MAN OF THE HOUSE - 1st Ch.- Critiques Anyone?

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Transitoria
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MAN OF THE HOUSE - 1st Ch.- Critiques Anyone?

Post by Transitoria » June 28th, 2010, 8:02 pm

MAN OF THE HOUSE


“To write this story you’d already have to be dead;
only the dead can properly write their story”
—Elie Wiesel

Chapter 1

Bosnia, 1994- Two Years into the War

Each shot had to count. Alaga sighted carefully along the barrel of a rusty rifle. Bullets were scarce and more valued than money, but still more valuable was the meat he hoped to bring home. His vision blurred and he rubbed a grimy hand across his eyes, forcing them to focus. Hunger, fatigue or hatred caused the head of a large, brown rat to morph into the face of the soldier who had changed his life forever. He steadied himself, sighted again, then squeezed the trigger, separating the rodent’s head from its body. Yes! Tonight they would have meat to celebrate Zlata’s birthday.

He waited, listening for the sound of return fire. Silence answered. Rising with caution, he scanned the landscape a second time before trudging across patches of snow and ice that still peppered the early spring landscape. Although the calendar read April, no one had informed Mother Nature, and she threatened to make it the last month of winter by refusing to shift gears to warmer weather.

If Alaga didn’t claim the rat quickly, others would chew its plump carcass. Scavengers fed on each other as well as the bodies of the ethnically cleansed. While human beings suffered and died, the rats thrived. He refused to think of what or who had fattened the main course of his sister’s birthday feast.

He seized the animal’s ropey tail. Warm blood drained from its neck, leaving a line of red, melting snow as he walked toward the river to gut and clean his kill. Squatting on the riverbank, he checked the opposite tree line for movement. Finding it deserted, he scooped intestines from the body, flinging them into the icy water. His gaze followed the looped strands of red, blue and gray that quickly sank out of sight. Raising his eyes, he watched the bloated, blackened bodies of fellow countrymen drift past, quickly outpacing the stringy discards of his dinner. As each passed, the cloying sweet smell of decaying flesh filled his nostrils.

Last year, the same scene caused him to vomit. Now, he watched with dispassionate eyes. The sight was common place, and his only sentiment was a hardened appreciation that it wasn’t him or his remaining family. He had learned not to look too closely at the floating corpses. More than once, he had recognized faces of friends from school, boys and girls who had disappeared overnight only to have their tortured bodies float downstream in the days or weeks that followed.

Returning to the task at hand, he peeled back the dark brown, silky fur of the Norwegian rat. He set the pelt aside for the moment and busied himself trying to camouflage the rat-like characteristics of dinner. Mama would not be fooled, but Zlata, at only six years of age, would believe it was a squirrel if he told her so.

Zlata trusted him completely. In her eyes, he was a twelve year old god, and he would do anything, everything within his power to maintain that illusion. Protecting her innocence and ensuring her survival gave meaning to his life. It also fulfilled the promise he had made to their dying father, a promise that had stolen his childhood and stripped away his own innocence.

Laying both the carcass and pelt aside, he washed the blood from his hands in the icy river. He stared at his rippling reflection, searching for the man within the boy. As always, only a boy returned his gaze. If the man existed, he couldn’t see him. Most of the time, he felt crushed beneath the yoke of responsibility. Other times, he wanted nothing more than to escape back into the mirage of childhood, but never, ever did he feel competent of carrying out his father’s wishes. Why, Papa? Why did you make me the one in charge?

He sighed deeply, burying his thoughts and despair in the farthest corner of his heart. It did no good to dwell on it. He couldn’t change the past, and he was the man of the house whether or not he wanted to be. Whether or not he was prepared.

He picked up the silky pelt, stroking its smoothness with delicate fingertips. With this one, Mama can finish the muff she was making for Zlata’s birthday gift. He placed it gently into the bag, next to its former body, the dual entities reminding him of separated Siamese twins.

Picking up the rifle and game bag, he glanced a final time toward the river. It sparkled in the sunlight, its ghastly cargo now only silhouettes in the distance. Beautiful. Shrugging the bag onto his shoulder, he headed toward home.

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Re: MAN OF THE HOUSE - 1st Ch.- Critiques Anyone?

Post by Emily J » June 30th, 2010, 10:55 am

Transitoria wrote:MAN OF THE HOUSE


“To write this story you’d already have to be dead;
only the dead can properly write their story”
—Elie Wiesel

Chapter 1

Bosnia, 1994- Two Years into the War

Each shot had to count. Alaga sighted carefully along the barrel of a rusty rifle. Bullets were scarce and more valued than money, but still more valuable was the meat he hoped to bring home. His vision blurred and he rubbed a grimy hand across his eyes, forcing them to focus. Hunger, fatigue serial comma or hatred caused the head of a large, brown rat to morph into the face of the soldier who had changed his life forever. He steadied himself, sighted again, then squeezed the trigger, separating the rodent’s head from its body. Yes! Tonight they would have meat to celebrate Zlata’s birthday. ewww...

He waited, listening for the sound of return fire. Silence answered. Rising with caution, he scanned the landscape a second time before trudging across patches of snow and ice that still peppered the early spring landscape. Although the calendar read April, April is the cruelest month? no one had informed Mother Nature, and she threatened to make it the last month of winter by refusing to shift gears to warmer weather.

If Alaga didn’t claim the rat quickly, others would chew its plump carcass. Scavengers fed on each other as well as the bodies of the ethnically cleansed. While human beings suffered and died, the rats thrived. He refused to think of what or who had fattened the main course of his sister’s birthday feast.

He seized the animal’s ropey tail. Warm blood drained from its neck, leaving a line of red, melting snow as he walked toward the river to gut and clean his kill. Squatting on the riverbank, he checked the opposite tree line for movement. Finding it deserted, he scooped intestines from the body, flinging them into the icy water. His gaze followed the looped strands of red, blue serial comma and gray that quickly sank out of sight. Raising his eyes, he watched the bloated, blackened bodies of fellow countrymen drift past, quickly outpacing the stringy discards of his dinner. As each passed, the cloying sweet smell of decaying flesh filled his nostrils. you seem to have an over abundance of adjectives, just a suggestion but sparser prose might more effectively reflect the tone of the scene

Last year, the same scene caused him to vomit. Now, he watched with dispassionate eyes. The sight was common place, and his only sentiment was a hardened appreciation that it wasn’t him or his remaining family. He had learned not to look too closely at the floating corpses. More than once, he had recognized faces of friends from school, boys and girls who had disappeared overnight only to have their tortured bodies float downstream in the days or weeks that followed.

Returning to the task at hand, he peeled back the dark brown, silky fur feels like too many adjectives of the Norwegian rat. He set the pelt aside for the moment and busied himself trying to camouflage the rat-like characteristics of dinner. Mama would not be fooled, but Zlata, at only six years of age, would believe it was a squirrel if he told her so.

Zlata trusted him completely. In her eyes, he was a twelve year old god, twelve-year-old god, hyphens with compound attributive adjectives and he would do anything, everything within his power to maintain that illusion. Protecting her innocence and ensuring her survival gave meaning to his life. It also fulfilled the promise he had made to their dying father, a promise that had stolen his childhood and stripped away his own innocence. this feels a bit heavy-handed, its telling, but its also telling something I think the reader can easily infer, by pointing out what you have so vividly described it lessens the impact

Laying both the carcass and pelt aside, he washed the blood from his hands in the icy river. already used the term "icy" so I think you could omit that adj He stared at his rippling reflection, searching for the man within the boy. As always, only a boy returned his gaze. If the man existed, he couldn’t see him. Most of the time, he felt crushed beneath the yoke of responsibility. Other times, he wanted nothing more than to escape back into the mirage of childhood, but never, ever did he feel competent of carrying out his father’s wishes. Why, Papa? Why did you make me the one in charge? if this is his thoughts I would suggest italicizing

He sighed deeply, burying his thoughts and despair in the farthest corner of his heart. heavy handed again, purple prose here It did no good to dwell on it. He couldn’t change the past, and he was the man of the house whether or not he wanted to be. Whether or not he was prepared.

He picked up the silky pelt, stroking its smoothness with delicate fingertips. With this one, Mama can finish the muff she was making for Zlata’s birthday gift. He placed it gently into the bag, next to its former body, the dual entities reminding him of separated Siamese twins.

Picking up the rifle and game bag, he glanced a final time toward the river. It sparkled in the sunlight, its ghastly cargo now only silhouettes in the distance. Beautiful. Shrugging the bag onto his shoulder, he headed toward home.
Dark. Must admit this is not my usual cup of tea but I think it's very well written. I do think you have more adjectives than you need, and that at times the sentiment felt a bit forced. My recommendation is to let the actions speak for themselves. The desperation, the struggle to survive is articulated more eloquently in gutting a rat than in the internal thoughts. But I am nit picking (it's what I do) and I think this is very well good.

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Re: MAN OF THE HOUSE - 1st Ch.- Critiques Anyone?

Post by Aimée » June 30th, 2010, 12:18 pm

Wow. Very dark and emotional. I thought the kid was a soldier or something, but when you said he was twelve years old, I was shocked for a moment, but it did not seem out of place at all. It was very well written. The imagery and emotion were right there in your face. Good job!

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Re: MAN OF THE HOUSE - 1st Ch.- Critiques Anyone?

Post by J. T. SHEA » June 30th, 2010, 3:12 pm

A powerful and moving beginning, Transitoria.

One small quibble:- '...but never, ever, did he feel competent of carrying out his father's wishes.' Remove the word 'of'? Or change 'competent' to 'confident'?

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Re: MAN OF THE HOUSE - 1st Ch.- Critiques Anyone?

Post by khanes » June 30th, 2010, 4:22 pm

This is such a dark, disturbing, well-written passage. I disagree with the previous poster and really like the adjectives. I felt like I was there with this boy, in a war-torn country, on the banks of a dirty river filled with bodies. I thought your descriptions helped put me there. Good job!

Transitoria
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Re: MAN OF THE HOUSE - 1st Ch.- Critiques Anyone?

Post by Transitoria » June 30th, 2010, 8:26 pm

Thanks to everyone so far. Your comments are incredibly helpful. I only get one chance to impress an agent so I'm furiously polishing this book. I have a four chapter excerpt on my website if anyone is interested. http://www.TammySetzerDenton.com

The first eight chapters or so switch POV between Alaga, the young boy, and Sergeant Ray Burton, the leader of an ambushed NATO convoy. I've received a few complaints for the POV switching, but it's the only way I know to tell the story until their paths collide. The switches are done chapter by chapter so there is no head-hopping that I'm aware of.

I will be attending a class at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival in July and hope to learn some more before sending out queries. Part of me is procrastinating out of fear of that first or first hundred rejections, but another part of me knows that I have to let go at some point.

Thanks again,
Tammy

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Quill
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Re: MAN OF THE HOUSE - 1st Ch.- Critiques Anyone?

Post by Quill » June 30th, 2010, 11:29 pm

Transitoria wrote:MAN OF THE HOUSE


“To write this story you’d already have to be dead;
only the dead can properly write their story”
—Elie Wiesel

Chapter 1

Bosnia, 1994- Two Years into the War

Each shot had to count. Alaga sighted carefully along the barrel of a rusty rifle.
I would rather see "sighted" than "had" as the first verb of your book. Consider switching these sentences. The second one tells much more as well. I also think it would be stronger to say "his rifle" rather than "a rifle". And consider omitting "carefully" as it is implied by the shortage, each shot having to count, etc.
Bullets were scarce and more valued than money,
It's a little hard to believe ammo is scarce in a war zone, but okay.
but still more valuable was the meat he hoped to bring home. His vision blurred and he rubbed a grimy hand across his eyes, forcing them to focus. Hunger, fatigue or hatred caused the head of a large, brown rat to morph into the face of the soldier who had changed his life forever.
I would say that "Hunger, fatique, (comma) or hatred" caused him to morph the head, more than they might cause the head itself to morph.
He steadied himself, sighted again, then squeezed the trigger, separating the rodent’s head from its body. Yes! Tonight they would have meat to celebrate Zlata’s birthday.
Hmm. How big of a rat is this that "they would have meat"? It sounds vaguely comical, like a play on the sentiment after a deer or buffalo hunt.
He waited, listening for the sound of return fire. Silence answered. Rising with caution, he scanned the landscape a second time before trudging across patches of snow and ice that still peppered the early spring landscape.
1. Best not to use "landscape twice in one sentence.

2. You seem to change moods and subject between the beginning and end of the sentence. You begin with him cautiously beginning to fetch his game, and then sort of wax idyllic about nature. Maybe keep the tension by saying something like, "...scanned the landscape a second time before trudging (not sure that's the best word for retrieving under fear) across the patches of snow and ice to his game."
Although the calendar read April, no one had informed Mother Nature, and she threatened to make it the last month of winter by refusing to shift gears to warmer weather.
Not sure the humor works here. You've built a bit of tension and here you dissipate it. How do we know no one informed Mother Nature, as if that would do any good. Otherwise the sentence and the thought is pretty good. Except for "shift gears" which is decidedly a non-Nature type of metaphor/ image.
If Alaga didn’t claim the rat quickly, others would chew its plump carcass. Scavengers fed on each other as well as the bodies of the ethnically cleansed.
What others? What scavengers? He looked and saw no one, heard nothing? Where would these "others" swoop down from "if (he) didn't claim the rat quickly". Logistics. Creating believability one sentence at a time. Keep me close to you.
While human beings suffered and died, the rats thrived. He refused to think of what or who had fattened the main course of his sister’s birthday feast.
Good, but again, the main course? How big is this frickin' rat? I'm not picturing this. Is this comedy? Not sure what's going on here.
He seized the animal’s ropey tail. Warm blood drained from its neck, leaving a line of red, melting snow as he walked toward the river to gut and clean his kill.
The rat's blood is melting the snow? Minutes after having its head blown off? This strains credulity for me.
Squatting on the riverbank, he checked the opposite tree line for movement. Finding it deserted, he scooped intestines from the body, flinging them into the icy water.
Why would he do this? Who cleans animals into water?
His gaze followed the looped strands of red, blue and gray that quickly sank out of sight. Raising his eyes, he watched the bloated, blackened bodies of fellow countrymen drift past, quickly outpacing the stringy discards of his dinner. As each passed, the cloying sweet smell of decaying flesh filled his nostrils.
Why would they outpace the guts?
Last year, the same scene caused him to vomit. Now, he watched with dispassionate eyes. The sight was common place, and his only sentiment was a hardened appreciation that it wasn’t him or his remaining family. He had learned not to look too closely at the floating corpses. More than once, he had recognized faces of friends from school, boys and girls who had disappeared overnight only to have their tortured bodies float downstream in the days or weeks that followed.
Why so many bodies in the water? I haven't read of this commonly occurring in war, torturing to death and then throwing into rivers. Was this a feature of the Bosnian war?
Returning to the task at hand, he peeled back the dark brown, silky fur of the Norwegian rat. He set the pelt aside for the moment and busied himself trying to camouflage the rat-like characteristics of dinner. Mama would not be fooled, but Zlata, at only six years of age, would believe it was a squirrel if he told her so.
How exactly does one camouflage a rat carcass?
Zlata trusted him completely. In her eyes, he was a twelve year old god, and he would do anything, everything within his power to maintain that illusion.
"anything" and "everything" are virtual synonyms in the context of your sentence. Suggest dropping one.
Protecting her innocence and ensuring her survival gave meaning to his life. It also fulfilled the promise he had made to their dying father, a promise that had stolen his childhood and stripped away his own innocence.
This is good, and here the double "promise" works.
Laying both the carcass and pelt aside, he washed the blood from his hands in the icy river. He stared at his rippling reflection, searching for the man within the boy. As always, only a boy returned his gaze. If the man existed, he couldn’t see him. Most of the time, he felt crushed beneath the yoke of responsibility. Other times, he wanted nothing more than to escape back into the mirage of childhood, but never, ever did he feel competent of carrying out his father’s wishes.
Not bad, although it includes a lot of telling rather than showing.

"...ever did feel competent (omit "of") carrying out."
Why, Papa? Why did you make me the one in charge?
This is showing, but it begs the question, well, probably because you are the oldest, or something to that effect. Not sure it is a realistic question for him to pose. Or, if it is, let him say who he thinks would have been more qualified and why.
He sighed deeply, burying his thoughts and despair in the farthest corner of his heart. It did no good to dwell on it. He couldn’t change the past, and he was the man of the house whether or not he wanted to be. Whether or not he was prepared.

He picked up the silky pelt, stroking its smoothness with delicate fingertips. With this one, Mama can finish the muff she was making for Zlata’s birthday gift.
Not sure it would be silky having been wetted in the process of cleaning.
He placed it gently into the bag, next to its former body, the dual entities reminding him of separated Siamese twins.
I think you can safely omit this sentence in favor of moving the story forward now.
Picking up the rifle and game bag, he glanced a final time toward the river. It sparkled in the sunlight, its ghastly cargo now only silhouettes in the distance. Beautiful. Shrugging the bag onto his shoulder, he headed toward home.
"Ghastly cargo" seems over the top. How many tortured individuals are being chucked into this river, anyway. You might better say more, or else play it down a bit at this stage of the story.

Transitoria
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Re: MAN OF THE HOUSE - 1st Ch.- Critiques Anyone?

Post by Transitoria » July 2nd, 2010, 3:11 pm

Quill,
Thanks for the line by line edit. I agree with swapping the first two sentences as well as many of your other points. Trust me that many will go into the next edit along with the previous comments from other forum critiquers.

To clear up a few things. The rat is a Norwegian brown rat which is very common and grows to a much larger size than the rats we think of. They have also had an unending food supply by scavenging dead bodies. These people are starving so any food is good food--even a rat. Lopping off the tail and head will sufficiently camouflage a rat into a squirrel, at least enough to convince a six year old girl.

Ammo is plentiful to the army, but not so much to a civilian child. The Bosniaks were greatly outnumbered and possessed little firepower during this war.

Dumping bodies in rivers or mass graves was a common practice during the Bosnian war. By contaminating fresh water sources, people were forced to use a town fountain which was a favorite target of snipers. Nearly twenty years after the war, mass graves are still being discovered. The below quote is a conservative guess as to the number of casualties.

"The most recent research places the number of killed people at around 100,000–110,000 and 1.8 million displaced (see Casualties).[7][8][9] The research from June 2007 has shown that most of the 97,207[10] documented casualties (civilians and soldiers) during Bosnian War were Bosniaks (66%), followed by Serbs (25%), Croats (8%) and a small number of others such as Albanians or Romani people.[11] Bosniaks also suffered massive civilian casualties (83%) compared to Serbs (10%) and Croats (5%), which was often followed by systematic rape especially in Eastern Bosnia by Bosnian Serb forces (estimates of the numbers raped range from 20,000 to 50,000 [12][13]). At least 30 percent of the Bosniak civilian victims were women and children[14]."

The italics for Alaga's thoughts did not show up and makes it a little confusing when he's asking Why Papa? All thoughts are italicized in the novel and the four chapter excerpt on my website, http://www.TammySetzerDenton.com

The Bosnian War was a modern day holocaust. Pretty much anything the Germans did during WWII was repeated in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995. I believe it's still going on in Kosovo today.

Thanks again for your help. I really do appreciate feedback, you're not the first to question the size of that rat!

Thanks to everyone for responding.
Tammy

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Re: MAN OF THE HOUSE - 1st Ch.- Critiques Anyone?

Post by J. T. SHEA » July 2nd, 2010, 4:42 pm

Quill, Transitoria, this detailed discussion about the Norwegian Brown Rat reminds me of the famous Monty Python swallow debate! Or should we add it to the ever-lengthening list of Things Agents (Supposedly) Hate?

Item 63,971:- Rhetorical questions = Instant Rejection!
Item 63,972:- Incorrect description of Norwegian Brown Rat = Instant Rejection!

As I said already, this is a powerful piece, which does not exaggerate one of the low points of human history. Now, let's debate the hydrodynamics of floating bodies versus sinking guts...

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Re: MAN OF THE HOUSE - 1st Ch.- Critiques Anyone?

Post by Transitoria » July 2nd, 2010, 11:48 pm

I grew up alongside a river, so I know for a fact that bodies float. As for the animal entrails, unless they are lungs, most will sink to the bottom fairly quickly.

A really good rat primer is at the end of the Disney movie, Ratatouille. :)

My book is dark, but is fiction based on fact. Wait until you get to the part about the eyeballs. Eeeeeew.

Tammy

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Re: MAN OF THE HOUSE - 1st Ch.- Critiques Anyone?

Post by JayceeEA » July 3rd, 2010, 10:07 pm

Really, really gripping. Especially with such gory descriptions of decaying bodies floating on top of the water. And I kept reading only to find out Alaga was only 12, and his sister 6, which only made the story more intriguing to me.
Transitoria wrote: Although the calendar read April, no one had informed Mother Nature, and she threatened to make it the last month of winter by refusing to shift gears to warmer weather.
I really liked this sentence construction. Yet, one concern was whether he was sure that April would be the LAST month of winter. What if winter continued into the first few days of May? Surely, he can't predict the weather that accurately.

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