Excerpt of The Devil You Don't Know

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Terry Towery
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Excerpt of The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Terry Towery » November 10th, 2010, 8:26 pm

Here's the first couple of chapers of my first book (completed and in the querying stage). Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Terry

11:35 p.m. Friday
The explosion came from just outside the bedroom window. Michael Reed opened his eyes, gasping for air. He was in his bed, his wife sleeping peacefully beside him. Outside, the November wind rustled the leaves blanketing the lawn. A murmur coming from the foot of the bed was only the television, he realized. He’d fallen asleep with it on. The blue glow of his bedside clock showed it was 11:35 p.m.
He held his breath and waited for something—anything—but the house was silent.
What the hell?
He leaned over and looked at his wife. Kris Reed would snap awake if Connor coughed on the other side of the house, yet she’d slept through that? He slipped out of bed, careful not to wake Kris, put on his robe and checked every door and window. He stood at the patio door and stared intently into the blackness outside.
Nothing.
At some point, after convincing himself it had been a dream, he fell back into sleep.
* * * *
The Rev. Dave Douglas sat in his downstairs office, diligently working on Sunday’s sermon. He was cleaning his glasses with the flannel hem of his pajama top when the blast nearly knocked him from his chair. He sat still, his heart racing.
Then he remembered Buddy.
The family’s five-year-old cocker spaniel had been curled up under his desk, snoozing as he always did when Reverend Dave worked at the computer. He pushed his chair back and glanced under the desk.
And there was Buddy.
“Hey boy,” Dave whispered. Buddy’s head popped up, his tail thumping a beat on the floor. The spaniel stood up and stretched before licking his master’s outstretched hand.
* * * *
Bradley University theology professor Matthew Folds was fuming from yet another argument with his life partner of forty years. It had ended like they all did, with Derrick stomping out and Matt alone at the kitchen table, a tall glass of bourbon and the Bible his only companions.
When the blast split the solitude of their Peoria home, Matt slopped bourbon all over his leather-bound King James Version. He didn’t have time to ponder which loss bothered him most.
“Oh dear God,” he muttered, clutching his chest. And then he remembered Derrick, who’d stormed out minutes earlier.
“Derrick!” Matt shouted, hurrying to the back door and throwing it open. Cocking his head, he heard only the sounds of a city at night—the sporadic hiss of tires on the street out front and a faraway, fading siren. He stood for a full minute, his heartbeat slowing. Mystified, he closed the door and padded back to the table, where he poured himself another drink, picked up his soggy Bible, and waited for his lover’s return.
* * * *
Sixteen-year-old Samantha Cate rolled over and grabbed her iPhone from the bedside table. Justin would cheer her up. God knows, she didn’t have many other friends. She’d moved in with Bethany and Jed unannounced several weeks earlier, although living with her big sister in Iowa wasn’t a hell of a lot better than home.
“Hey babe,” Justin answered as the explosion nearly knocked Sam onto the floor.
“Shit,” she screamed, dropping the iPhone. “What was that?”
“Sam?” She could hear his voice in the little speaker. At some point, he muttered something unintelligible and hung up.
Sam remained motionless under her covers for several minutes, willing herself to calm down. The house itself seemed okay. She didn’t smell smoke. Neither Beth nor Jed had come running upstairs to check on her. There were no sirens.
Eventually she fell asleep, a pillow scrunched over her head and her cell phone beside her.
* * * *
In a downtown Peoria parking deck, attorney Zachary Fine gallantly opened the door of his Mercedes for the young blonde, whose name he’d already forgotten. She’d latched onto him at the charity ball and he’d immediately found her thoroughly enchanting—not to mention hotter than a pistol at a shooting range.
They entered the Twin Towers elevator and rode in silence to the 23rd floor, where Zachary’s penthouse overlooked the widest, prettiest stretch of the otherwise insipid Illinois River.
“I guess we should talk money,” the blonde said, looking at him. At that moment, the crystal clock in the living room clicked to 11:35 p.m.
“Money?” Zachary felt the bulge in his tuxedo trousers deflate.
Her mouth moved to answer, but the explosion drowned out her words. He grabbed her and threw her onto the floor, flinging his tiny body over hers.
After a couple of seconds, he opened his eyes and looked around. “Are you okay?” he asked, sitting up.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” the girl said, grabbing her handbag and sliding into her heels.
“No. Wait. Please?”
The only response was the penthouse door slamming.
* * * *
Miriam Crane sat up in her bed, the dream still fresh in her mind. Her ears were ringing from the blast and her eyes were moist with tears of joy.
She got out of bed and trotted down the hall to Jordan’s bedroom door. She eased it open and looked in on her son. He was sleeping soundly. She smiled and went back to her bedroom.
She had waited fifteen years for this moment. And now that it had arrived, Miriam felt the sweet ecstasy of redemption.
She knelt beside her bed and prayed, squeezing each tiny rosary bead so hard it left an indentation on her fingertip—secure in the knowledge that she was the only person on the planet who knew the significance of what had just happened.
# # # #






1.
Michael's first mistake the next morning was stopping by his desk to check his messages. Later, he’d learn that what was about to happen couldn’t have been avoided. Turns out, nothing in life happens by accident. It only seems that way at the time.
The cavernous newsroom was full for a Saturday. There was cute Lindsay Anderson, the paper's young education reporter, chatting on the phone with her sneaker-clad feet up on her desk. She was wearing jeans and a gray University of Illinois sweatshirt.
Probably fucking around on Facebook.
As if reading his mind, she smiled and raised a hand in greeting. A few cubicles away sat courts and military affairs reporter Jeff Greenberg, hunting and pecking while stealing glances at his tattered reporter's notebook.
Michael had stopped by the Times-Standard newsroom to drop Connor off with his wife, hoping for a final round of golf with business editor Steve Phillips while the weather held. Kris Reed was the newspaper’s features editor and often came in weekends to do some last-minute editing before her section went to press on Monday.
As city editor, Michael’s work station sat in the heart of the newsroom in the largest of the four cubicles forming the Metro-City Desk complex. As he sifted through the messages on his desk, Connor tugged on his jacket sleeve.
“Dad?” the boy asked. Eight-year-old Connor was small-boned and dark-haired, the spitting image of his mother.
“Yeah buddy?” Michael answered, scanning a coffee-stained note from his night police reporter.
“How do I know if I’ll be a good person when I grow up?”
“Huh?” Michael looked down at his son. The child had been asking fairly intelligent, probing questions lately and Michael feared he was heading for a career in journalism. Thankfully he had plenty of time to divert him into a more profitable direction.
“My friend Brennan says people are either born good or born bad. And if they’re bad, they go to heck,” Connor said, shifting from foot to foot. “Is that true?”
Michael smiled. “That’s a tough one, buddy. I suppose we’d have a clue by now if you were going to be a mass murderer or something.” He looked at his son. “I hope God looks more at our hearts, but I think what we do still counts. Does that help?”
“Sure. I guess. Life is really dumb sometimes. Isn't it?”
“It sure is, buddy,” Michael said, picking up another note. “Why don’t you go find your mom?”
“Okay,” the boy said, skipping off toward his mother’s cubicle on the other side of the newsroom and circling a line of staffers waiting at the printer. It had been two weeks since the newspaper’s impending sale had been announced, and Michael had noticed a mad rush among the younger reporters to get their resumes in order. He and Kris intended to ride things out, hoping dearly that talent would trump economics.
Michael’s second mistake that morning was answering his phone.
Two beeps. An outside call. He picked it up without thinking.
“City desk, Michael Reed.”
“Mr. Reed,” a woman’s voice said. “I’m so glad you’re there. I’ve been trying to reach you all morning.”
“I don't usually work on weekends, ma’am. Who's calling?”
“You don't know me, but my name is Miriam Crane and I ... I really need to speak with you. It’s very important.”
She sounded normal. Of course, they all do at first.
“Go on,” Michael said.
“It's about my son, Jordan. He's a sophomore at Woodview High School and he’s ... having some very serious issues,” she said. “They just don’t understand my boy. He's really quite special.”
Aren’t they all?
“How so, ma’am?” He was thinking he could hand this one off to Lindsay. They could talk later and determine if it’s worth a story. But clearly this was below his pay grade.
“You're going to think I’m crazy,” the woman said, her voice breaking.
“I may surprise you.” Michael had no idea why he was encouraging her. The morning was half over and Steve would be furious if he screwed around much longer. Tee times were hard to come by, especially on gorgeous late-autumn weekends.
“He's different than we are. You must meet my Jordan. He is the Messiah reborn and his time is at hand. We have work to do. You have work to do, Mr. Reed.”
Crap. A nut.
“Look, Mrs. Crane,” he said, looking around for help. “I’m an editor, not a reporter. I can set you up with a reporter, though. Her name is Lindsay Anderson and she’s our education writer. She covers school issues, so she can handle your situation. Let me transfer you.”
“No! It has to be you. God is smiling on you, Mr. Reed. My number is 565-4296. Please call me after you have prayed about it. If I don't hear back, I will call you again.”
The line went dead.
Michael stared at the receiver for several seconds before hanging up. He couldn’t shake the odd feeling that something momentous had just occurred.
“You okay, boss?” It was Jeff Greenberg, who had stopped at Michael’s desk on his way out of the newsroom. He clutched his reporter’s notebook and a pen. “You look like you just saw a ghost or something.”
“Huh?” Michael said, blinking. “Oh. I’m okay. Everything’s fine.”
* * * *
“Did you call him?” Jordan Crane asked, shrugging into a pullover hoodie.
“I did,” Miriam said, clearing away their breakfast dishes and wiping down the little kitchen table.
“So? How’d it go?” Standing up and looking down at his mother, it occurred to him how much he’d grown over the past few months—outwardly and inwardly.
“Oh, fine. He seemed a bit, I don’t know, confused. Angry even.” She smiled at him. “I expected that. We’ll just have to see how God makes it work out.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Jordan said, grabbing another blueberry muffin. Since he had no friends to speak of, he figured he’d just walk around the neighborhood and think. As usual.
“Now don’t you worry, honey,” his mother said, hurrying up to him and wrapping her arms around his shoulders. “I know this is all scary and confusing. But it will all become clearer as we go along. You’ll see, sweetie.”
Jordan groaned and pulled away. She was always treating him like a baby, even now with all this stuff going on in his life. You’d think she’d back off a little and just let him be a grown up for once.
“Don’t be gone long,” she said. “And don’t be hanging around with any of those hoodlums from school, you hear? I mean it, Jordan. You are a special boy and God has big plans for you.”
“Sure,” he mumbled, heading for the door.
If he was truly special, why was he so miserable?
# # # #

















2.
The following morning dawned clear and unseasonably mild. By ten o’clock, the temperature had climbed into the fifties and Connor, always bored on weekends, began clamoring to go outside and play. He bounced onto his father’s bed, scaring the hell out of one of the sleeping cats. It meowed loudly and leapt down.
“Let’s eat some breakfast first, buddy,” Michael said, still half asleep.
He got up, pulled on his robe, and padded to the kitchen. His two older sons, Jonathan and Tyler, must have already left for their part-time jobs. Usually an early riser, he’d somehow overslept and missed them.
Kris had already made coffee and he poured himself a large mug. He also noticed she’d fetched that morning’s Times-Standard, bless her heart, and he picked it up and busied himself with the sports page.
“Hey you,” Kris said, grinning as she entered the kitchen. “You'd better be reading my section.”
Michael smiled and kissed his wife, who looked slinky and early-morning sexy in her pale blue robe and slippers. Kris seldom wore makeup, even at work. She didn't need it. She was pretty in a natural, youthful way with her tousled brown hair and dark eyes.
“You know I only read your stories, honey,” Michael said, dropping the paper onto the little kitchen table.
“Oh, I nearly forgot,” Kris said over her shoulder from the sink, where she was rinsing dishes. “Reverend Dave is stopping by after church to pick up some bulletins I proofed for him.”
“Reverend Dave?” Michael said, rolling his eyes. “So is he going to jump my ass for not being in church this morning?”
“He should,” Kris said, smiling and snapping at his ass with a dish towel. Michael loved it when she got playful.
Connor burst back into the kitchen just as the microwave dinged. Michael made two turkey bacon sandwiches and poured them both a glass of milk. Kris eventually wandered back downstairs to do some work on her computer, leaving father and son alone.
“Dad?” Connor asked, looking up from his sandwich. The kid had butter smeared all over his mouth. “Do you believe in fate?”
Michael laughed. “Where on earth do you come up with these things?” He reached out and wiped his son’s mouth with his napkin. “I don’t know if I do or not. Do you?”
Connor thought for a second. “I don’t know.” He looked at his father. “But I guess I do, sometimes.”
Michael closed his eyes and spoke in a monotone: “I see that Connor’s fate is tied directly to whether he eats that sandwich I made for him or not.” Michael opened his eyes and grinned.
Connor smiled. “You’re always so funny, Dad.”
* * * *
The feeling came upon Jordan Crane like a thunderclap.
His head jerked up from the history book he was reading and his eyes sought out his mother, who sat across the little breakfast table from him reading the Sunday paper. Each had a mug of hot chocolate on the table before them.
“It’s time,” he said, his blue eyes distant and heavy lidded. “We need to go. Right now.”
“Go where, Jordan?” Miriam asked, startled but not surprised at her son’s sudden outburst. After all, hadn’t she dreamed of all this many times?
“Mom, please?” he said. “Just get the car.”
He stood up and strode from the kitchen. Miriam could hear him enter his room. She closed her eyes and envisioned him grabbing his gray hoodie from the hook behind his door and pulling it over his head in one quick movement. It was something she’d seen and heard so many times over the years that she couldn’t help but smile.
Her son. His son.
Nearly bursting with sinful pride, Miriam jumped up and grabbed her purse from the counter, fishing around in it for the keys to the station wagon.
“Where are we going, sweetie?” she asked when he slid into the passenger seat and fastened his seat belt.
“Turn left out of the driveway. Just drive and turn when I tell you to.” He was already slumped in his seat, his posture not unlike that of any fifteen-year-old forced to ride with his mother in a beat-up station wagon.
She backed out of the driveway and headed north out of the city.
* * * *
After breakfast, Michael took the newspaper outside and sat on the front step in the November sunshine. Connor had dug out an old football from his bedroom closet and wanted to toss it around; Michael wanted nothing more than to drink his coffee and read the paper.
The child persisted. “Fine,” Michael grumbled good-naturedly, setting the paper aside.
As they threw the football back and forth, Michael gave his son pointers on how to throw a perfect spiral. “It’s all in how you grip it,” he said. “Here, you go out and I’ll throw you one.”
But as Connor ran, Michael’s heart leaped to his throat. “Watch that road,” he yelled.
For reasons he never fully understood, Michael had always feared the road in front of the house. The Reeds lived in a twenty-year-old split-level on Audubon Road about nine miles north of the city. Michael and a very pregnant Kris had purchased the country house nine years earlier after Michael had fallen in love with the four-acre backyard that fronted a five-thousand-acre forest preserve.
Audubon Road wasn’t exactly a main thoroughfare. It connected Illinois Route 28 with Knoxville Avenue two miles to the west. The narrow blacktop snaked through the woods down the Illinois River bluffs toward the muddy river. The city’s steady northward creep had in recent years come ominously close to Michael’s little wooded paradise. Traffic on the road used to be light—mainly a few souls with enough foresight to build among the picturesque bluffs. But now a steady stream of luxury cars, pickups and expensive sport utility vehicles took the shortcut to the main highway at all hours of the day.
Michael’s fear of the road had lessened as the kids got older, although he still resented the traffic.
“You’re throwing it too hard,” Connor said as the ball sailed over his head again. “Try to throw it to me, Dad. Sheesh.”
“Maybe you should stick to baseball,” Michael offered, smiling.
“Baseball is gonna be really dumb next year, because the kids will pitch to us instead of the coaches,” Connor said, retrieving the football. Michael empathized with the kid, since he couldn’t hit a baseball either.
A small red car pulled into the Reeds’ long driveway with a toot of its horn. Michael could see the round smiling face of Reverend Dave behind the glint of the windshield and raised a hand in greeting. The minister stepped out of the car wearing white sneakers, crisply pressed khakis and a blue windbreaker. Out of the corner of his eye, Michael could see Connor running toward them, football in hand.
“Hey, Reverend Dave! Catch,” Connor yelled, lofting the ball at him. The surprised minister snared the ball out of the air.
“Wow! You catch a lot better than Dad does,” Connor said.
“Great,” Michael said, sitting down tiredly on the porch steps. “You can play catch with the good reverend while I relax.”
“I’d love to,” Dave said, winding up in comical fashion and heaving the ball as hard as he could.
Connor watched the ball sail over his head, a perfect spiral, and turned to run after it.
“Connor,” Michael yelled, dropping his paper and spilling his coffee. “The road.”
But the child couldn't hear him. His eyes were only on the football as it began its slow downward arc. It really was a nice throw, Michael thought even as his feet started to move. Behind him he heard Dave whistle loudly, trying to catch Connor’s attention.
At the foot of the driveway was a large patch of unruly evergreen shrubs that partially blocked the view to the west. Kris had often asked Michael to cut the shrubs back so they could see better when they were pulling out, but he’d kept putting it off.
Now he could hear a car coming from that direction.
Running flat out, Michael was certain he could catch Connor before he got to the road. The front yard was large, but it wasn’t an impossible distance to cover, and Michael could move quickly for an old guy.
“Connor! Stop!” he screamed. The boy turned his head to look at his father just as his momentum carried him into the ditch. There was a look of pure joy in his big brown eyes. His hair was flying and his cheeks were rosy. Michael saw all this in a split second. And then his son's skinny little legs tangled up and he fell hard, cart-wheeling into the road.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Michael heard tires squeal, heard Reverend Dave yell something behind him, heard Connor scream. And then he heard a thud, a sickening thud.
The car that hit his son, a big silvery-gold Lexus, lurched and skidded sideways and went off the road on the other side. It clipped a couple of mailboxes and came to a halt in a cloud of dust in the neighbor’s yard across the road. Michael, still running full speed, hit the same ditch where Connor fell and he, too, became tangled up and fell forward into the road. He felt a sting as the skin on his palms and forearms was torn off. He laid there for what seemed an eternity, afraid to look up. There was no sound except the purr of the car's engine across the road and his own ragged breathing.
Finally, he looked up. About fifty feet away, he saw what looked like a small bundle of rags near the double-yellow center stripe.
“Fuck!” he screamed, pounding the pavement with his bloody fists. “Please God. No!” He could hear Dave running up to him, and far behind that he could hear a woman screaming. Apparently Kris had just stepped out the front door.
Reverend Dave stopped where Michael lay and let out a guttural sigh. Michael tried to get up but Dave grabbed his arm and looked him directly in the face. The minister’s eyes were wide with terror but his voice was calm, comforting.
“I'll call an ambulance, Michael. I think Connor’s been hit.”
Michael nodded dumbly and got to his feet.
Oh please God. Make it stop. Please.
As Dave fumbled for his cell phone, Michael ran to the bundle and looked down, his heart pounding so hard it felt as though it would burst from his chest. His son lay motionless in the roadway, face down. His right arm had been torn off at the shoulder. Only God knew where it had landed. A widening pool of blood surrounded the child’s body.
I can’t take this. Not again.
Michael bent down and turned his boy over. He was dimly aware of some commotion behind him, but paid it no mind. He had no idea what to do next. He was aware that he was still screaming, that his trembling hands were gripping his son’s little tan jacket. The world swam before his eyes and he was aware that he was close to passing out.
“Connor? Please, oh God, please wake up.”
He knew in his heart that he was shaking his son's corpse for no good reason. But he couldn't stop. Maybe, just maybe, it would help.
He turned and saw Dave still standing in the ditch, shouting into his cell phone. Kris was next to Dave, but he had her by the sleeve and was holding on tightly. Her hands were clamped over her mouth, her eyes huge. He doesn't want her to see, Michael thought. Off to his left somewhere, he heard a car door slam.
A hand touched Michael's shoulder and he looked around, still holding onto his son’s jacket. It was a kid of about fifteen or so. And he was shoving Michael away. Not violently, but not gently. With purpose.
“What …?” Michael started to ask.
“Move back, Michael,” the kid said. He knelt down and placed his hands on Connor’s cheeks. Behind him, Michael could still hear his wife screaming, Dave still shouting into his cell phone. But now, there seemed to be another voice joining them.
A child’s voice. Crying.
“Your son needs you,” the kid said, standing up.
* * * *
Miriam watched from where she stood outside the car, which was parked sideways in the middle of the Reeds’ driveway. She’d pulled into the long drive with a squeal of tires after her son had screamed at her to stop. Despite her pleasure and pride at how Jordan was handling his new role, she still couldn’t get used to his new demeanor.
He seemed like a boy possessed.
Miriam was trying to make sense of the scene. It appeared a car had hit something—or someone—in front of a nice home. Jordan ran to where a man was kneeling in the middle of the road in obvious anguish. Miriam craned her neck to see what was happening next, just as a woman began screaming and was held back rather violently by a pudgy blond man. It was all very hectic and confusing.
Jordan knelt down next to whatever was in the road and stayed there for a few seconds. From here, Miriam could see the familiar whorl of his cowlick on the back of his well-loved head. Her son. His son. She watched with tears in her eyes as Jordan stood and looked at the man with a smile on his face.
At that very moment Miriam heard a voice inside her head, unmistakably not her own: “This is my son, with whom I am very pleased.”
She fell to her knees and began to pray. Finally, the time had arrived. Finally, her son would fulfill his destiny.
The Kingdom of Heaven had arrived.
* * * *
Michael caught his breath. Connor was crying and rubbing his head.
Crying?
“What the hell …” Michael was too stunned to finish.
“Daddy?” Connor said, blubbering. He put his arms out. Both arms. “Daddy, my head hurts.”
“I’m right here, buddy. It’s all right.” But Michael was dimly aware that something was not right. Good, yes. Oh God yes.
But not right.
Connor leaped into Michael’s arms and hugged him. Michael hugged back. Hard. He could smell the fresh air and shampoo in his son’s hair. Michael slowly looked around. No blood. Nothing but gravel on the pavement.
The kid shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans, a peaceful smile on his face. He was wearing a gray hoodie emblazoned with the word BELIEVE. Despite the nagging feeling that something was terribly wrong with all this, Michael felt a fierce joy in heart.
My son is alive!
Only a few seconds had passed since he had first bent down to look at his son, and behind him he could still hear Dave barking orders on his cell phone. He could hear the words “ambulance” and “Right now!” Kris had somehow managed to break free from the minister and was running up the road to where the three of them were.
“Connor!” she screamed, snatching the child from Michael and hugging him tightly. “Oh my God, I thought you were dead! My poor baby. This goddamned road!” Connor nodded and sobbed and held on to his mom for dear life.
Dear life?
Realization began to dawn on Michael, and he slowly looked at the young man. Over his shoulder, he saw an old blue Chevrolet wagon in the driveway, a woman kneeling by the open driver’s side door. Another person, an older man, was walking up to them. The driver of the Lexus. He looked shaken but thrilled that Connor was okay.
Okay?
“Who are you? What the hell just happened here?” Michael whispered.
The kid just stood there, smiling peacefully at mother and son. Michael grabbed him roughly by the shoulders.
“Who are you?” he asked louder, looking into the kid's eyes. His son had been dead. Michael saw it with his own eyes. And now the child was sobbing in his mother's arms.
No. This can’t be.
“Michael,” the kid said. “Your family needs you.”
“Bless the Lord!” Dave said, running up to them. “Thank you, Lord Jesus Christ, for showing us mercy here today.”
Michael looked at the minister as though he were crazy. “But Dave … how? How?”
“We were lucky today, Michael, lucky and blessed. This was all my fault,” the minister said, obviously flustered. He put an arm around mother and child and closed his eyes in prayer.
We’re praying in the middle of the road? Over my son’s resurrected body?
Suddenly the world lost its focus and everything went gray.

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Holly
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Re: Excerpt of The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Holly » November 12th, 2010, 1:48 am

Hello, Terry:

I have some feedback. Please ignore my comments if they aren’t helpful. Good luck.

You’re a very good writer, which you know already.

My constructive criticism, which could be off the mark:

First off, you give us vignettes about six characters who experience an explosion. They all (except for Miriam) experience the same thing and basically have the same reaction. This is the first time I’ve seen these characters, and by the time I get to the fifth one, to be honest with you, I can’t remember them. The vignettes are well written, but the number seems like overkill to convince me that the explosion is important. Why six? Why not one vignette? And after I read Miriam’s opening vignette, I thought, “Well, it’s the Devil.” I thought that because her smiles and rosary and 15 year wait make her seem somewhat nutty.

Next, you’re stepping in as the narrator and telling us -- sometimes in an obvious way -- what’s going to happen or that something is really important, which kills the suspense. This would be more suspenseful if you kicked the narrator out of the story and let us experience it from the eyes of Michael/other characters.

I feel like you’re not spending enough time developing the characters, like Michael, for example. You describe his job and a little about his family, but what does he look like? Is he a fresh personality? A burnout? How old is he? What’s on his desk? What’s he wearing? I can’t see his face. He doesn’t seem three-dimensional.

You handle Michael’s reaction to the car accident really well, but the rest seems to move too quickly through the plot. If you slowed down and fleshed the characters out more, gave me some reason to like Michael or feel more sympathy for him, I would want to find out what happens next.

Editing this to add another comment as an example. If Michael was a real person and we followed him into the newsroom, what would really happen? A bunch more background stuff that would convince us he's a real guy. In real life, he might look at another story he was working on, or answer email, or take a phone call from somebody other than Miriam, or talk to his boss, or drink coffee and eat a donut and joke with somebody, or deal with a running subplot in the story -- when you cut out this background and go right to the point, the story loses something. Did you ever read the book Jaws? You should look at the way the sheriff (I think that was his title, I forget) is placed in the middle of background stuff, not just the shark. It makes him seem real.

Anyway, just my two cents. Best wishes to you. Hope some of this is helpful. If not, please ignore it.

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Holly
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Re: Excerpt of The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Holly » November 12th, 2010, 8:10 am

A couple more thoughts from the Good Advice Department:

About story and character development. Jaws comes to mind again because -- I think -- the author was a journalist for the Washington Post before he wrote the novel. You're a different writer with a different story, but he also had a clean, intelligent way with words. You might get a copy of Jaws, not for the story itself, but to look at the time he spent on story development. He spent pages on each incident, not just a paragraph or two or three.

I swap chapters by email with another writer who tells me what he likes, but is honest about the things that don't work -- character reactions that seem off and so on. I find this way more helpful than handing a whole manuscript to a reader after investing all that time and heart.

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Re: Excerpt of The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Holly » November 13th, 2010, 6:32 am

One more comment and I promise no more feedback.

Story structure is another thing that occurs to me. You seem to be telling this in newspaper-fashion, one, two, three.

A subplot or two might give the story more dimension (or maybe you've done that beyond this excerpt): add tension, reveal sides of the characters you can’t show in the main storyline, and keep the reader interested so their attention doesn’t flag with too much main storyline.

If I go back to back to JAWS for a second (the book, not the movie, which changed the plot and isn’t half as good), the author uses several storylines. Bang, he goes right to the shark in the beginning, but he doesn’t stay there. He also shows us the main character’s failed marriage and the psychological storm brewing in the town. These other storylines give the story dimension, suspense, and show us the humanity of the characters – so when they go out in a boat to kill the shark, we care what happens to them.

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Josin
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Re: Excerpt of The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Josin » November 13th, 2010, 5:04 pm

Hi Terry.
:-)

I broke out the colored pens. Just remember, this is only my opinion. Use what you can and torch the rest.


Terry Towery wrote:Here's the first couple of chapers of my first book (completed and in the querying stage). Any feedback would be greatly appreciated. Terry

11:35 p.m. Friday
The explosion came from just outside the bedroom window.<--- I understand why you put this here, and i know that moving it puts you in "opens with character waking up" territory, but I think the explosion here is disjointed from the rest. Michael Reed opened his eyes<--- feels too sedate for the aftermath of hearing an explosion. If something explodes outside your window, you don't "open your eyes", you're jerked out of your dreams and back into your conscious mind startled out of sleep, gasping for air. He was in his bed, his wife sleeping peacefully beside him. Outside, the November wind rustled the leaves blanketing the lawn. A murmur coming from the foot of the bed was only the television, he realized. He’d fallen asleep with it on. The blue glow of his bedside clock showed it was 11:35 p.m.
He held his breath and waited for something—anything—but the house was silent. <--- tiny problem. If the TV is murmuring, then it's not silent. Just like if he can hear the leaves rustling, then there's sound.
What the hell?<--- this would have more punch if you move it up a line to before the breath-holding. Make it a catalyst and not an afterthought
He leaned over and looked at his wife. Kris Reed<--- the last name actually made me stumble here. It's not needed since we know her hubby's last name is Reed.would snap awaketoif Connor coughed on the other side of the house, yet she’d slept through that? He slipped out of bed, careful not to wake Kris, put on his robe and checked every door and window. He stood at the patio door and stared intently<--- I think this calls for more of a "scan" than a "stare". One is static, one implies motion and contemplation. into the blackness outside.
Nothing.
At some point, after convincing himself it had been a dream, he fell back into sleep.<---Feels very abrupt.
* * * *
The Rev. Dave Douglas sat in his downstairs office, diligently working on Sunday’s sermon. He waswhile cleaning his glasses with the flannel hem of his pajama top when the blast nearly knocked him from his chair. He sat still, his heart racing. <--- another one that feels off kilter somehow. "sat still" seems too calm, even with the racing heart, for the aftershock of an explosion.
Then he remembered Buddy.
The family’s five-year-old cocker spaniel had been curled up under his desk, snoozing as he always did when Reverend Dave worked at the computer. He pushed his chair back and glanced under the desk. The damn dog was still sleeping.
And there was Buddy.
“Hey boy,” Dave whispered. Buddy’s head popped up, his tail thumping a beat on the floor. The spaniel stood up and stretched before licking his master’s outstretched hand.
* * * *
Bradley University theology professor Matthew Folds was fuming from yet another argument with his life partner of forty years. It had ended like they all did, with Derrick stomping out and Matt alone at the kitchen table, a tall glass of bourbon and the Bible his only companions.
When the blast split the solitude of their Peoria home, Matt slopped bourbon all over his leather-bound King James Version. He didn’t have time to ponder which loss bothered him most.
“Oh dear God,”he muttered, clutching his chest. And then he remembered Derrick, who’d stormed out minutes earlier.<--- I'd dump this whole bit and get right to him going after his partner.
“Derrick!” Matt shouted, hurrying to the back door and throwing it open. Cocking his head, he heard only the sounds of a city at night—the sporadic hiss of tires on the street out front and a faraway, fading siren. He stood for a full minute, his heartbeat slowing. Mystified, he closed the door and padded back to the table, where he poured himself another drink, picked up his soggy Bible, and waited for his lover’s return.
* * * *
Sixteen-year-old Samantha Cate rolled over and grabbed her iPhone from the bedside table. Justin would cheer her up. God knows, she didn’t have many other friends. She’d moved in with Bethany and Jed unannounced several weeks earlier, although living with her big sister in Iowa wasn’t a hell of a lot better than home.
“Hey babe,” Justin answered as the explosion nearly knocked Sam onto the floor.
“Shit,” she screamed, dropping the iPhone. “What was that?”
“Sam?” She could hear his voice in the little speaker. At some point, he muttered something unintelligible and hung up.
Sam remained motionless under her covers for several minutes, willing herself to calm down. The house itself seemed okay. She didn’t smell smoke. Neither Beth nor Jed had come running upstairs to check on her. There were no sirens.
Eventually she fell asleep, a pillow scrunched over her head and her cell phone beside her.
* * * *
In a downtown Peoria parking deck, attorney Zachary Fine gallantly opened the door of his Mercedes for the young blonde, whose name he’d already forgotten. She’d latched onto him during the charity ball and he’d immediately found her thoroughly enchanting—not to mention hotter than a pistol at a shooting range. <--- I get it, but I'm not sure too many readers will. Believe it or not, your average American doesn't know guns get hot when fired.
They entered the Twin Towers' elevator and rode in silence to the 23rd floor, where Zachary’s penthouse overlooked the widest, prettiest stretch of the otherwise insipid Illinois River.
“I guess we should talk money,” the blonde said, looking at him. At that moment, the crystal clock in the living room clicked to 11:35 p.m.
“Money?” Zachary felt the bulge in his tuxedo trousers deflate.
Her mouth moved to answer, but the explosion drowned out her words. He grabbed her and threw her onto the floor, flinging his tiny body over hers.
After a couple of seconds, he opened his eyes and looked around. “Are you okay?” he asked, sitting up.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” the girl said, grabbing her handbag and sliding into her heels.<--- no need to make it a tag when it can be actiongrabbed her handbag and slid into her heels
“No. Wait. Please?”
The only response was the penthouse door slamming.
* * * *
Miriam Crane sat up in her bed, the dream still fresh in her mind. Her ears were ringing from the blast and her eyes were moist with tears of joy.
She got out of bed and trotted down the hall to Jordan’s bedroom door. She eased it open and looked in on hersleeping son. He was sleeping soundly. She smiled and went back to her bedroom.
She had waited fifteen years for this moment. And now that it had arrived, Miriam felt the sweet ecstasy of redemption.
She knelt beside her bed and prayed, squeezing each tiny rosary bead so hard it left an indentation on her fingertip—secure in the knowledge that she was the only person on the planet who knew the significance of what had just happened.
# # # #
Sorry to stop there, but RL just poked its head in the door and wants to go to the grocery store. :-(

Hope it helps, even if it's incomplete.

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slavandria
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Re: Excerpt of The Devil You Don't Know

Post by slavandria » November 16th, 2010, 9:46 am

Thanks for posting your work, Terry. I always love reading the works of new authors.

I think you have a great premise for the novel. I like the idea of only these people hearing the explosion when no one around them does, and the mystery of it makes me want to read more to find out why they are the only ones aware of it. The writing, however, gets in the way. I don't mean that in a bad way. You write very well, it's just, I didn't feel connected wth your characters. Even though the six snippets into the lives of 6 characters were written well, I didn't get into them. I felt detached, not really caring for any of them. These little insights lacked that umph to make me want to keep reading and I grew tired of reading the 'same' story by the 4th or 5th one. I'm wondering if maybe devoting the first 6 chapters to each individual experience, having the reader engaged with each character, would work better. That way the reader could learn about each character, what makes them tick. We would begin to feel something for each of them so when the explosion occurs we are left with that WTF moment. After that, you can begin to incorporate the six finding each other (if that's where you are going with this).

I think the story needs a stronger hook. You want to try to stay away from 'waking' moments. Maybe he could be in the bathroom and when the explosion comes he is jarred off the toilet and hits his head. As these are intense scenes, I would try to write short sentences. Get the reader's heart pumping a bit. Short sentences create tension and pace, which is what your story needs more of. So far, it seems we are being 'told' a lot of the story, not shown. Look for passive sentences. they can kill a great novel. They add a lot more words to the narrative, too. Look for passive verbs: is/am/are/was/were/being/has/have been, had been etc. and try to find ways to say the same thing using active verbs.

A couple of niggles. I don't think it's necessary to say his wife's full name. Michael wouldn't refer to her as Kris Reed. Also, you state the television is on and it's murmuring but then you say the house is quiet. I think that needs to be fixed.

Check your 'action' versus 'tag line'. I noticed a couple of places where your character show you what they are doing through action but you add a tag line that almost makes the action redundant. Whatever can be shown with action doensn't need a tag or explanation.

Try to find ways to combine sentences to cut down on word count and increase pace. I think if you can do this, you'll have a really good novel.

Then again, I may not know what the heck I'm talking about. :-) It's your story. Take what you can use and disregard the rest. Thank you for the read. I think you're on to a great concept. I hope to see a revision of this story down the road. It is awesome movie material. :-)

Jen

http://jennykellerford.wordpress.com

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Re: Excerpt of The Devil You Don't Know

Post by Steppe » November 16th, 2010, 2:47 pm

The premise is awesome and the writing good, hopefully you'll get a solid bite on your hook and they'll offer a structural edit.
It needs information acquisition balancing. Everything that needs to be there is there.
Its the order of presentation where I stumbled, especially when Micheal was reintroduced, I had forgotten his bio
and when Dave re-enters I had to go back and make sure I had Matthew and Dave in different mental boxes, because they're both clergy
but in different, mental quick notes, stereotype boxes, one is gay and drinks and one is old stodgy and verbose.

Strong point
Your treatment of Miriam though understated painted her as a good intentioned zealous but lovable whacko.
Even if Jordan is Jesus reborn he certainly doesn't need his mum working the front office as his publicity representative.

Strong point
Justin and Samantha are foreshadowed as key counter weight characters with Zachary as a potential confidant.

Caution point
Briefly I thought it might be a "Veteran" shell shocked flashback- up to 15-200 words.
That potential sidetrack, early illusion possibility must be prevented-derailed somehow to prevent the readers mind from wandering.
I would find a way to very distinctly draw the separation between witnesses to the incoming force
Possibly putting Zachary first to expose the reader that not everyone is witnessing this phenomenon.
You could draw all six parts more in depth using a future meeting of all six that never happens due to changing events of the main plot line.

Key point
With Miriam then Michael Bios positioned last as the key adult mover and shakers that need to hit the stage marks.
I would save the magor biographical details of what are obviously the key players to be injected strategically.

Bio stage marks: B-Team to set atmospherics

Samantha (draw this out for effect like a horror movie then settle in.)
Matthew
Zachary

Bio stage marks: A-Team to set approach to main stage "Healing Event."
Dave
Miriam
Michael

A setting:

All six of the people who witnessed the 11:35 PM blast knew what they heard.
(sounds neutral but tips the hand slightly supernatural might ensue).

Off beat possibilities.
Jordan could have a prequel that makes it obvious this is a supernatural story.
Then after the big event of the healing begin taking the character sketches to the next level.
A few line edits of the type suggested and a structural shift to alert the reader to skip the intros
and focus on the unfolding action. Maybe the accident first with healing (stop) + ( reverse ) tell whole story from beginning
using the short bios first the repeat later reworded for depth with the exact same or slightly different accident scene run again.

All the elements of a good story.
In edits and rewrite don't be surprised at a setting adjustment such as constructing a unified stage earlier or later.
Possibly all the characters except Miriam and Jordan at a neighborhood event when Conner has the accident and they arrive.

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