Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Would You Read On? hosted by Diana Flegal

Critique groups and other writing blogs are challenging one another by asking the simple question: Would You Read On? We here at Hartline are happy to have been an inspiration to some of them and thank our readers for their critiquing comments and re-tweets.

First Page:

Early Spring, 1898 Wadalow Mountain, Tennessee

Married at 13, a mother at 14, widowed and childless by sixteen. Ain’t nobody should have to learn life like I did. No soul should have to claw their way back from the bowels of hell, scared and scraped up like I was. If I can keep that from happening to anybody else, then I can live up to my name—Mercy. That’s why I’m teaching you different. They don’t call me Mercy Roller for nothing and I’m givin’ you my side of the story. My story of redemption at the hands of a so-called godly man who made his bed with evil and called his actions righteous. Because of him, I became the very thing I hated most and the trek back through the mire wasn’t easy for a young girl in her teens. In one swift act of vengeance, I lost what was left of a childhood and I was bound tight with the chains of guilt.

I was never the same after the morning Pastor took on judge, jury and Jesus. I made some mighty harsh decisions—decisions out of fury, hurt and fear. Decisions I’d grow to regret. Decisions I’d have to find redemption for or learn to live with. I chose redemption.

Redemption’s a mighty big word for simple folk but that’s what I was after. That’s where I was going. The good book says we can get salvation through our works or at least get a start on it, so that’s what I did. I went to work.

Life ain’t much different here on the mountain than it is in the valley. A man’s lucky to have a horse and wagon, lucky to have a shack with a tin roof. There are sinners on the summit and sinners in the foothills and I reckon Pastor Roller planned on washing every sin from every man.

I spread a blanket over a stand of grass and brushed down the wrinkles. Momma carried an apple pie in one hand and a basket full of chicken in the other. The aroma spun in the breeze meshing with Mrs. Taylor’s fresh sourdough bread. It couldn’t have been a prettier day for a man to repent and then go down to the river for baptizing.

Would you read on?

Last weeks author shall remain anonymous.


Timothy Fish said...

This one’s a hard one for me to make a call on. I like books that have an earthy, country folk style narrator, but this page has several problems that keep it from being all it could be.
There’s really too much to mention is a small space, but I think the root problem is that we really don’t get the sense that this person is writing with a mission. The transition to the last paragraph is much too abrupt for that. If this person is truly trying to keep the unnamed second character from repeating her mistakes, she isn’t going to jump from what she is saying about the pastor to this picnic scene. It would be like someone telling people to get out of a burning building by telling about a fishing trip he went on.

It is hard to be very critical of first person stuff because some of the mistakes may be intended to reveal who the character is. I will say, however, that it seems to have too much backstory and too many phrases that I would expect to hear only from a preacher standing behind a pulpit. There are also gender problems. A woman should never say things like “a man’s lucky to have a horse and wagon” or “it couldn’t have been a prettier day for a man to repent” because they are self-referential statements that imply the speaker is a man.

Davalyn Spencer said...

The question is: Would you read on?

Absolutely. In the last couple of weeks I have started and set aside a handful of published books that presented weak first pages/chapters. I wonder how they got published. This opening is much more enticing than the books I discarded. Yes, there are a few questions in this first page, but the writer has hooked me into reading on in order to find out the answers. This character has grit and I am not surprised that she would refer to what a man needs rather than a woman. She obviously lives in a male-dominated world; of course she's going to make such comments.

I would read on. I want to see her survive. As a reader, I am more forgiving of minor imperfections when there is a story I can grab hold of. There is definitely a story here.

Diana said...

and Davalyn- that is the question to answer- would you read on.... this is not intended to be a full critique of the book or the writers skills since it is only the FIRST PAGE :-)

Sharon A. Lavy said...

I do not agree with Tim at all. I have already fallen in love with this girl. Yes I would read on.

Melissa K Norris said...

I would read on. One small thing, the bible says we can't be saved by our works alone, so that might need some tweaking.

I wish we got to read more than the first page here. Meaning, I want more. :)

Timothy Fish said...

Davalyn, to me, the issue isn’t whether a character might have said it in that environment, but whether it conveys what the author intended to the reader. All I can say is that I personally found it confusing. But what’s a girl to do?

Davalyn Spencer said...

Melissa - yes, the remark about salvation poses a question. But I wonder if that is part of the heroine's journey, discovering that she cannot earn it, but must receive it as a gift.

Anonymous said...

I would read on. I want to read more, more, more! Mercy has gumption.

Anonymous said...

I'd probably read on, but I'm not sure how much further. The first page tells us the main character chose redemption. That's the sort of thing we need to discover on our own by the main character's actions throughout the book. I feel as if I already read the most important part of the book on page one.

Timothy Fish said...

Melissa, that statement raised my hackles too, but after I thought about it, I decided it belongs. It reveals something about the character. It’s similar to the stuff Tevye says about the good book in Fiddler On the Roof. In this case, it shows that the “good” pastor taught her the good book wrong.

Guyanne Lillie said...

I'm hooked. I am curious to see what this story has to offer.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Oh, dear. I want to see what happened to her, and I love her name, but I am reticent because of the mention of abuse by a preacher. My husband is a pastor, so I shy away from stories that cast them in a poor light. I know there are bad ones, but I don't want to spend my leisure reading time in a story about an ornery preacher.

In light of that, I think I would read at least the first chapter, to see what exactly he did.

I like this author's voice, and she draws me in. But the transition from pain to a picnic is a bit abrupt. That is easily changed, I think. The story itself may have great merit.

So, yes, I would read on, at least for a bit.

Sheila Odom Hollinghead said...

If the first part was shortened and less, I would read on.

As is, I wouldn't. In addition to the first part being so revealing, the character's name, "Mercy," is also. ("Mercy," to me, sounds cliched. I'm sure I've read other books with characters named Mercy.) We do want to be "hooked" but the bait needs to lure us in, unsuspecting. This is more like being hammered over the head and dragged to shore.

With a little tweaking, it would grab me but not as is.

Anne Love said...

I love historical, but can't trudge easily through first person--just a personal hang up.
I am intrigued, but perhaps the realist again--really wondering about being a mother at 14. As a health professional, its possible, but more realistic to make the character a year or two older--but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. It's totally possible, just not as believable for me.
The backstory feels more like a prologue, and confused me when it jumped to the picnic--has there been a time lapse? If not, the character learned all this in how much time? days? weeks? months? If the character is still aged 14-15, it's hard to believe she's already reaped that much wisdom and healing--her healing will take a life time. I expected the picnic to be more like in her 20's or 30's.
Also a little ironic--but works, to go from "hell" to a picnic. ;o) I actually liked that contrast because life is full of oxymorons.

Sheila Odom Hollinghead said...

Whoops! Left out a word. "shortened and less *revealing*

Let me say, too, I enjoyed the last part immensely. "spun in the breeze" Love it!

Anonymous said...

I would certainly read on. It has caught my attention. I cannot justify chopping it apart in analysis having only read this much, but would I turn the page for more?? Yes I would.

Katherine Hyde said...

I would read on for the voice. It draws me in immediately and makes me want to know this character. I think the opening could be condensed a bit--it harps a bit too much on one theme and possibly gives too much away. But the voice is there, the indication of a compelling story is there, and those are the most important elements.

P.S. I am reading this voice as a black woman. If the character is not black, I think the voice needs to change.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I would read on. I, too, want to find out what happened, and I was absolutely entranced by the picnic scene. I'd probably start there, and at least shorten the introductory part, or have her say something directly to a daughter-- or whoever's she's writing this to--"I'm writing this to you, dear daughter of my heart, so that..."

Love the line "Pastor Roller planned on washing every sin from every man." That one line shows his character crystal-clear.


Sandi Rog said...

I'd read on. I like the voice and I want to know how she lost her husband and children. There does need to be a better transition to the picnic scene, but I love the contrast from pain to "pleasure."

I didn't see this character as black. White maybe (probably because I'm white, IDK), but I wanted to get to know her. And as for her opinion about "works," that jumped out at me too, but I was still willing to read on in hopes that she'd learn that grace isn't earned. I also think it would be better to leave out her thoughts on redemption. I agree that it gives away too much.

Great start!

Sandi Rog said...

Oh, and a 13-year-old CAN get pregnant. I'm afraid one of my friends (when I was that young) got pregnant at that age.

Timothy Fish said...

At the risk of getting too far removed from the FIRST PAGE, there is a potential problem with having the narrator repent later in the story. The narrator, like the author, has the benefit of looking back over the events of the story after it has happened. If the narrator makes a statement on page one, we can assume that the narrator is making the statement with the benefit of hindsight. But that does make the first page intriguing because here is a character talking about redemption when she knows nothing about it.

Jennie Dugan said...

Would I read on? Yes, yes, yes.
Just one note on previous comments. I wouldn't change the age she first gave birth. It makes me uncomfortable (that's a positive) and it paints a picture of a really rough life.
I also like first person narrative. This one is going to stick with me. I like it.
Good luck to this author!

Millie Samuelson said...

DITTO to Jennie D. above. . . :-)

Shauna Renee' said...

Yes I would read on!