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  • #112637
    claire
    @claire-h

    Hey guys! Some of you have been asking me to share my writing. (I’m looking at you @katja-r and @beth20 😉  ) Tagging: @wolverinerm @selah-chelyah @theswordinthebook @melodyjoy @eitan @anne_the_noob14 and anyone else interested.

    Here’s the first chapter of my WIP, a mystery set in the 1920s. All comments, constructive criticism, and observations are welcome! Let me know what you think. 🙂

    Chapter 1: Questions
    Smog spilled into the sky from the smokestacks overhead. It was an endless cycle, infiltrating through the air until it all blended together into a murky haze that hung over houses like a shroud. Automatically my mind went to the funeral of Aunt Marga only a week previously. A week? It seemed like an age. She was young, only forty. They said she had a rare heart condition. My thoughts traced the well-worn path as my feet climbed the front steps of the two story house that had been hers. She had left it to me, her only niece. I’d moved in quickly, partly because I had nowhere else to go and partly because there were things that needed to be taken care of. I winced as the door banged shut behind me. The sunroom was cluttered with plants. A message was taped to the front door: Please water the plants. As if I had time for that. Their drooping leaves accused me, but I continued in to the kitchen. The faint scent of floral perfume greeted me. The kitchen was small but cheery and all the hand towels in the drawers were embroidered with different flora and fauna.
    After a quick sandwich, I traveled down the hall to my bedroom -the only bedroom on the main floor. It had been well kept, even if the wallpaper was a hideous pale green. While cleaning the day before, the only untidy things I found were a few caramel wrappers that had drifted under the bureau. I sighed. If only the same could be said for the rest of the house. Aunt Marga had moved in after her father -my grandfather- was killed in an automobile wreck. She’d only lived there a year. The solicitors had informed me that she had only renovated the lower level. So here I was, a small tidy little apartment all my own down there and a load of junk above me. Who knew how long it would take me to conquer the dust and cobwebs.
    I had decided to start the momentous task the first chance I got. That chance came on Sunday. The sky was a drab grey, mostly because of those infernal smokestacks. I was tired and a bit grumpy, I must admit. I had planned to spend the afternoon biking with my best friend Nan, but a nasty mist was falling, so we settled for indoor entertainment, even though that word doesn’t capture it very well. I was playing a piece on the old piano. The first time I’d set foot in the house, it had been what caught my eye. I hadn’t played in at least a year, and music was something I loved. While I was attempting to revive my skills, Nan was clacking a pencil against her teeth, trying to formulate a sentence. Nan was a writer. At least, she wanted to be one. For now she was content with scribbling a few short stories and, as she said, “honing her skill”. I’ve read a few of her stories, and I must say, they weren’t my type. Mostly gushing romantic girls who meet their perfect man, only to find he isn’t who he says he is. Quite trashy stuff. But I wouldn’t let on to Nan that I thought that.
    Suddenly I threw down the book I’d been pretending to read. Really I’d been thinking over a few things.
    “Nan.”
    She raised her eyebrows.
    “I know you’re dying to get out of that shabby apartment. What do you say we tackle some of my grandad’s clutter so you can have one of the rooms upstairs?”
    “I’ve been itching to ever since you told me about it, silly.” Nan threw her paper pad off to the side and jumped up. Her pencil hit the wood floor and its lead shattered as it rolled under the sofa.
    “I suppose you think we’ll find some mysterious artifact worth millions.” I teased.
    “You never know, Jean…” Nan shook her head in mock solemnity. “You could be a millionaire.”
    “Well I won’t be if we stand around and talk instead of going upstairs.” Nan was wearing a white blouse. That wouldn’t do. Pulling open a drawer in the kitchen, I grabbed two wads of fabric. “We can use some of Aunt Marga’s aprons so we don’t get dirty.”
    Nan quickly grabbed the one with the more subdued colors and I was left with a green and yellow one. Nan laughed as I cinched the apron around my waist. “You look like a hot air balloon in that thing.”
    A few moments later we were armed with cleaning supplies. I marched over and unlocked the door that led upstairs. As it opened, Nan peered around my shoulder, accidentally jabbing me with a broom handle.
    “Ouch!”
    “Sorry,” she whispered, still peering up the dusty staircase. It was narrow and dark. Only a small shaft of light came in from a skylight.
    The boards groaned as we climbed the steps. How long ago had it been since someone had been up here? Then I laughed at myself. Grandfather had only been gone for a little over a year. I was acting like this was some ancient tomb full of artifacts. Nan’s adventurous spirit must have rubbed off on me. At the top of the stairs was a little landing with three doors -closed and locked, of course. I sorted through the key ring with one hand, juggling the dustpan and rags in the other. After multiple attempts, I managed to get the first door unlocked. A modest wooden bed occupied one end of the room, and a small washstand and dresser occupied the other. Nan sifted through the drawers while I poked my head into the closet. Our combined effort brought forth nothing more exciting than a dead rat.
    “Well,” Nan said -a little disappointedly, I think- “on to the next room.”
    It proved to be my grandfather’s office. Papers cluttered the desk and a small bookshelf sat under the window. An armchair was angled towards the fireplace. I shuddered, mostly from the chill, dank air, but also because that chair, angled as it was, gave the room a sense of being occupied. I found myself wondering what my grandfather had been like. I had never even met him. Family had never been a priority in my parents’ eyes. Nan’s bright voice broke through my thoughts.
    “Look at all these books! I can’t even tell what they’re about. What did your grandfather do for a living, anyway?” She was crouched in front of the small bookshelf, studying the spines of the books. They all seemed to be on highly technical subjects.
    “I…I’m not sure, actually. I never even met him.”
    Nan looked up but I refused to meet her gaze. “Well,” I said, “Maybe we should clean up these papers.” I turned away and shuffled through the clutter on the desk. Most of it was old letters, mainly bills and business inquiries. Quickly, I scanned through some of them. It seemed like they were commissions for some sort of highly specialized machine. Just like the books, all the terms seemed very technical. I sighed, picked one to keep, and threw the rest in an empty trashcan that stood nearby. Nan stood a little off to the side, as if she wanted permission to look through my grandad’s stuff. I motioned her over and we tackled the drawers.
    After roughly an hour, most things had been transferred to the trash. There were some nice stationary supplies that we salvaged and in one of the top drawers I found a fountain pen with my grandfather’s initials carved into it. It felt cool in my hand and I held it for a moment, thinking of the grandfather I never knew. We also found some bits and pieces of machinery scattered here and there. Bolts, screws, wires.
    “I say we open up the last room,” Nan said with a sigh as she stretched her back. “It’s bound to be the exciting one.”
    “What makes you say that?” I laughed.
    “Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps we’ve just saved the best for last.”
    The last door opened into the largest room on the second story. It was long and narrow, overlooking the street with two gabled windows. There were at least three tables, all cluttered with machinery. Blueprints were tacked to the wall like bugs in a collection. I puzzled over them while Nan examined the machines themselves.
    “What do you think all this is?” I asked.
    “I have no idea.” Nan turned around. “But your grandfather must have been a skilled mechanic. Look at all these intricate wires!”
    After some more exploring, we headed downstairs for refreshments. As we sipped our coffee, questions filled my thoughts. My hand slipped into the pocket of my skirt and I fingered the initials carved in the fountain pen. RJT. What kind of man had he been? Why did my father never visit him? Never talk of him?
    Nan was silent as well. She’s always been good about recognizing my moods.
    A few minutes later, I looked at her over the rim of my glass. “I say that’s enough work for today. Which room do you lay claim to?”
    “I liked the office. It had a nice view of the park.”
    “That works out perfectly. I had my eye on the long room above the street. I enjoy watching people come and go. And I can hardly take the bright green room for much longer.”
    Nan laughed. “I wonder why your Aunt Marga never cleaned up the rooms upstairs? Surely those machines are worth something.”
    I sighed. “There are a lot of questions I wish I had the answers to.”
    . . .
    The next day, as my fingers flew over the keys, just another instrument in the orchestra of typewriters, I pondered the questions that still loomed at the forefront of my mind. Where could I find answers? Maybe some of Aunt Marga’s solicitors could tell me more about my grandfather. And in all the papers at the house, surely there were some letters that made mention of his occupation, his friends, or even his family. Family. Memories trickled in to my head and I tried to block them out, but they still came. Mama, with her bright red lips, laughing, a wine glass tilted dangerously in one hand, while the other patted my head. Another image came to me suddenly. My father, swinging me up into the air, throwing me over his shoulder, his laugh ringing out. That was before I grew up. Before I saw them for who they really were. More memories came, choking each other out in their fury. My fingers slowed and I clenched my teeth. This was a war I always fought now. Myself against my memories. If only I could forget…
    Please water the plants. It was later that night, and as my key turned in the lock, the words stared me accusingly in the face. Ugh. I went inside and let the door slam behind me. By the glow of the streetlights outside, I could see the silhouettes of the drooping plants. Later, I told myself. My eyes burned with exhaustion as I quickly slipped into my more comfortable sweater and skirt. It had been a long day. Montgomery and Co. had fired even more typists , meaning I had a heavier work load. It was only a matter of time until the firm shut down all together. They most definitely weren’t the most successful law office in New York. But it didn’t matter. On Monday I would leave that place for good. No more scraping together my small earnings to rent an apartment, buy food, or get clothes. The money Aunt Marga left me came to roughly three thousand dollars. Plenty to keep me afloat while I searched for another job.
    I started up the tea kettle and collapsed in a nearby chair. I’d always dreamed of being a piano teacher. Now I had the time and space to finally make that a reality. It was a good feeling, owning a house. I closed my eyes.
    A persistent whistling pulled me roughly out of my sleep. Groggily, I poured myself a cup of tea. Just as its warmth made me settle back down into my chair, the telephone rang. It was Nan.
    “Mind if I come over for a bit? I can’t wait to get that room cleaned so I can get settled.”
    “Of course, but I’ll just warn you that I’m a tired mess.”
    “Don’t worry, I’ll be quiet!” Nan laughed and hung up.
    Half an hour later she was sprawled across the sofa, scolding me for neglecting the plants.
    “They’re the least of my worries!” I sighed.
    “Oh, cheer up. You just moved into a wonderful house and there are a lot of things you don’t have to worry about anymore.” She raised her eyebrows when I didn’t answer. “Well, I suppose I will go water the plants for you then, since you’re so exhausted.”
    “Alright, alright.” I tucked a piece of my hair behind an ear. “I’m coming.”
    Nan switched on a lamp in the sunroom. Other than at least twenty plants, there was also a chair and a small table. I settled into the chair and studied the plants. Most looked like they were of a tropical variety. Some hung from the ceiling, long tendrils trailing over the pots like inquisitive snakes. Others sat on low tables. Some of the plants had labels taped to their pots. Curious now, I stood and read a few. Nan was busy hauling in water from the kitchen. Alocasia amazonica, Anthurium, Dieffenbachia. All too scientific for me. One plant in the corner drew my attention. It was in a bright yellow pot, small, with green leaves that barely poked above the dry soil. I picked it up and examined the label by the lamplight. And blinked. To Jean. What? I moved closer to the lamp. Yes, that’s what it said. Carefully, I unfastened the label. It was an envelope.
    “Nan!” I called. She hurried out of the kitchen and tripped on the step. Water flew everywhere. Nan muttered something under her breath.
    “What?” She asked, picking her now wet self up off the ground.
    “I found an envelope, addressed to me.” I held it out.
    “Who’s it from?” She examined the outside.
    “I’m not sure. Aunt Marga, I suppose.” I held out my hand for the envelope and then tore it open.

    a flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it.
    it just blooms.

    #112642
    WolverineRM
    @wolverinerm

    @claire-h

    Okay, I don’t have the time rn to go through it in-depth, but I sat down to read it over, and it’s captivating!! I love Jean’s personality shining through. Something to bear in mind—you definitely don’t have to spill it in the first chapter, just for future reference—I’m curious how old they are, and what their situations are that they’re both living off on their own like this, if that makes sense. Obviously there’s a little backstory being trickled in about Jean’s family… 😉

    And gotta admit, I love that it ends on a cliffhanger… I’m obsessed with cliffhangers even though I pretend to hate them 😝

    I ask where he got these crazy ideas anyway
    He just smiles and says, it’s the way that I was raised

    #112649
    Livi Ryddle
    @anne_the_noob14

    @claire-h

    Ooo. Ok. So, first off, this is great and I want to read moreeeeee 😀 😀 😀

    A few things that jumped out at me… You add in a good mix of little details that the scenes would be flat-sounding without. I’m bad at this. Little things like the aprons and the staircase. And I really like this overall vibe of the snippet. Um… what else… Ah yes. I love Nan. And hmm… *narrows eyes at the armchair that sat facing the fireplace*

    Great so far!! Definitely tag me if you post more!! 😀

    “Enough! Be quiet! I can’t hear myself think! I can’t hear my teeth chatter!"

    #112661
    Eitan
    @eitan

    Okay, that’s long 😅

    I love it! I didn’t yet read all of the chapter – there are lots of words I don’t know there, so I’m just translating it. It’ll take time, but I promise you a plot critique.

     

    As always, I speak as a reader, not at all as a better writer or something like that. I hope I chose the right words in my critique, but if not, so sorry if I offend you in any way.

     

    For now, I have only two points:

     

    1. Break paragraphs. For example, this:

    Smog spilled into the sky from the smokestacks overhead. It was an endless cycle, infiltrating through the air until it all blended together into a murky haze that hung over houses like a shroud. Automatically my mind went to the funeral of Aunt Marga only a week previously. A week? It seemed like an age. She was young, only forty. They said she had a rare heart condition. My thoughts traced the well-worn path as my feet climbed the front steps of the two story house that had been hers. She had left it to me, her only niece. I’d moved in quickly, partly because I had nowhere else to go and partly because there were things that needed to be taken care of. I winced as the door banged shut behind me. The sunroom was cluttered with plants. A message was taped to the front door: Please water the plants. As if I had time for that. Their drooping leaves accused me, but I continued in to the kitchen. The faint scent of floral perfume greeted me. The kitchen was small but cheery and all the hand towels in the drawers were embroidered with different flora and fauna.

    Should’ve been this:

     

    Smog spilled into the sky from the smokestacks overhead. It was an endless cycle, infiltrating through the air until it all blended together into a murky haze that hung over houses like a shroud.

    Automatically my mind went to the funeral of Aunt Marga only a week previously. A week? It seemed like an age. She was young, only forty. They said she had a rare heart condition.

    My thoughts traced the well-worn path as my feet climbed the front steps of the two story house that had been hers. She had left it to me, her only niece. I’d moved in quickly, partly because I had nowhere else to go and partly because there were things that needed to be taken care of.

    I winced as the door banged shut behind me. The sunroom was cluttered with plants. A message was taped to the front door: Please water the plants. As if I had time for that. Their drooping leaves accused me, but I continued in to the kitchen.

    The faint scent of floral perfume greeted me. The kitchen was small but cheery and all the hand towels in the drawers were embroidered with different flora and fauna.

     

    2. The punctuation is generally very good, but there were some places I felt it isn’t punctuated enough. For example:

    Automatically my mind went to the funeral of Aunt Marga only a week previously.

    or:

    Nan quickly grabbed the one with the more subdued colors and I was left with a green and yellow one.

    My advise is to put a comma between different parts of the sentence, and after adverbs. For example, those two sentences should’ve been (I marked with bold the commas):

    Automatically, my mind went to the funeral of Aunt Marga only a week previously.

    Nan quickly grabbed the one with the more subdued colors, and I was left with a green and yellow one.

    I hope it has helpful! 🙂

    You don't need to see the wind itself in order to hear the rustling leaves.

    #112662
    claire
    @claire-h

    @wolverinerm

    Aw, thanks! Glad you liked it. 🙂

    Yeah, it’s hard for me to figure out how to add in description without it sounding like an info dump… This is just my first draft of the chapter, so I will have to think over how to sneak some details in. 😉

    Fyi, Jean is 27 and Nan is her best friend that she met in high school.

    As far as why they are living on their own… When Jean moved to the city, Nan decided to go with her. Probably because she felt that she needed to be there for Jean. And the reason that Jean moved will be kept a secret until more of her backstory is revealed. 😛

    a flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it.
    it just blooms.

    #112663
    claire
    @claire-h

    @anne_the_noob14

    Thanks so much for reading it! Yeah I’ve found that the more weird details I add in, the more unique and believable it seems. Lol.

    I will definitely tag you again if I post more. 🙂 Right now I’m trying to figure out what is in the letter -which calls for more brainstorming. *sigh*

     

    a flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it.
    it just blooms.

    #112664
    claire
    @claire-h

    @eitan
    Yes it is long. 😁 Thanks for taking the time to read it!

    Oh no! My friends are always telling me I use big words, lol. If it’s too much, don’t worry about translating it. Also, thanks for the suggestions!

    a flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it.
    it just blooms.

    #112719
    Eitan
    @eitan

    @claire-h

    Oh no! My friends are always telling me I use big words, lol.

    Don’t feel bad, I didn’t even know what does the word washstand means…

     

    Okay, I read it all. Besides the technical stuff I mentioned, it was great!

    You’ve done a great job introducing the characters – personality, age, and only few at a time.

    You over-describe at some points – maybe I’m just tired, though.

    I didn’t actually felt it because you introduced us to the time the story occurs in, but purely from the story I can guess only that it’s around 1880 to 1950, which isn’t very informative… I don’t know is it really critical to include this detail in the chapter, since it doesn’t influence that much on the understanding of the plot, though. Just a point I noticed.

    In conclusion – great job! 🙂

    You don't need to see the wind itself in order to hear the rustling leaves.

    #112730
    Livi Ryddle
    @anne_the_noob14

    @claire-h

    You’re welcome!! And yep. *nodnod*

    Awesome! Ahh yes… brainstorming… 😛

    “Enough! Be quiet! I can’t hear myself think! I can’t hear my teeth chatter!"

    #112892
    WolverineRM
    @wolverinerm

    @claire-h So long as you plan to work those details in sometime, don’t worry too much about the first chapter—leave us a little bit of mystery. 😉

    I ask where he got these crazy ideas anyway
    He just smiles and says, it’s the way that I was raised

    #113514
    Beth Darlene
    @beth20

    Okay I’m gonna read this right now lol! Sorry for not reading it sooner!

    Jominkreesa! For the weirdos who know what it means! 😉 I love you guys!

    #113518
    Beth Darlene
    @beth20

    This was really good!! I really liked it! The only things that I noticed, Eitan already covered, so that’s that lol! Love the character’s personalities! It reminds me a lot of Nancy Drew! Did you ever read those?? I laughed when Nan spilled the water haha! Good job, can’t wait to read more!

     

    Jominkreesa! For the weirdos who know what it means! 😉 I love you guys!

    #113703
    claire
    @claire-h

    @eitan @wolverinerm

    Thanks so much for giving all the kind feedback!


    @beth20

    Thank you for reading this! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Yes, I used to read Nancy Drew… What seems like forever ago! 😆

     

    a flower does not think of competing with the flower next to it.
    it just blooms.

    #113719
    Beth Darlene
    @beth20

    @claire-h

    Haha yeah! I used to read those like crazy lol!

    Jominkreesa! For the weirdos who know what it means! 😉 I love you guys!

    #113729
    Mel
    @melodyjoy

    @claire-h

    Hey Claire!

    Sorry I wasn’t able to reply to this sooner… I read it in email so thanks for tagging me 🙂

    WOW!!! This is SO captivating 🙂 🙂 🙂

    I am so glad that you posted this! It’s amazing 🙂 haha

    Love your mystery style of writing for this story. For me, when I have a mystery in mind, I’m just like “blah I have no Idea how to write this so that it sounds like a mystery” lol but you nailed it! Great job!

    I really do like your choice of words and the way you describe things.

    Can’t wait till you post more 🙂

    -MEL

    Life is short, smile while you still have teeth!

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