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Date Posted: 11:51:33 03/14/11 Mon
Author: Esther
Subject: Okay, I finally found some time to finish this. My apologizes for taking like forever. >>>
In reply to: Debi 's message, "I'll Fly Away" on 09:52:04 02/18/11 Fri

No backstory, this is a stand alone story. Let me know if anyone has issues with figuring out anything. There is room for this to be a few more pages if need be.

Okay. I’m going to go through this with a fine tooth comb, just cause it’s for school, and I haven’t done one for awhile. And although it takes me awhile sometimes to get to, I really do enjoy doing this. So…Here goes! *G*

“Sing us a song, girl.”

Stand alone story should have one of those lines at the beginning to hook the reader. I think this one can be stronger. Now keep in mind, I have no idea what the assignment is, and heck it could be to write a scene using that as the first line*G*

These words, coming out of my Daddy’s mouth, made me so mad I could spit. On a regular day he was just sorry as the day is long, but today, of all days, for him to ask me to do anything…

This would likely have more impact if I knew why today, of all days, was one of those days for him to ask me to do anything…

People always asked me to sing. Any time there was a gathering of some kind eventually someone would ask. I usually didn’t mind; I like to do it and was proud to make somebody happy. Momma taught me that. But today, there wasn’t nobody that was happy, and no matter how hard I sang, the one person I really wanted to hear me was gone.

And now you’re taking me out of the story and thrusting me back in time.

Momma always sang at her chores and I was lucky enough that she passed the love of music and a good voice on to me. But right now, singing was the last thing I wanted to do. At the ripe old age of seventeen I felt like I was as old as Methuselah.

Ah. The first indication of who the narrator is. And okay. This is also very telling, cause I still don’t know why she’s spitting mad at Daddy, nor why she feels older than Methuselah. This is back-story that can be incorporated elsewhere.

She died early Saturday morning, after a long night of trying to birth a child much too big for her little body. The baby needed a name, and I had to do it, since Daddy was nowhere to be found. I called him Caleb, since he was going on ahead of us to the Promised Land, even though it’s not quite the same as in the Bible story. I’d wondered if Daddy even knew Momma was dead, until he showed up drunk, just after she’d passed. I’d had to be midwife for her since I’d done it before and we didn’t have money for a doctor, not that a doctor could have saved her. I’ve never seen so much blood in all my days. It looked like a hog-killing.

Now story-wise, here’s the good stuff, and where you’ve captured my attention. She died early Saturday morning is a great hook to keep me reading. Writing wise, as I read this I see two different ideas fighting for control in this paragraph. The mom dieing and the dad being drunk. If’n if were me, I’d keep the two separate. And I’d keep the sentences shorter. Shorter sentences have more impact and increase the pace.

Also, I wonder why she’s so sure a doctor couldn’t have saved her. She’s seventeen, and although she’s played the role before, she’s not above making mistakes herself. Why isn’t she doubting that she did all she could? Perhaps blaming herself that it was her fault, that if she had done something different, Momma might still be alive? Caleb as well? Wouldn’t that make her anguish more, and the reader feel more empathic?

Daddy’d come a-roaring into the house, hollering for her to come show him his newest son. I stepped into the hall, bloody to my elbows, holding the bundle that contained little Caleb. Not a word did I say, just pushed the wad of sheets at him. He stared at the tiny blue face for a minute, then laid him back in my arms, real gentle. He reached for the mantel, opened the face of the Grandma’s clock ticking there and touched the pendulum to stop it. I turned away to go back to Momma. I heard his steps going out the door, slow and heavy. Good, I thought, he ought to be sorry.

So he was within hearing distance, and when the screaming stopped he came inside. Okay, shows concern…

Wad of sheets sounds… crass, maybe? Just that it makes me think that she’s insensitive. But his placing Caleb real gentle back into her arms makes me think highly of him. And I love the image of him stopping the pendulum! Great way to highlight that timeless sensation, you know the feeling where time seems to have stopped and that nothing else matters except the grief. Excellent!

I don’t know how anyone found out; I reckon Daddy said something ‘cause directly folks started showing up.

k, that directly reads awkward to me. And I’m of the opinion that if someone doesn’t know something, it shouldn’t be mentioned, esp. when the narrator is the one whose POV we’re in and they don’t know themselves.

“Hello the house! Miriam?!”

Choose one punctuation mark to end the sentence.

“Please come in, Miss Holloway.” Of course she’d be the first to know and the first to show. Chances were good folks in Raleigh, a hundred miles away, already knew Momma was dead. I really wanted to be left alone. If she could, Momma would probably laugh, not one bit surprised that Carolee Holloway was the first to turn up.

K, I haven’t seen her wash the blood off herself yet, and therefore, I’m imagining that it would be kinda dried by now, and time has passed cause folks started showing up. Is that too picky?

Ben and Brenda, my youngest sister and brother, were huddled together at the table by the woodstove in the kitchen. I reckon all of Momma’s screaming had scared them. I had given them some cold biscuits and the last of our cane syrup to keep them out from underfoot. Aggie was outside feeding the chickens and Martin, the next oldest behind me, was out gathering what was ready from the garden. Nobody had gotten much sleep and we still had to eat.

“Oh, you poor thing!” Miss Holloway grabbed me and hugged me to her. I let her for a second, then pulled away.

So between the time Miss H bellowed to the house and arrived, Miriam got the younger kids something to eat and given them cane syrup? Suggest switching the paragraphs around to help with the flow.

Isn’t Miss the title of address for a young girl or unmarried woman, because I’m at odds here with her behaviour. You poor thing sounds combined with a hug seems very maternal/motherly to me. I guess because my impression that the majority of young people would be uncomfortable expressing themselves in face of someone’s grief. Not to mention I get the impression that she’s a gossip, and well, as judgemental as I am, if the folks a hundred miles away knew, it seems unlikely a younger person would have that kind of influence. If that makes any sense?

“I need to finish cleaning up.”

Okay, if Miss Holloway was close enough that she arrived before she could finish cleaning up, why didn’t she (Miss H) or any of the other neighbour ladies show up to help with the birth?

“Let me help you!” She followed me into the bedroom and gagged. I knew she would. “I’ll just go keep an eye on the young’uns.”

Cut the I knew she would. It detracts from the brilliant image you created with the previous sentence. Also the I knew she would cuts into a paragraph belonging to someone else, so if read in order it almost reads like she (Miriam) left to look after the young ones.

“I appreciate that.” I heard her cooing to the twins, probably eating their biscuits too. In a little while I heard another voice at the door.

I get the impression that Miriam isn’t as nice as she seems here, as it’s an ungrateful thought that Miss H was eating the biscuits of the little ones. And if she just gagged, Miss H wouldn’t prolly be in the mood to eat either.

In a little while implies the passage of time. Could we see what Miriam was doing? Yes, it’s not pleasant, but seeing her cleaning up the blood, and covering her mother would invoke not only sympathy but also show how strong and mature a character Miriam is.


This one I was glad to hear. Jimmy came into the house and found me. By this time I had gotten the bloody sheets bundled up and Momma decently covered with a clean one, the baby washed and swaddled at her side.

Yeah, she’s been busy, but still I’d have liked to see some of it. And that much blood would have an odour, actually giving birth has it’s own smell I still associate with it, and now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t have the image of any smells in this story. K, going for a re-read to see what I can find of the other senses…and you could add in some details that would put me right there. For instance, when Miss H was hugging her, was she wearing perfume Miriam hated or that made her nausous as it was sickingly sweet? Perhaps Daddy had that nice odor of a drinker, that distinctive smell as the alcohol is sweated out?

“Miri, I’m so sorry.” When he held his arms out, I wanted him to hold me, but I cut my eyes at the door toward the kitchen. Miss Holloway, for all her claiming to be a good Christian, would start a rumor in a heartbeat that me and Jimmy were sparking right in front of my dead mother. I took his hands and he squeezed.

Awww Jimmy calls her by a nickname. And what’s wrong with a hug in the time of someone’s grief? And why is she thinking that now of all times?

“What can I do to help?”

I stopped to think. It wasn’t fitting that he help me wash and dress her, but he could help all the same. “See if you can find my daddy and ask him to make a box for her and dig a grave.”

He grimaced. “I’ll do my best.”

I managed a smile. “And if not, I reckon I’ll do it, just like everything else around here.” He gripped my hand one more time to comfort me and took off.

Jimmy came back in just a little while with some pine boards he got from somewhere and I heard hammering in the yard. Lots of other folks came too, most of them with whatever food they could spare. Mrs. Abernathy, the preacher’s wife came and brought me a jug of clean water and took away the sheets. For that I was grateful.

The hammering adds a nice touch.

What was she grateful for? The jug of water or the fact that she took away the sheets. I’d reword and get rid of the and which ties the two things together.

Somebody made sure my brothers and sisters were fed, a couple of the men went out to help Jimmy and I got Momma dressed.

Her best dress was her wedding dress, but I didn’t want her buried in that. Being married to my Daddy wasn’t anything to be proud of, though Momma always did the best she could. Instead I got out my Sunday dress. I had planned to wear it when me and Jimmy got married. A lot of eggs and wild honey had been traded for the cloth and Momma said the blue went with my eyes. I wished I had hers; green as grass, instead of Daddy’s eyes, the same color as the sky he was always staring off into.

I like the insights we’re given here. Especially that Daddy always stared off into the sky, cause it tells me about his personality, like he’s a dreamer and wasn’t cut out for the life he ended up having. And yes, I can easily picture him as someone a woman could love.

Where was that man? It wasn’t decent, him off doing what the Good Lord alone knew what and his wife laying dead. He was probably at the still, drunk as Cooter Brown. Folks tell of good money to be made from selling moonshine, but we never saw any of it. I think Daddy drank it all away.

And here she is wondering what people will think again. I’m suspecting it’s part of the society and time they live…I’m just saying. *G*

Just before dark, as I was lighting the lanterns, they brought the coffin in. Jimmy brought the kitchen chairs into the front room and faced them together in pairs; we set the coffin on them and laid Momma inside, tucking the baby into her arms. Jimmy stepped close behind me, putting a hand on my shoulder.

Well, I’m glad Jimmy doesn’t worry too much about what people think.

“I’ll dig a grave first light. It’s bad luck to leave one open all night.” I nodded, reaching up to touch his hand, tired to my bones. There was still a long night ahead of me. Jimmy shooed Miss Holloway out of the only chair we had with cushions on it and brought it close to the casket, standing beside it while I sat down. I think it was the first time I sat down all day. I still hadn’t quite got my head around the notion that Momma was gone; I was still too mad at Daddy for not being there, for being a drunk layabout, for getting her pregnant again, after so many babies had been lost. If all of us had lived that house would have busted wide open.

I like how she’s transferring her grief into anger at her dad, and how she’s blaming him for everything. And I like how Jimmy’s looking after her.

After a while, folks seemed to forget I was there and I heard little bits and pieces of what they were saying.

“—not surprised, she was wore plumb to a frazzle with them young’uns and Mal never home.”

“—poor brave girl, not a tear shed—“

“—all them young’uns, what’s gonna happen to—“

Nice touch and a great way to incorporate details about Miriam.

I shut it all out, just staring at Momma’s pale face over the edge of the pine box. She was the age I was now when I was born. I didn’t know what would happen to us; honestly, I just figured we’d keep on like we had been. Us young’uns took care of the stock: chickens, a couple of mules, a cow, and I was the one who always planned and planted the garden. If Daddy showed back up, I’d figure it out when it happened.

I have trouble with that image in the first sentence. The coffin is sitting on chairs and with the sides on the coffin, I can’t visualize how she could see anything but the wood on the far side.

The second sentence reads awkwardly, and I had to read it twice to make sure I read it right. And just cause I’m the type to do so, I did the math. If Miriam is 17 and her mother had her at that age, that makes mom only 34 when she died, after 17 years of having babies. Is that normal for this time? Cause if it is, why is Miriam blaming her father?

A hand touched my arm; it was Mrs. Abernathy, the preacher’s wife. “Miriam, you’re all done in. I’ll sit up with her and the baby.”

I shook my head. “You’re welcome to sit up too, but I’m staying here.”

The crowd thinned as the night wore on; pretty soon it was just me and Mrs. Abernathy, with Jimmy asleep, propped in the corner. The neighbors would be back in the morning; it was Sunday and they were going to church anyway, besides, plenty of them were probably hoping for a meal and a show. With Daddy, chances were better than average there’d be a show fit to beat that Mr. Ringling fellow’s circus.

Jimmy got up before dawn to go dig the grave. I was so thankful he’d been around, doing the things Daddy should have done. I’m sure the rumors were already starting to fly about me and Jimmy but I didn’t care. It wasn’t a secret that we were sweethearts. Momma had liked him and Daddy had been indifferent, not that I cared a fig what that old drunk thought.

Jimmy is a sweetheart isn’t he

About midday, Jimmy was back and I sent Martin out to hitch up the mule and wagon. We carried the coffin out, put it in the back and followed it up the glen to the cemetery behind the church. Daddy was there, waiting by the open grave, just like he was the one what dug it. I stared at him but he just stood there, collar open and swaying on his feet like a tree in a high wind. It made me sick and ashamed to be his child, him so drunk he couldn’t stand straight, at his own wife’s funeral and on the Lord’s Day to boot. Reverend Abernathy looked back and forth between us for a minute, then got down to business. He said some words, Aggie and the twins cried a little. We all threw a handful of dirt into the hole. The clods made a hollow sound as they hit the pine box, like we were burying an empty casket. I took it to mean that the Good Lord had done taken her and my littlest brother Caleb on home with Him.


We went on home, with a good portion of those at the funeral coming back to the house with us. All I wanted to do was run those freeloaders off, but Daddy had decided to take his place in our home for once, and I wasn’t about to start in with him in front of all our neighbors. I’d have my time to cry and raise Cain later, for now, I had to be strong for my brothers and sisters and quiet in the sight of my neighbors.

Freeloaders? Again I’m wondering if she’s that insensitive. Okay, I get that she just wants to be alone, to try and get life back to what is her idea of normal, but I’m under the impression, or perhaps just want to believe, that the neighbours are showing their support and trying to help. They brought food with them, and have been looking after the younger twins. So what’s up?

Some of the good Baptist ladies had stayed behind and set up all the food. Our family was first to get our plates then the rest of the bunch got some food. I wasn’t hungry so I put my plate down and pulled Ben into my lap. He was plenty old enough to feed himself, but it was soothing to have something to do. After I got all the food in him that I was going to, I got up to take the plate to the kitchen. Mrs. Abernathy took it from me, telling me I should sit back down, she and the ladies would take care of things, didn’t I think maybe I ought to go rest. I stood there for a minute, not sure what to do with myself. That’s when Daddy spoke.

Why would they stay behind to set up the food? Surely, that many women could set it up quickly when they returned?

Food is used twice close together, as well as neighbours in the previous paragraph. And I think you need to do a check and see how many times you used the word got or gotten. Hmmmm. I’ve done a replace in word to bold and italic all the times got was used, whether on its own or as part of another word to highlight where they all are. The word got is a pet peeve of mine, just because there is always a stronger verb than got, so I try and cut them out.

I like her listlessness here. Cause really, what does she need to do? The ladies are helping with the food and children and I’m assuming that the men are looking after the man chores, so at a time when she needs to be busy, she has nothing to keep her hands occupied. She’s totally at a loss here, and I can feel empathy for her. Excellent!

“Sing us a song, girl.”

Like he didn’t even know his oldest child’s name. Girl. That just lit a fire in me and I was so tired and had already forgotten about not wanting to get wound up in front of everybody. I was about to give him the sharp side of my tongue for everything I could think of when I felt a gentle touch on my hand, just for a second. It was Jimmy. He gave me a little smile that seemed to tell me that nothing Daddy said or did could hurt me, everything was going to be all right, that he was there for me, all that with just a quick flash of a smile. He glanced from me back to Daddy and I turned to look. Then I saw him, really got a good look at him for the first time, not as a child sees their daddy, but how someone sees another person.

Suggest separating into two paragraphs. Jimmy deserves to have his own paragraph, right?

He stood in the front door, like he wasn’t sure if he should come all the way in, the afternoon sun turning him into a dark shadow. What I took to be drunkenness earlier, at second glance looked like somebody who got the breath knocked out of them and didn’t see it coming. His eyes, the color of a clear summer sky, the same color as mine, were wide and staring, like a startled deer. His cuffs were dirty and his hands were all blistered and cut up.

Awwww. You really have me feeling for Daddy here. Excellent descriptions, and I can visualize with ease exactly what you’ve described.

“It was him what dug your momma’s grave, not me. I found him there this morning about half done.” Jimmy leaned his head close so I could hear his voice, which had gotten real soft.

“I took his pistol away from him too.”

Okay, it’s still Jimmy speaking here, so I think this should be included with the bit above. Although, if it is, I do believe, you could cut so I could hear his voice, which I would anyway, because we can hear him speak, so Miriam can too.

I felt my heart thump, stutter, and commence to beating again, this time wild and fluttering. As much as the man was drunk and neglectful and useless as tits on a boar hog, he was hurt, nigh on to wanting to die himself over Momma’s passing. I took a deep breath, surprised at how I felt; that I was glad that I wasn’t burying him today too. I looked back at Daddy and nodded. He took another step, all the way into the room and became a man again.

Love the word nigh! And I love how his actions made him a man again in his daughters eyes. Miriam is…disillusioned, perhaps, and this redeeming moment is all the more special because of it. And I really like that I wasn’t wrong in my view of Daddy from the beginning.

Boar or hog, pick one. Cut that that. I did a search and you used that 28 times. Delete those thats that you can.

“What song would you like to hear?”

And an excellent finish!

A very emotional piece of work. I have no idea what the assignment was, and I hope that the window of opportunity that I took advantage of means this might be of help, although I suspect I’m too late. But because I took waaaaay longer than I wanted, I was picky, and mentioned things that I didn’t notice on the first read, just cause I was looking so close.



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[> [> [> Thanks Esther -- Debi, 11:22:59 03/19/11 Sat

You made some really good points that will be incorporated into the rewrite, along with the suggestions from my classmates and instructor. I was trying to write in dialect and not make it too heavy handed. the setting is Appalachia, North Carolina to be specific and it's during the Depression. Some of the quibbles you had were with the dialect ('boar hog' for example. I don't know why, but if a rural Southerner refers to a large male pig, it's a boar hog.) I'll be doing some rewriting probably this weekend since, for the first time in weeks, I don't have a story to write or a test to study for, I don't even have notes to transcribe! I appreciate all your comments and will incorporate them in the retelling of Miriam's tale.

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