you wanted a girl—which is weird, because don’t most dads want little boys just like them?—you got a boy, and that boy managed to botch every single attempt at living up to his father’s expectations, then said disappointment of a son gets cancer and your wife gets hit by a car two days before Christmas, you deem practically everything in your life a failure.

At least, I’ve always assumed this is the way Dad lookeds at everything. It was 's palpable by the look on his face whenever we encountered each other in the house or he got gets a call from work. He wasn’t isn't satisfied with his life. >>he's describing the state of things at that time, therefore present tense. It insinuates that his assumption still holds in the time that Elliot's narrating from -- does it? If it doesn't, "I’ve always assumed this is" s/b "I'd always assumed that was".

Well, Dad, neither am I. Thank you.

I didn’t even attempt to start a conversation this that morning. Dad shoved a waffle and a half in his mouth, drank half a bottle of syrup—not kidding, lips to the bottle, head tilted back, chugging—and wiped his mouth on the hand towel by the sink.

He left the kitchen a mess and didn’t say a word to me.

The garage door screeched.

Honda Civic screamed out of the driveway.

He was gone.

Chimerical—my idea that doing the laundry and keeping the house clean would garner me any positive attention from him.

I cleaned up his mess anyway.

I even cleaned his bathroom and made his bed.

Check. Sucking up for the day—complete.

Then I sat in the living room with my socked feet on the coffee table for twenty one minutes. >>a kid with no internet life?

Chimerical—my social life.

“Love you, summer,” I said to no one.

At least during the school year, I could pretend I had friends. Going to school every day and mingling with the other juniors in class and in the halls, made me feel like I wasn’t as alone as I actually am. As alone as I am in this house. As alone as I am nearly every day of my life.

But now I had nothing to look forward to but hospital visits, headaches, and a massive heat wave coming in from the west.

I threw on a clean t-shirt and went outside barefoot.

The sky was mocking me. >>how?

It was blue with huge, white clouds floating around. If I stared at one long enough, I could track its progress across the sky. If I stared at one long enough, I could almost imagine I was one of them, sailing through the sky like it was an ocean and I was a ship.

Then a car honked at me and I realized I was standing in the middle of the street.

Chimerical. >>IMO, you're milking this word kinda hard. You could ease up.

I’d never be a cloud ship.

I walked down the sidewalk, careful not to step in the road again. I had enough people staring at me—everyone on my street knew who I was. Except for Mrs. Taylor. But she was psychotic and close to two hundred years old, at least.

I looked at her windows as I passed. When was she going to die?

I didn’t much care for death.

It was coming. We all knew it. I knew it for a fact—I was playing chicken with it at this very moment. But I refused to be the one who blinked and veered off course. I’d face it with a smidgeon of dignity if that was all I had left, but if it was up to me, I’d hold onto all the strength and dignity I had until someone pried them from my iron fingers. I’d look death in the eyes and laugh.

Promise numero uno—laugh at death.

I made promises to myself—and wrote them on my bathroom mirror with sharpie—relating to my cancer and the fact that I was sure this next round of chemo wouldn’t do anything but make me vomit and start balding like Uncle Larry.

Oh, and pass out in public bathrooms.

That’d happened once before. It was a movie theatre and I was taking a leak in one of the urinals when I practically fainted on some guy. He must’ve been the Michelin man or something. I bounced right off him and hit the floor. He stared at me—my pants down and all—until Kevin walked in to see what was taking so long.

Kevin was my last friend.

He moved to Toronto to live with his mom three months ago.

I know he didn’t leave because of me—why would you move to Canada just because your friend has cancer and passed out with his pants around his knees? But sometimes it still feels like things would have been different if I were normal like him.

Instead of taking my daily walk around the neighborhood, I’d be making plans with friends. I’d be going to see a movie or hang out at the park. I wouldn’t have these rules and rituals that gave me the tiny feeling of stability in my life that kept me from thinking about the tests and the medications and the tumor pressing on my brain all the time.

I stopped walking, the sidewalk hot against the soles of my feet.

I stood in front of a house I’d never really looked at before. The siding on the house was blue and the front lawn was greener than most—especially for how hot it’s been lately. Two red bikes leaned against a large, white Ford truck, and a black motorcycle sat in the open garage.

For some reason, I got a good vibe from the place. The family living here was happy and, even though it felt absurd to me, I didn’t doubt the feeling settling over my chest. A feeling like the warmth Mom used to spread throughout the house—something I’d never have again.

I turned toward home.

The feeling was gone by the time I walked through my front door.

>>This is a well written scene. Because I'm a finicky, jaded reader, it's one long demonstration that nothing is going on here and I wouldn't read any further because I'm already tired of listening to this kid whine. 

He whines well, though. Good voice. Good, conversational subject-wandering to get to all the important points smoothly and naturally. The one-line paragraphs get to be a bit much, IMO. Some of them could be doubled up, like the garage door and the car screeching away. 

But overall, thumbs up. Except that I'm desperate for something interesting to happen. 

7 comments:

Huntress, aka CD Coffelt said...

All of us have different tastes in books and genres. Some like YA. Some absolutely loathe fantasy.

Or to put it another way, I love this submission.

I like the voice and bits and pieces of backstory. The hurt comes through very well. Teenage angst and sorrow. And I am a *big* fan of fragmented sentences. (Charity and Marcy are rolling their eyes)

IMO, I would make the third paragraph shorter. Pithier. You want to hook the reader immediately and lead them into the story.

Suggestion:
I said this exact sentence to myself in the mirror that morning, my word for the day. I didn't like it because it debunked a theory I had that the life I was living wasn't real. Instead, the life played out behind my eyelids was the legit one.

You can do a better job than I did since you know the storyline.

I agree with LB's assessment of the tense. It can be a real bug to dig out, I know. Check a few other places in it as well for that problem.

I also agree about the last use of 'chimerical'.

I sincerely love this and would read on. Excellent.
CD Coffelt ponders at Spirit Called
And critiques at UnicornBell

Terri Rowe said...

I found myself completely engaged by the young man's inner musings. I want to learn more about him, his situation, his view points, and how he will turn things around.

Jadzia Brandli said...

Thanks so much! I appreciate all of the feedback.

I agree that I reference "chimerical" a bit too much, and I am going to cut some instances.

CD, I also love shorter and fragmented sentences, and I've gotten a lot of mized feedback on that. I think it just comes down to the fact that everyone has different tastes.

And I am glad this excerpt interests you, Terri! This is only the second time I've written from a male POV, and I was worried about that, as well as if he had too many inner thoughts and it would get boring. It's good to have your feedback.

And thank you for the crit, LB! You've given me plenty to think about and focus on. It's much appreciated. :D

Liza said...

Good voice. I like the way we are inside his head stream of conscious style. The image of his dad and the syrup bottle was excellent. I did get confused...he's learning a word for "word of the day" which implies he's still in school...but then he's welcoming summer. Might have to clarify that. This is pretty much description and back story though. I want some action too.

Jadzia Brandli said...

Liza, thanks for your feedback! I appreciate it. It actually is summertime, but he has a new word he learns for every day. It's one of his many quirks, and one of the little things that are constant and that give him that bit of stability and comfort he needs. I guess I need to make sure that's clear. Thanks!

Chris said...

This excerpt definitely intrigued me as I am fiddling with my own story about a teenage boy with cancer. The details and the emotion in this piece are very well-written and I was drawn in immediately to the protag's inner dialogue. There were only two slight issues for me: I'm not sure that someone dying of cancer would stare at nothing for 21 mins (that number seems a bit exact) and the cadence of the story was a bit uneven at times but that's probably just the paragraph size.

I didn't mind that there wasn't a big dramatic payoff since this is a small excerpt but I am definitely interested in reading more. Would love to compare notes and styles with someone who is tackling the same subject.

Keep working on this, there's a lot of potential here. Good luck with it!

The Pedestrian Writer

Jadzia Brandli said...

Chris, thank you for your feedback and your encouragement. This is my NaNo novel right now, so I am currently writing it. It still has a long way to go, but I wanted to make sure I was going in the right direction. I'm glad I've gotten such great thoughts on it, and I think it's given me the confidence I need to continue wring this story. It's nice to hear you're writing a book around the same subject. I wish you the best of luck and, if you ever want to chat, you can find how to contact me on my blog.