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Jasmine Fields

Lake Michigan had mild waves that summer afternoon. The blueness of the skyline was vibrant, but still ordinary. More beachgoers had just arrived as Blake finished rubbing the sunscreen on my back. I didn’t want to argue, but it needed to be said.

               “You should have talked to me beforehand.”

               “Let’s not, okay?”

               I turned around. Blake still had too much lotion on his hands. Taking his palms in my own, I rubbed the extra cream into my skin. 

               “This won’t be a fight,” I said.

               “We fight every goddamn week.”

               “Because you do things without telling me. Next time my mom and her husband offer you money, tell me, so I can refuse it.” 

               Blake stood. His body cast a shadow over me. “I’m trying my best. They offered us an anniversary gift and we’re struggling. Bills need to be paid.” 

“It’s not that simple,” I snapped.

             “Why the hell not?”

             “Please sit down.” 

“Whatever.” He took off, sprinting towards the water.

As the heat of the summer day crashed down, my feet burned on the hot sand as I ran to the lake. I knew Blake was right. We did fight every week.   

In the water, a wave consumed me, and then another. I swam up, and Blake was nowhere to be seen. And that was okay.

***

The event that did it was a date night, ironically enough. 

A mutual friend had given us free tickets to a local band that I never liked, but it was a night out. Blake looked handsome in his black dress shirt. Even though it was freezing, I had freshly shaved legs to look good in the red bandage dress I wore. During the car ride, we laughed about some silly incident from our wedding. Everything started nicely.

Inside the crowded bar, I ordered a craft beer, Blake got a whiskey sour for himself. The music pounded and a stringy haired singer belted out vulgar lyrics. An hour into the night, I regretted the pumps I wore. 

A couple we knew from school had arrived and we drank more, even though Blake and I were on a strict budget. The pounding of the loud speakers vibrated all the way to our distant table. The couple blabbered about their upcoming European trip. I grabbed Blake’s hand and gave it two quick squeezes, our signal to wrap things up. He withdrew his hand. He kept blabbering like some teen girl, so it was settled, we stayed. 

 After another round of drinks we couldn’t afford, my girlfriend and I swam through the crowd. Near the hallway of the restrooms, eerily close, words lurked from behind. 

“Hey baby, what’s your name? Let me get you a drink. Hey baby--”

Inside the bathroom, my friend touched my shoulder. “Honey, what’s wrong with you and Blake?”

“What are you talking about?”

Embarrassed, she shook her head. We went to our own stalls. On the toilet, my head swirled, and I felt nauseated, and my eyes burned, and my feet swelled in those damn shoes, and I wanted to go home. After I finished, I struggled to stand. Blake and I needed to leave. 

My friend and I started the trek back to our table. A linebacker of a man used his heft to block my way. He said:

“Hey baby, you lookin’ damn good. Im’ma about to buy you a drink. What you want?”

A sinking feeling took over. “Not tonight,” I said. I tried to walk past. He blocked my way. The lights blurred everything and my eyes couldn’t latch onto my friend. 

“Baby, I’m getting you a Long Island. What’s your name, sexy?” The brown leather of his jacket rustled as he moved in closer and placed his right hand on my back.

“I’m married.” I slurred the words. 

“I believe you,” he said. His hand slithered down my back. The bar merged into a poorly lit bedroom, and my childhood bed was in the corner, I had on Minnie Mouse pajamas. The door cracked open, my stepfather. “And I believe,” he said, waking me from my trance, “that your husband don’t know what to do with all this. Am I right?” 

His big paw rested on my ass.

Instead of vomit, words spewed out. “Fuck off!”

The crowd parted as I stumbled back to my table. My friend told Blake something. He stormed over. 

I grabbed him by the shirt collar. 

“Stop it,” I pleaded, “take me home.” 

“He touch you?” Blake screamed.

“It’s over,” I screamed back. “Let’s go!” 

It all happened in flashes. Blake went up to the huge man and pushed him against a chair. The pedestrians ran. The man’s fist was so big. The smack of skin on skin flooded my ears. Blake’s head jerked back. His body hit the corner of a table. Blood, Blake’s blood, flowed down his forehead. Now the monster was on top of Blake, and I didn’t see him anymore.

A scuffle erupted when a couple of bouncers jumped in. The monster escaped into the night. Blake didn’t move. My friends and I helped him up.

Outside, he regained consciousness and spoke a little. Spectators insisted on calling an ambulance. Blake stubbornly shook his swelling head. I stayed silent about the emergency room. Neither of us had health insurance. 

Back at home, with an ice pack on his jaw, I felt something rise. I still wanted to puke, but nothing came out. We glared at one another.

“Why’d you do it?” I yelled. “I told you it was over. And you do some stupid hood shit.”

“What the fuck else was I supposed to do?” 

“Go home! Or call the cops.”

He took the ice pack off his face. Nasty bruises were already appearing. “Nobody touches my wife. And why the fuck did you wear that slutty outfit tonight?”

“So this is my fault now? You always fucking turn shit around,” I yelled. I took a few steps closer to him. It was almost here.

“You spent money we don’t have on stupid drinks. And then you parade your body around in some nasty dress. And now look what happened,” he howled.

“What happened,” I said, knowing there was no going back, “is you got your ass beat in front of a 100 people. He made you whimper, like an animal.”

“You’re a filthy cunt.”

“And you’re a bitch who can’t fight.”

Blake, once again defeated, plopped down on the couch. With his head in his hands, he whispered, “What now?”

I crossed my arms and shrugged. But even though I wasn’t ready to say it, I knew what was next.

Jasmine B.

Four hours to decide. The contract needed to be signed and I still didn’t know if I could take a sabbatical from the college. And Darius, my husband, just wanted me to be happy, no matter the cost.

I slowed to a near stop around the corner. A light snowfall had begun. Michigan was having another harsh winter. Penelope and Jade had two snow days from school last week. 

Going into the community college parking lot, I almost passed my faculty spot. The freezing walk to the arts building couldn’t distract from the prospect of a photo shoot in the Middle East, albeit for lousy pay. Mount Sinai Church, my potential employer, would cover my expenses. And most importantly, all ownership of the shots would transfer to me, finally making my portfolio valuable. I stopped at the entrance, terrified I’d botch my last chance.

In the hallway, a former student said “morning” and I gave a fake-ass smile. Middle age wasn’t making me nicer. 

The last classroom in the hallway was mine. Thirty students total, only three had any discernible talent. I took a big breath. There was one reason I liked being an adjunct professor to youth obsessed with experimental art, those three students.

***

My officemate, a culinary instructor, was not around when Karla arrived. Fifty minutes were left. A decision was needed. Karla, still petite, sat across from me. How that old woman hadn’t aged a day in 20 years puzzled me. 

“Jazzy, the pastors are expecting a call from you,” Karla said. 

“I know.” 

Only reason I got the job offer was because of Karla’s recommendation. 

“The situation is tricky. If I complete the rest of this school year, they’ll change my faculty status to full-time. Hell, I might get tenure.”

A high-pitched wind crashed against the window. Large snowflakes blew everywhere. Karla’s eyes were locked on me. 

“Is this what you want?” she asked, making a hand gesture around the modest office. 

“Listen, you know better than I do how hard it is out there. And taking a month off from work just isn’t in the cards for me,” I said. 

The old woman’s gaze was too much. I averted my eyes onto the frozen terrain outside. Windchill was below zero. For the hundredth time I wondered what the temperature was in Bethlehem.   

“Jazzy, and don’t answer this if I’m getting too personal, but Darius...isn’t his practice still booming? I thought you were fine financially.”

I nodded. What she was getting at was true. Darius’ dental practice was good. Fuck it, the practice was thriving. The house, the two cars, the girls' private school were largely paid for by him. Years ago, while laid up in a hospital bed following the arrival of Penelope, I swore to myself I’d be professionally stable by age 40. I’d be 42 next month. 

“Hear from Blake? I did.”

“You know we haven’t spoken in years,” I said. Karla shrugged her shoulders, forcing me to ask. “What’s he up to?”

“Honestly, I don’t know. I got a birthday card in the mail from him with no return address. He wished me well and said he sold some work he’s proud of,” and as an afterthought, “he’s still a film devotee.”

After Blake disappeared, his name became forbidden. Not remembering was easier. 

“So he’s selling work,” I said, partially proud, and partially something else. 

“That’s what he wrote,” Karla said.

The Middle East screamed for my own lens. 

***

 I swished the Merlot around in my glass. Penelope stayed seated by me at the table, completing an arithmetic worksheet. Seven years ago, when Darius and I were deciding on names, I mentioned “Penelope” in passing. Darius loved it. That was the name Blake and I agreed on if we ever changed our minds about kids, and if we had a daughter. 

My rule was broken, and I was remembering him. Penelope gave me a random, goofy smile, then went back to work. Darius walked past and squeezed my shoulder. I understood I was lucky. That was worth remembering. 

I had declined the job offer from Mount Sinai. 

Outdoors, the snow accumulated. This meant the technical contrasts in shooting light on top of snow could be covered next week. Long as I had a few good students, there was value. It made sense. I glanced at my oversize modern kitchen, and my attentive husband lounging on the couch, and my girl, who was funny without trying, and I knew I was lucky. That was my truth.

  The bitter wind howled. For only a minute, maybe two, I imagined being trapped outside. Could anyone hear me? If I screamed with all my strength, would anyone hear me?   

Blake

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change/Courage to change the things I can/Wisdom to know the difference. 

Another meeting concluded. Ordinarily I jumped out of my chair to escape the delusional banter from these losers. I wasn’t one of them. Even so, for the first time in six months, I stayed and daydreamed. I didn’t notice Travis sit next to me.

Travis, a Vietnam vet, sighed loudly to get my attention. “Fields,” he said, “you didn’t talk tonight. What’s your number?”

“174 days,” I said. “I’m sober, Travis. But thanks anyhow.”

“And how’s the job?” Travis gently stretched. I knew he couldn’t fully extend his right arm. For all the months I had known him, he was evasive on whether the injury occurred in Nam or was something connected to being old and waiting for death. 

“My job is steady. But you know that.” 

“Naw, you lookin’ different tonight. But if you’re going to be a clam, I won’t pry.”

“My nights are sleepless. That’s what the job does to me. The horror lingers. Don’t have much else to say.” I leaned forward to stand. This would be another night of walking the streets of East L.A. 

“Add positive pictures,” Travis recommended. “The things we’ve seen don’t get erased.” The old man closed his eyes. That was the first time he indicated we shared a trauma.     

***

The members of the Los Angeles Police Department grimaced when I walked onto the scene. No one was ever happy to see me, and I couldn’t blame them. The idea of preventing harm had vanished. 

The objective of the job was all about the details. For example, the brown carpet stained with blood was always easy to point a camera at, or the broken door handle, that’s another easy photo. The detectives and forensic team covered it. What separated the great photographers from the average were the details.   

In the upper left corner of a wall was a vent. While framing my angle, I applied the zoom feature to get a tighter shot of a loose screw on the cover. Later on, when the murder weapon was found in the vent, my superiors at the LAPD offered praise. The details were what separated the great from the average. The photos I took of a caved-in face that belonged to a grandfather of four were routine. There was nothing special about overview shots of a corpse. 

***

“I could taste the warmth of the whiskey as it flowed down my throat. The memory consumed me. I could see the bartender mixing the lemon juice and sugar. Ordering a whiskey sour on the rocks feels like being home with mama, before she became a fucking drunk,” I said.

Travis nodded. The turnout tonight was light, just a few other addicts. 

“Outside, in the blinding sunlight, right by a palm tree, was a Ford Tauras. I owned a purple one, in a past life. Anyway, going into a bar for my job was hell. But I’m still here. On day 187. I’m still living.” 
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Welcome Board - START HERE! / Hello
« Last post by V.M.Sang on Yesterday at 09:29:36 AM »
Hi, everybody. I'm pleased to be here and excited to get talking to you all. :)
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Hello David,

Thank you for the stellar feedback. You accurately pinpointed the issues. I tried writing my environment and setting as character, like a lot of Japanese writers do, because I see the village as a frozen entity. Characters start to come into the foreground after the ogre appears. As they prepare to go from one inertia to another, they must first adjust the way they have always seen things and the way things have always been.

The first sentence repeats at the end, to make sense of the retrospective POV I use.

I started making drastic edits. I removed that sentence and shifted from a 'they' to a 'we' for the voice. Much remains to be done, though.

Do you have anything to share that I can have a look at to give feedback?
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Review My Work / Re: The Bird Call, Chapter One (1036 Words)
« Last post by Dugarte on September 19, 2020, 05:17:35 PM »
Hi TK,

Thank you for sharing your chapter with us! I hope you will find my feedback helpful.

I like your opening lines, it thrusts me into the action and it is easy to sympathize with a person missing their journal. I am also acutely aware of the sense of concern for a poor little injured bird, so this is a great way to draw your reader into the story!

When you write "Kamroan put his palm out, turned his head" I felt just a touch lost as I was not sure where Kamroan is putting his hand - like, reach out into the air outside his window? Or reaching for the little bird? It is not a huge deal, but I felt it worth mentioning, in case you want to fiddle with descriptions here to give the reader a little more of a visual cue.

Where you write "Erred squished himself between them," again, this is probably just me nit-picking, but I feel like it might be more clearly stated that Erred squished himself "in the middle" so there is no chance of confusion about who "them" refers to. It's a really minor point, but I just felt like the wording here could be slightly improved.

Reaching the dialogue""Lumza celebrated with us for my 25th last year," Mirka said. "I figured she would have at least told you what we did."" I feel a little lost at this point. It feels like I'm being introduced to character after character in rapid succession, with little to no details about who they are, what they look like, etc. and at this point I don't fully understand what Mirka is referring to. Who is Lumza? The sentence "Lumza celebrated with us for my 25th last year" does not sound exactly grammatically correct to me, as I try to guess at the meaning here. Lumza celebrated Mirka's 25th birthday, which was last year? And now it's Mirka's birthday again? Who is "us?" And the second part "I figured she would have at lesat told you what we did." has me more lost still. Is Lumza the "she" in this sentence? Why does Mirka figure that Lumza would have told the MC what they did? Is it important?

Perhaps slowing down the introductions and giving a little more detail about each character as they enter the scene will help readers keep track of who's who and what's what?

When you say ""It's just something you inspired, dear. I hope you enjoyed." the phrasing felt a little awkward to me. Did you mean "It was inspired by you."?

The sentence "Erred obliged, but his discomfort was apparent to anyone with working eyes." has me a little confused. Why is Erred uncomfortable? The seat is uncomfortable?

By the time we get to "Hyoth shouted into the house. He limped inside with Ilaya's help." I feel like I'm overwhelmed with character names and no descriptions. I wanted to reiterate that I strongly recommend slowing down the pacing and dialogue to include some context of who all these people are, what they look like, why they're gathered, what they're doing, etc. At this point I think we're up to 8 characters in this scene, not to mention the names of the athletes they are viewing, presumably on tv or something. Not only would I like to know more about all these characters, but I'm beginning to feel the need for more information about the world/plot, as it's the beginning of chapter 1 and I am still not sure what is really going on besides someone's birthday party and they have a secret magic power. So far the only sense of urgency or tension has been the MC's missing journal, which they just found on the bookshelf of all places.

While I like the action and dialogue, I think getting more of a sense of where we are and why we should care would help readers feel more invested. A sense of urgency, stakes, or tension are always good motivation.

The very end is a nice hook, as the abrupt intensity gives a sense of urgency and alarm. I think you may capitalize on the concern for Hyoth if we got more of an idea of who everyone is, how Hyoth is related to them, and what everyone's role is in this world. Some sense of mystery is good, but I feel like it's a little too vague as it stands.

Overall, I felt like the writing style is good, direct, and there are hints of some interesting ideas, but I think I'd like to get more meaty descriptions and world-building spaced out between all the character introductions and dialogue.

I'm very curious to read more, and I hope you will continue to share with us. I hope you found my feedback helpful!

Sincerely,
David
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Review My Work / Re: Seeking Critiques: Flight of the Pirate Witch, SFF novel, 1905 words
« Last post by Dugarte on September 19, 2020, 03:16:37 PM »
PIJ1951 Thank you for the thoughtful critique! I really appreciate your feedback.

I cannot believe I - who have a pet peeve about repeating words or phrases in close proximity - failed to realize I was using the same words like light, and glow, multiple times in the same paragraph!

You are not alone in finding that my opening paragraphs get a little bogged down in vivid descriptions that cut into the pacing/action of the first scene. I am playing with some ideas on how to rearrange the first chapter so as to improve the pacing, without losing all of my descriptions, but perhaps trimming them and spacing them out a little further down in the second/third page.

I am definitely sensitive to the concern of introducing too many plot elements in rapid succession. I want my book to be accessible and not overwhelming. I will look at how I might be able to spread out introductions to those people and things.

Your positive feedback on the lines that especially worked for you are also very encouraging to me. I could learn from you when it comes to giving more supportive commentary in my own critiques.

I hope to continue critiquing other folks' work and posting pieces of my manuscript, and I hope you will be interested in continuing to read.

Thanks again!

-David
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Review My Work / Re: Seeking Critiques: Flight of the Pirate Witch, SFF novel, 1905 words
« Last post by PIJ1951 on September 19, 2020, 05:35:57 AM »
I'll comment as I read through, if I may.

The dramatic opening sentence works well - up to a point. I'm not 100% sure why you added 'and doubt' since it's clear your character is suffering physically rather than emotionally or philosophically. A minor point maybe, but from your excellent critiques on here you'd probably agree that less is often more.

Paragraph 2 adds some context but on a line by line edit maybe look at the repetition of 'light/light/twilight' and 'glow/glow'. It's an easy fix.

By the third, fourth and fifth paragraphs I began to wonder how he was able to take in all this detail if he was indeed battling against gravity. Your opening suggests an uncontrollable descent, but now it all seems to have slowed down to quite a leisurely pace. I appreciate you're keen to flex your descriptive muscle, but in first person narrative you have to bear in mind the narrator's state of mind when he tells us what's happening.

The image of someone pedalling at take-off makes up for the rather purple prose that precedes it - I almost felt I was battling to gain flight with him.

More repetition - 'hair band/long hair' - and later we have 'black hair/hair band'.

'I beamed with triumph' doesn't quite work for me since a beam suggests a particular kind of smile, visible to others. Since he can't see himself, maybe find an alternative way of expressing his delight. A sudden gasp of elation maybe?

Again, the crash back down to earth is effectively drawn. 'heavy as reality' I particularly like.

'I kept the omni-wand [it] tucked behind the buckle of one of the belts slung from my jumpsuit.'

I like the idea of an omni-wand - the DIY gadget every home needs. But there were times when I had to track back or pause for thought. Zordun tribes, Corvid Captains, a Camazotz bat and now Mom’s Rhizanthella Uada flower. It's a lot to take in while keeping pace with unfolding events. Maybe, in your haste to reveal this strange world you're expecting too much of your readers. But that's purely a personal observation since I'm not a reader of fantasy.

Despite these minor nit-picks, I did enjoy this excerpt. You write well, and though you tend to wax poetical, that's no bad thing as long as the plot keeps moving forwards. I just felt at times you'd pressed the pause button in order to add another layer of description.

Thanks for sharing.
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The Coffee Shop / Re: The MWC Bar/Red Barren Bar
« Last post by Noizchild on September 18, 2020, 10:00:06 PM »
I try to post there but I get ignored just like JT does here.
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Review My Work / Seeking Critiques: Flight of the Pirate Witch, SFF novel, 1905 words
« Last post by Dugarte on September 18, 2020, 06:14:46 PM »
Hello! Adhering to the 2,000 word limit, this is just the beginning of the first chapter of my manuscript, I tried to find a decent place to stop, but I know it's not ideal, but the chapter does continue. Please share any thoughts you have, and I will look forward to sharing more. I am also looking for critique partners interested in exchanging manuscripts for full, in-depth critiques, so feel free to PM me about that. Thank you!



I was falling, desperately fighting against gravity and doubt. The rugged terrain was so steep I had scarcely any control. Legs pumping, wings flapping, head spinning, stomach rolling, the world flew by me in hurdles and crashes.

Behind me, the golden sun set over a smoldering volcano peak. A black knife of smoke cut the rays of light in half, dripping a bloody glow of reflected lava light. The eerie twilight glow cast my shadow before me as I plummeted downhill.

To my left, the volcanic foothills rolled and curved with the serpentine tropical coast. Craggy mountain tops peaking up, pastoral valleys dipping low, all carpeted by the tropical forests between the hillsides and the beach. I dared not take my eyes off my path to admire it.

To my right, daedal stone architecture clawed at the darkening sky. Towering mausoleums and ornate sepulchers glowered, ghoulishly macabre. Pitch black obsidian and glossy white marble curved and climbed in monolithic works of masonry deifying Death. To me, it symbolized home, painful memories, constant misery, and everything I was trying to escape.

Ahead, tearing my eyes up from my rocky slope, I saw the bruise colors of the coming night swallowing the ocean’s endless horizon. Closing darkness dimmed into oblivion over the tide’s eternal susurrus. The cold, quiet solitude was my promise of freedom.

Dread thoughts of home drove me to pedal harder, pumping my wings against the pull of the earth. The memory of my first and only experience flying threatened to overwhelm me with pain and horror. I squeezed my eyes shut, repressing the thought. It formed a black cloud on the horizon of my mind. I was forever running from it.

My agonizing ride took a sudden lurch as I pedaled off a hillock that arched into the air.

Weightlessness. I gasped, eyes still shut tight, afraid to break whatever perfect combination of physical and mental will had lifted me off the ground.

Legs burning at the pedals, wings beating so wildly the bones creaked, the wind rushed through the feathers of my hair band and set my long hair streaming behind me, cooling and uplifting, like a reward for all the work and trauma.

Am I really flying? I had to see.

Squinting, I dared to look down, realizing the hillside was two meters beneath my wheels. I was floating at a downward angle, but staying clear of the earth!

I beamed with triumph, heart leaping, throat constricting, tears welling up. One more moment of joy and I would have wept.

Then I scanned the sky ahead.

A predatory shadow passed through high clouds, lurking in the haze.

The memory that had been threatening to crush my soul, boiling in the back of my mind, came thundering down on my heart. Dream turned to nightmare. Pain shot through my skull, nausea churning my stomach. Invisible, dead weight crushed my body.

My plunging race from the sunset faltered; heart sinking, legs failing, wings slowing.

I was falling again.

A jarring touchdown, the wheels of my invention squeaked and cracked painfully as I yanked the levers to turn my leathery wings, catching the air to break my plunging crash.

I turned to gently slow the bumpy ride, and my machine was reduced to a rusty, winged velocipede, heavy as reality. The wind no longer whistled through my hair, the horizon shrank, the foothill’s slopes.

Finally stopped, I winced at the damage to the spokes of my creation and glared up at the sky, wanting to curse the monster that had frightened me out of my flight.

The airship was The Ruthless. I had already recognized the sky pirate vessel. It reemerged from the cloud cover, descending and angling west toward Graveport. Toward me.

***

A third Corvid at the same time. It was common to see one of the leaders of the airship pirates in port. My home, Graveport, was one of their favored markets. It got rough enough when two of the notorious Corvid Captains and their raucous crews fell upon Graveport at once.

I brushed wild strands of long, black hair out of my face, adjusting my feather-crested hair band. The traditional adornment of the Volcanic Scars signified the owner’s tribe. Mine had been deliberately burnt. Half of the crest of white feathers were scorched black – a rare mark of discrimination invented only a few generations ago, when the first colonists settled. The secretive and isolative Zordun tribes refused to grant full status to the children of mixed blood. They let me work in the necropolis, but I would never be fully accepted in their society.

Crouching beside the wheels of my flying machine, I reviewed every part for damage from my rough landing. Spokes, and bolts, cogs, and springs; everything felt too loose.

I sighed up at the gigantic, predatory skull gaping down at me. The headpiece of my flying machine bared her massive, yellowed fangs in angry reproach at my piloting.

“Sorry,” I whispered sadly.

My hands drew my most prized tool from its secret webbing. I kept the omni-wand it tucked behind the buckle of one of the belts slung from my jumpsuit.

The omni-wand was not much to look at – a blunt rod of charcoal-colored metal with no discernible shape or use – at first glance. The metal felt like no other tool any smith could produce, smooth to the touch, but with a perfect grip, as if it gently stuck to a hand so long as you held it with intent. It was no ordinary device. With a little concentration, it became the most useful piece of equipment anyone could hope for.

But I could not concentrate. Three Corvid Captains gathered together was a rare nightmare. Monsters prowling the streets, hunting with wild, carnal eyes and calloused, red hands. Hunting for someone like me.

The molecules of metal moved around, shifting into the shape of the tool I wanted as my heart pounded, mind aflame in memory. The metal rod in my hand sprouted a wrench head.

My excruciating thoughts made the microscopic metal pieces change formation. It was a cruel, mad way to activate a supernatural gadget. Yet it was so omnipotent, so universally useful, I could not imagine the cost of trying to build or maintain my flying machine without it.

My omni-wand and the remains of my only childhood friend were my ticket to freedom.

I have to get out of here.

The wrench fit perfectly around the bolts that needed tightening. Wincing with dread, I turned it into a screwdriver that was just the right size for the parts of my machine.

Where the fittings joined the emaciated wings of the giant Camazotz bat, I took care not to scratch the remains. The light, long bones and leathery joints still worked nearly as well as they had for the apex predator when she hunted the volcanic hillsides a decade ago.

It had been tricky fitting a modified velocipede and controls to the preserved corpse.

In her honor, I had named my machine Chiroptera.

The flight tests were showing exponential progress. My heart skipped at the giddy sensation of gliding, lighter than air. I’m so close. I took a gulp of water from a flask at my belt.

Satisfied that everything was returned to good repair from rubber-rimmed wheels to leathery wings, I replaced my enchanted omni-wand in my belt, the metal resuming its plain, simple shape. Grasping the handlebars, I turned Chiroptera uphill to begin the exhausting walk.

If I were frugal with my supplies...If I could make the packs lighter than the stones I’m using for practice. Maybe I could really fly?

With aching muscles, I retreated up the bumpy hill against the wind. Knapsacks across the back of the machine were heavy with stones simulating the weight of supplies.

I had bought all the non-perishable items I would need to run away. I had enough coins left for food. Canteens ready to fill up with water.

All I need to do is master flying, and wait for Mom’s Rhizanthella Uada flower to bloom, and I’ll be ready to go. The grave flower bloomed every four years from the day it was planted. It was my birthday, so I knew my mother’s grave would be blooming soon. She died the night she gave birth to a dead, blue baby. The rumor was that witchcraft had traded her life for mine.

Memories, unrequited dreams, and the worst lingering nightmares all carried over into the roots, stems, flowers, and pollen of the supernatural plant. They were my only connection to her.

My last wish was to bid my mother goodbye and take what memories she could leave me.

The climb uphill was a long battle. It was dark by the time I reached the abandoned ruins high up the foothills. The temple ruin was just a silhouette in the twilight, the interior pitch black and filled with echoes of forgotten prayers.

I stood panting, eyes adjusting to the darkness as my hands groped for my flask again. Gulping, I studied the faint lines of carvings that no one else had admired in decades, perhaps centuries. The skeletons, flies, worms, and bats all engraved in the friezes.

This was where she brought me back, I fought back tears, remembering the giant Slayer bat carrying me to the temple ruins ten years ago, instead of eating me as I had expected. Her four-meter wingspan was still impressive as the frame of Chiroptera. She had looked as big as a dirigible to me back then. The skull, twice the size of mine, made for a fearsome bowsprit. Her brood of pups had been nearly as large as I was then, still learning to fly.

They had all left without me.

I’ll miss these secret places. I thought of the unattended nooks within the necropolis, the soft sounds of Graveport on quiet nights. And my books. My heart sank to think of leaving behind all the wonderful worlds of knowledge and imagination that set me free from reality.

My only comfort was the running list of titles and authors I kept on a strip of parchment rolled up in a corked vial tucked into a pocket of my coveralls. I had a system of symbols to denote what I thought of each book and author, and an ever-growing list of books I had seen referenced, which I hoped to find once I was free from Graveport.

Chiroptera went back in her hiding place amongst my store of supplies and the overgrowth in the cavernous shrine to the dead.

I turned to navigate the steep slope of overgrown stone steps back down to the beach.

A childhood’s worth of running away, starting at the ghost-filled necropolis Myktla, afforded me an intricate knowledge of the forsaken northern slopes of the volcano Tepetl.

In truth, I had felt familiar with each ruined landmark as soon as I stumbled on it, triggered by memories I had that were not my own, quietly lurking beneath the surface of my mind. I recognized the tilted stone columns with skeletons carved into the side, remembering when they had first been erected. My feet could follow every broken stairway to every tomb, expecting them to flow smoothly into the hillsides.

The old shrines were all overgrown with brush and moss. The trees were choked with climbing vines and debris. The memories were long dead, faint as inarticulate whispers.
9
Hi Kalya,

Thank you for sharing your synopsis and first chapter with us! I hope you will find my feedback helpful.

As some others have already noted, there appears to be some confusion about the past, present, or future tense used in the synopsis. I know I myself am eager to share my writing with the world and it’s hard to take the time to really study my every word and make it polished, but it’s important, so I urge everyone I meet to do so, especially with their synopsis, and the opening lines of their first chapter.

Which leads me to the opening lines of the chapter. I especially believe the very first line of a book is critical, as it can set the tone for the whole story, and I wonder if this opening line is exactly what you want? The wording felt a little vague. And in the second sentence “uncontrollable shuddering, stiff-bodied feeling” sound slightly contradictory and it is a touch wordy in my opinion.

Then I feel lost, grammatically speaking, when you write “paranormal like episodes as though I’m possessed.” I’m no expert when it comes to grammar, but this feels a little garbled and confusing to me. Maybe a hyphen to connect “paranormal-like” or just skip “like” in favor of “seemingly-paranormal” or a synonym for paranormal. Then “as though” leaves me feeling like a word went missing between the three descriptive phrases and where I am now in the sentence. I would encourage an overhaul of the wording and structure of this sentence.

When you say “At seven years of age, it was too young for me to remember the events that unfolded” I’m pretty sure this was a typo or grammatically incorrect. Did you mean “I was too young” not “it”? I think it makes much more sense if it were something like “At seven years of age, I was too young to remember the events as they unfolded.”
The following sentence also appears to have a typo. “Mom and Dad galed a scary episode they had when a fever blazed inside of me one night.” I do not believe “galed” is a word, and I am not sure what you meant.

Overall, there seem to be a lot of long-winded passages and wordy ways of stating things, which I feel are unnecessary and drag down the pacing.  For example “The television kept me entertained for some time until my body began to quake.” Feels like a very awkward, wordy way of simply saying “I was watching tv when my body began to quake.”

Based on these first few paragraphs, I feel like this writing needs a good amount of editing for spelling, and grammar at the very least, before other writers invest a lot of time reading further.

I hope you will continue to write and refine your craft and share with us as you progress. I hope you found my feedback helpful!

Sincerely,

David
10
Review My Work / Re: Chapter One of Fantasy Novel: Tranquility - 1801 Words
« Last post by Dugarte on September 18, 2020, 04:50:03 PM »
Hi robhyx,

Thank you for sharing your writing with us! I think overall it is an interesting beginning, introducing a lot of cool ideas, with some nice descriptions. I hope you will find my feedback helpful!

One thing that stands out to me is that I was craving a little more description of the first character we are introduced to, Parzei. I know she has spectacles, but besides that, I don't get much imagery for her at first, but then I get some great, tightly-written details to distinguish several of her coworkers, leaving her as the one who I don't have any strong impression of yet.

From a more technical perspective, there were a couple of times when I felt like one paragraph ended with something describing a situation, and then the next paragraph began with another description of the same situation that felt slightly redundant. For example one paragraph ends "The question had been for Jkl, her chief in applied alchemy, but he responded with only a snore." and then the next paragraph begins "Hunched over a splintering desk, Jkl snoozed." and I feel like this sentence isn't giving me any information I don't already have, but feels like a kind of bland reiteration of what I just got.
Then I feel a similar sensation when I read the sentence "It didn’t take much to jar her teammate into consciousness and compromise the precarious position in which he rested." followed by "When Jkl awoke, he was already halfway off the stool." The action here feels sort of telegraphed. I could already have imagined him waking up with a jolt as he loses his balance at a push, even that first sentence seemed a little long-winded to tell me what I could have already guessed. But then the next paragraph's beginning further repeats the idea that I'm already feeling is being spelled out a little too much for my taste.
In my opinion, the whole sequence of paragraphs describing Jkl being asleep and then woken up feels like it is a bit longer than it needs to be.

Also you used the words "Parzei stepped closer" and then "She stepped closer" two lines down, which feels repetitive in my opinion.

The passage "Pinpricks of fury at his lack of remorse skittered across her knuckles" felt a little awkward to me. I've never heard of any sensation like this, so it just sounds alien to my mind.

From a sensitivity editing standpoint, Parzei's anger can be understood from her exhaustion but the implied threats of physical violence and her toying with the idea of smashing glass on her subordinate's head feels a bit over the top. I think people might begin to have trouble sympathizing with the main character if she's painted as an abusive, violent, toxic person. I wonder if this part of her personality is really important to the story, or if her frustration might be better illustrated with different expressions than the threats or fantasies of physical violence?

I also do not feel like the stakes are clear. Why are they staying up all hours experimenting? What is the urgent need?

The paragraph describing the scientists' parents/homelands got a little confusing in my opinion. A lot of characters, official titles and places with fancy names are listed in quick succession. I feel like the big block of text could be broken up, and some of the less essential details might be cut out to keep it focused. By the end of it, when you say "Needless to say, Parzei remained tight-lipped when it came to the finer details of her home." I am not sure why this is "needless to say" as I am lost as to why she is tight-lipped about her home.

In this paragraph: "Out of the corner of her eye, she caught him stealing glances at her. Why? She didn’t know, didn’t care. He should be looking at Prudence, who with her fine clothing and immaculate hair looked fit for a royal wedding. Parzei wore a man’s tunic, large enough to accommodate two, and she hadn’t brushed her hair since leaving for the university three years ago. She didn’t care about appearances or the opposite sex. She was the daughter of a lord but had no interest in marrying some snot-nosed nobleman and living a life of matrimonial servitude. She cared about pushing scientific boundaries, making discoveries." I am getting that feeling of getting an idea beaten into my brain over and over. I feel like first of all Parzei is really jumping to conclusions about why Jkl is looking at her, unless you clarify the way he is looking at her. And then she really goes on and on about how she doesn't think he ought to be looking at her, and how she's not interested. Something considerably shorter and more to the point is all that I think is needed to establish these ideas and keep the plot moving.

Jkl's next block of dialogue felt confusing to me: “I think we need to consider this element is something undiscovered.” He pointed to the far wall where a sheet of cracking parchment depicted the table of the fundamental elements. “We’ve never seen this rune before. In fact, we’ve never seen this shorthand before. We’ve been fortunate enough with the other pieces, but this one may not be there. We should be looking at mineral samples, searching for something new.” I thought it was already established that the element they are studying is undiscovered - isn't that the whole point of what they are doing? After that, I'm confused by his noting that they have never seen the shorthand before - I thought Parzei wrote the shorthand. Finally, I'm lost by his last two sentences. When he says "This one may not be there," what is he referring to as "there."? And when he says "We should be looking at mineral samples, searching for something new." what does this mean?

Overall I enjoyed your writing style and you have done a great job of setting up an interesting world, with lots of elements I am curious to learn more about. My last bit of constructive criticism would simply be that I personally find that first chapters are strongest when they end with a hook, or when the stakes/tension/urgency have been clearly stated so that readers feel the need to turn the page and see what happens next. I'm not sure why these scientists have been up all hours and are arguing so angrily over how to solve the mystery they are studying. I think that stating the dire need for their solution early on, and reiterating why they need to work it out and that the clock is ticking, would help readers understand why they should care.
Other than that, this was a great read, and I hope to see more of your story soon! I hope you found my feedback helpful!

Sincerely,
David

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