Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sharing Is Caring: Shards of Glass, Chapter One

I want to share a little piece of my novel with you. I have impressively hearty self-esteem (despite recent rejections of my writing, my grandmother once asking me why I'd ever think Harvard would want me, and the fact that I have gained 10 lbs in the past year, drat it), but still, when I find myself doubting SHARDS, I find it helpful to go back and look at it again.

I just really think this novel doesn't suck.

So check it out - my first chapter - and let me know if you think it sucks or not. Don't worry, you can be critical and you won't destroy my self-esteem. Not if those 10lbs haven't.

Chapter One: Live and Die by the ‘Shrooms

High School.

April killed her father while Mom was at a PTA meeting.
Her teachers were probably saying great things about her. April was the kind of teenager who makes adults wish they could go back and try high school over again. She was (in order of ascending importance) intelligent, funny, athletic, beautiful and popular.
And she was also, at the moment, searching for poisonous mushrooms.
April stepped delicately over the splayed branches of a fallen tree, stopping to pull a puff mushroom out of the dark, moist innards of rotten wood. She thought about it for a second, brushing her light bangs out of her placid blue eyes. Then she dropped it on the ground and continued through the woods. Lot of people knew that “puff” mushrooms, or amanita phalloides, were poisonous, and they weren’t as easy as many poisonous mushrooms to confuse with edible ones. Just in case someone found her out, she didn’t want any doubt that this was purely accidental.
She found what she was looking for at another downed tree; its trunk had become a farm for galerina mushrooms, whose deadly toxins quickly destroy your liver. Other edible fungi were spotted throughout the bunches of little brown mushrooms. She plucked them all, dropping them into the white mixing bowl she had used throughout her childhood to collect blackberries from the woods behind their farmhouse.
Tears blurred her vision as she worked, but it didn’t matter; she wanted a mixture of safe and deadly mushrooms, so it didn’t matter which ones she twisted off the dead tree.

In the kitchen, she quickly saut√©ed the Italian sausage, onions and mushrooms together, then turned down the heat and left them simmering on the stove as she walked down the hall to her father’s room. She worried just leaving her toxic dish alone for a minute; it was unlikely anyone would wander into the house and taste-test, but the burden of one death was quite enough for her.
“Daddy?” she asked, sticking her head in the door. He looked up and smiled when he saw her. His face was so thin now that his smile seemed too big, oddly jarring. But April smiled back, her wide smile the mirror image of what his had been.
“Come on in, Princess,” he said, patting the bed besides him weakly. “Is dinner ready?”
April nodded as she went to adjust the covers over him, fussing with the blue-and-white quilt on the transplanted hospital bed. “It’s ready. But are you sure you want to go through with this?”
“I’m sure,” he said. “We’ve got a solid plan. I’m sure this will work.”
With the sheets and quilt straightened, she made herself sit down, even though she was buzzing with nervous energy. “Well. I must say I’m disappointed with you, Daddy. I always thought you were too much of a bastard to ever die.”
“That hardly seems fair,” he said. “I’m nothing but proud of you. You’re gorgeous, very bright – despite that one incident with the toaster – and you grew into one tough young woman, to do this for me.”
She got up, leaned to kiss him on top of the head. His thick sandy-blond hair had come out as easily as new grass, almost a year ago; it had been replaced with white puffs, dandelion seeds across his scalp.
“I’ll get your dinner,” she said.

In the kitchen she poured him a glass of sweet tea and filled a bowl with the food she had made. The smell of cooked onions and mushrooms made her mouth water, and she had to remind herself not to sample her own cooking.
She had to open the bedroom door with her foot, since her hands were full. Dad seemed pleased when she set his dinner down on the bedside table and dragged it over, positioned it over his lap.
“I’m glad I taught you how to cook,” he said. “At least I can die with a good meal in my belly, instead of starving to death as a lunatic in that damn hospital.”
There was a pause for a second, April awkward at the mention of the death that loomed before them both and the hospital he was so desperate to avoid. Then she said, “Well, it’s not like you really taught me how to cook. You’ve been keeping your chili recipe a bigger secret than our country’s nuclear information has ever been.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He gestured towards the dresser. “Bring me that paper and pen.”
April had to search through the rubble on the top of the dresser; his ties and briefcase from work were still parked there, even though it had been months, and so were the novels he had been reading and National Geographics and Scientific America. She finally dug out the legal pad and found a blue Stilton pen in the pocket of his briefcase.
He wrote busily for a few minutes, then ripped the paper off the pad. “Here,” he said, handing it to April for her perusal.
She wanted to read it, but she couldn’t focus then. “Thanks, Dad,” she said. “I’m sure this’ll help me catch some man someday.”
“You won’t have any problem catching a man. Only cook if you want to keep them.”
“I’ll remember that. So much wisdom, you’ve given me: nothing in life is fair, nothing in life is free, it’s fine if people call you a bitch. I’m all set to succeed in life.”
“I did what I could.” He picked up his fork, speared the first mushroom. “Do you have the letter I wrote?”
“Still sealed, hidden in my sports bag under my cleats and shin guards. Mom’ll never wander across it there; she’s strongly against smelly things.”
“Good, good. And where are you going to open it?”
“Hopefully never.”
“Good,” he said. And he ate his first mushroom. “This is funny, you know. Back in the seventies I damn near lived by the ‘shrooms, and now I’m going to die with them.”
April put her hands on her hips and heaved a sigh. “You were all up in the ‘shrooms, and I’m not allowed to smoke up or pierce my belly-button?”
“Times have changed.”
“How have times changed so much?”
“I became a father,” he said, winking at her.
“Happiest day of your life.”
“So you keep telling me.”
He ate his dinner, calmly, drank his sweet tea. It was the first time April had seen him eat a normal meal in what seemed like ages; he was always sick after, and it was hard to find anything he was even willing to attempt. She sat next to him, making small talk, her hands twisting and worrying beneath the side of the bed.
“You should go,” he said, when he was done.
“I want to stay.”
“But you should go. Otherwise you’ll move something, it’ll be obvious that you were here at the end—”
She cut him off. “I’m smarter than that. I won’t change anything. But I’ve never been particularly obedient, and I don’t know why you think I would start now.”
It was his turn to sigh. Then he acquiesced. “Fine. I don’t have any particularly strong desire to die alone.”
“Good boy,” she said, patting him on top of the head. It made him smile.
“I should have died in ‘Nam, you know,” he said easily, settling back into the pillows. “Anything after that is, as you like to say, ‘money’.”
“Don’t try to be a thug, Daddy.” She laid down on the narrow strip of the mattress next to him, her head against his painfully thin shoulder.
“I’m just quoting you. You’re the thug,” he said. And then she felt him shudder, felt his knees start to pull up involuntarily towards his belly as it started. He drew in a shaky breath, but managed to say, “Take care of your mother. And stay tough. The world needs more women like you.”
“Women who can cook?” April asked, but he was shuddering again, and even for the two of them, the time for bantering had come to an end.
By the time he was still, the sheet had fallen off his shoulder and it was the shoulder of his pajamas wet with her tears. His cheek was still warm as she kissed him goodbye, then went to fix her face, to head over to Ben’s house. He was supposed to be the alibi for a crime she never wanted to commit.


Dan Coffey said...

Amazing start!

lionmother said...

After reading your first chapter I think that with a few changes this might get accepted. I was caught up in the end, but the beginning doesn't really grab you. I know that the first sentence should grab someone, but you put too much afterward. I wasn't sure where you were and who was speaking. The scene with the father is so intimate that you might want to switch the whole thing to first person POV. You can keep it past tense, but that would bring the reader closer to your MC. If you want I'll go through it a little more and see if I can find some things you can change.

Are you a member of a critique group? Those are very helpful. Also, you might have a better hook at the end of the chapter. Let me know if you want more specific comments and I'll give them to you. I've been a member of critique groups for over 10 years.:)

Barbara (from facebook)

Esther said...

Loved the tone of this. Nice job.

Gwendolyn said...

I agree with much of what lionmother has said. And I too agree that this needs to be workshoppped. There are a lot of good things happening here, and your writing has fantastic potential. However, that first paragraph turns readers off. It introduces both character and plot by way of telling. I, too would be glad to give you some helpful feedback. However, I understand it's a little difficult giving and recieving feedback from somoeone you've never met. I run a writers workshop, and have a degree in creative writing. Stop by my site sometime, and let me know if you are open to my opinion!

Gwendolyn (I also just found you on facebook's Networked Blogs) :)

Guinevere said...

Thanks for the comments! I always appreciate criticism... I am a member of a critique group back home but I've been overseas for the past year, so I only had the chance to workshop select scenes.

Do groups ever critique whole novels? I imagine it would be a very length process, but this is my first full-length adult novel and I wonder how well the individual scenes form into a cohesive whole.

Thanks for reading! :)