For Critique: Novel in Progress, Chapter One
July 31, 2020 at 8:30 am #117219
As this is the third book in a series, it might be a little confusing to just jump in–so, a little background is in order. While the series genre is Romantic Suspense, we also have some fantasy/alternative history elements at play due to the fact that the stories are set in Sevia. It’s a fictional Eastern European country, plagued by unrest and ethnic violence. (While Sevia is inspired by places I’ve lived in the real world, it’s not meant to represent any of them)
As Book Three opens, the European League (a fictional stand-in for the UN) has sent peacekeeping troops to Sevia in order to stop the conflict. Their primary goal is to evacuate the surviving members of one of the oppressed minorities from Dor, the capital city, to a guarded refugee camp outside the city, and from there, to new host countries throughout Europe. (Sounds neat and tidy, doesn’t it? Well, just wait.)
My main character is Radoslav, a young, single guy who’s been hired on as an interpreter for the peacekeeping troops. He’s feeling understandably guilty and awful about all that’s happened, but such emotions tend to cloud the judgment…
The series is intended for young adult readers, in the 18-25 age range. And I think that’s about all prospective critiquers would need to know for now, so without further ado, here’s Chapter One. Enjoy!
“Empty,” said Radoslav as he scanned the entrance hall of the apartment building one last time. The air was bitter with stale cigarette smoke. Of the four doors on the ground level, three stood ajar. Why bother to close your door if you’re never coming back? he thought, pressing a finger under his tingling nose. Taylor and Andrews, his soldiers for the day, started, then laughed, as his sneeze echoed down the hall.
“Yes, all empty. This is good.” Radoslav glanced back at Taylor and Andrews. He thought of them by the surnames embroidered on their uniform pockets, because they hadn’t told him their first names. Maybe it hadn’t occurred to them that he’d like to know. Or maybe they didn’t trust him. After all, they wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the disaster his people had created.
Only a month ago, the new president of Sevia, Simon Nevin, had allowed the European League to send in troops, on one condition—that they evacuate the country’s Tur minority. Almost before the League’s International Peacekeeping Force was across the border, Radoslav had applied for a job as an interpreter. To his surprise, they’d hired him.
Andrews’s heavy belt clicked every time he adjusted it. Both soldiers stood light on their feet, jerking their heads toward every thump and rustle as they moved through the silent building.
Only Radoslav was relaxed. No need for you to be so jumpy, he wanted to tell them. You’re the rescuers. The conquering heroes. I’m the enemy here in Pasha district. If somebody decided to jump out from behind one of those doors and stick a knife in my back—well, after all that’s happened, I could hardly blame him.
It had taken another few weeks of negotiating before the foreign troops were allowed to enter the capital city, but in the meantime, the IPF had been busy. Radoslav hadn’t been down to see Camp Peace yet, but he’d heard that it was going to be safest, cleanest, most efficiently-run refugee camp in the world.
“People must be getting the word and coming to the pickup sites all on their own,” Taylor said. He nodded at Radoslav. “That is good.”
“Let’s get moving,” said Andrews.”There are about a million of these concrete boxes to comb through.”
“I could have sworn I heard somebody when we were upstairs,” Taylor said. “Somebody shouting.” He tensed. “Again—didn’t you hear that? A woman’s voice.”
“From outside,” Radoslav said, looking up at him. Taylor was taller, long legs, long arms, but Radoslav would make nearly two of him going the other way.
“Hello?” Taylor called in English. He knocked on the nearest door, the only one shut, and rattled the doorknob. It swung open in his hand. “Anybody home?”
The apartment inside was dim because of the heavy curtains drawn over the windows. What little light came through had a brownish tint. The room was immaculate. Even the fringe of the threadbare Persian rug lay flat and straight against the floorboards. A few books were missing from near the top of the bookshelf against the far wall.
Radoslav imagined an elderly Tur man, a grandfather, with a neat white beard and round glasses, choosing half a dozen of his favorites and packing them in preparation for the evacuation day.
“Right,” Taylor sighed. “Empty.” He glanced at Radoslav, the muscles tightening in his jaw. “Do you ever feel guilty about all this?”
Radoslav picked at a flake of paint on the concrete wall, and bits sprinkled down around his feet. What kind of a question is that? Yes, I feel guilty. We Sevians are human too, you know. “The war was a very difficult time,” he said, slowly. “Very complicated.”
“Well, it makes me angry,” Taylor said.
Radoslav nodded. He pressed a finger beneath his nose to try to stop another sneeze. “I’m angry, too.”
He took one last look at the bookshelf and pulled the apartment door closed. The Tur grandfather hadn’t been angry, he decided, just sad; a dark sadness without an end in sight.
“I just wondered,” said Taylor. “Because you seem…” He shrugged. “I suppose everything looks different to you. After all, your government just got away with killing off ten thousand of its own people.” He noticed a pair of suitcases leaning against the hallway wall at the back and started toward them. “I wonder if these got left by mistake, or…”
“Better not touch them,” Andrews muttered, adding something else that Radoslav didn’t understand. His English was good enough to get him a job as an interpreter, but not so fluent that he could easily follow what the soldiers said when they were talking among themselves.
The back door of the apartment building swung open, and a young man walked in, clasping a fuzzy blue bundle to his chest. Half his face was shriveled like a rotten apple. When he saw them, he stopped short with a cry of surprise.
“He’s Tur, isn’t he?” Andrews asked uncertainly.
The man’s small stature and almond eyes hinted at it, but the fact that he was walking around Pasha, unarmed, with a sleeping baby in his arms, left no room for doubt.
“Yes,” said Radoslav. His stomach began to churn. He’d helped his IPF soldiers give their little talk ten or a dozen times already that morning. Still, his heart beat faster and his tongue tripped over itself every time.
The Tur man’s anxious gaze flashed from Radoslav to the black and blue camouflage of the two soldiers.
Andrews had dropped one hand to his side, where a pistol hung from his belt, but now he spread his hands in a friendly gesture. “It’s all good,” he said in English. “We’re here to help.”
The man nodded. In his arms the thick blanket twitched, and the baby began to whimper. Poor thing, it must be stifling in that blue fleece. “Do you understand what he said?” Radoslav asked.
“Yes, but I don’t really speak English. I—”
“That’s why I’m here,” said Radoslav, relief filling him up like cool water. He smiled. “To help you.” So you’ll know that I had nothing to do with what my people did to yours.
“Don’t worry. Nothing is wrong,” Taylor broke in, stepping forward. “We’re just here to ensure that everyone is safely out of this building. Have you been told where the gathering point for the evacuees from your neighborhood is?”
Radoslav quickly interpreted as Taylor held out a yellow card with a small map on it.
“The nearest one is on Pasha and Neoli,” he said. “Turn in this card when you get on the transport vehicle. That helps us make sure everyone we’ve spoken with has got a ride down to Camp Peace.”
“Can I do anything to help?” Radoslav added, when Taylor had finished speaking.
The man turned to face Radoslav, narrowing his one good eye. “You Sevians think you can use the European League like a broom to sweep us up and cart us away.” He tucked the blanket more tightly around the baby and ran his fingers through the short, oily dreadlocks that stood out all over his head. “But this Camp Peace—seriously, couldn’t you have picked a more ironic name? It’s not a dustpan. It’s a time bomb.”
Radoslav licked his dry lips and looked at the floor. Paint flecks lay like snowflakes on the green carpet. “I know,” he said. “It’s terrible. I’m sorry. But—” he swallowed. “What’s the alternative?”
The man shrugged. “You murder us all. Why not? In ten years nobody outside of Sevia will even remember we existed.”
“No.” Radoslav wanted to take him by the shoulders and look into his eyes and tell him that wasn’t true. He didn’t think he’d moved, but he must have, because the man gasped and jumped back, clutching the baby.
“Oh, God help me,” Radoslav whispered. Heat rose in his chest, cutting off anything else he ight have said. Turning, he pushed past Andrews and jerked open the heavy hall door.
Someone was hurrying up the sidewalk toward the building. As Radoslav’s eyes adjusted to the sunlight, the bright blur solidified into a young woman with wide-set eyes and a nose that turned up at the tip. Pale skin showed through the holes in her stylishly ragged jeans. She stopped, plucked the end of a cigarette from between her lips, tossed it to the ground and put her foot on it. She was not beautiful, but he wanted to keep looking at her.
“What are you doing here?” Her tone was more curious than upset.
Radoslav tugged the lanyard around his neck that carried his official International Peacekeeping Force Interpreter badge. “I’m here with the evacuation team. Just making sure everybody gets out and gets a ride.” He started slowly down the steps.
“Oh. Right.” She didn’t move.
Taylor, Andrews and the man with the baby came out.
“Erkan, I couldn’t find him,” said the girl, the corners of her mouth turning down. “He’s probably up a tree or hiding in someone’s basement somewhere.”
“That’s a shame,” said the young man with the burned face. He must be Erkan.
Her brother? Radoslav wondered. They don’t look much alike now, but maybe they did once. No, he must be her husband, and that’s their baby. As happy a little family as you could hope to see in the Pasha district these days.
Ignoring the soldiers, she pointed down the alley between their gray apartment block and the next one. “I’m just going to look around the back for a minute.”
“No,” Erkan said. “We should already be on the way to catch our ride. These guys are just rounding up the stragglers.”
The girl sighed.”Coco’s so spoiled he’ll never survive on the street. Just one minute—”
“Seriously, Dunya, you’re acting like a little kid. We need to go.”
“I know,” she said, pulling another cigarette out of her back pocket and lighting it. She took a long puff, sniffed, and wiped her eyes. “I’m just getting it all out of my system before we get to the camp.”
“I’m sorry,” said Radoslav softly in Tur. The girl, Dunya, looked up at him, startled.
He spread his hands. “I’d do anything…I’d give my life to make things right again for…” He paused. He was going to say, “For your people,” but because he was looking into her eyes, it came out, “For you.” The tightness in his throat made his whole body ache.
Dunya studied his face, her head a little on one side. “Anything?” She tucked strands of pink-streaked blonde hair behind her ears with her free hand. “Then find my cat.”
“All right,” said Radoslav. “I will. At least I’ll try.”
Her eyebrows shot up, and she stood silent for a moment, staring at him. “It was a joke. And by the way, I speak Sev.” Slipping by him, she ran lightly up to Erkan at the top of the steps and took the baby. She adjusted the folds of the blanket to show a small, solemn face. “Good thing I came back,” she said, clicking her tongue. “You were smothering him.”
Erkan shrugged and started down the steps.
“Don’t forget our suitcases!” Dunya snapped over her shoulder.
“Oh, right.” He sighed. “We’re just bringing the two in the hall, right?”
“Does Coco answer to his name?” Radoslav asked, but Dunya didn’t seem to hear. “I’ll find him for you,” he added louder, but she kept striding down the sidewalk, the baby cuddled to her chest.
Erkan followed more slowly, arms dragged down by the overstuffed suitcases.July 31, 2020 at 11:35 am #117261
I love your story past and plan! With that description, I would buy it.
I saw a few minor typos, but that (from my point of view) was all that was wrong per se.
I liked how you described the atmosphere of the old man’s home. And then this:
a dark sadness without an end in sight.
That stuck with me.
….When he saw them, he stopped short with a cry of surprise.
I (personally) think it needs more tension here. Maybe describe the air? Maybe it left the room a moment when Erkan entered? Or, maybe his eyes, though full of fear, cracked like a whip on Radoslav’s back? Words to make the heart quicken a bit more.
“He’s Tur, isn’t he?” Andrews asked uncertainly.
Great job describing the people by the way!
For something a bit funny, when Dunya came up and was speaking at first… I thought it was a child she was looking for. And then Erkan’s callousness, wanting to leave his child behind? It seemed out of place, especially since he was holding the baby. But that’s what I thought.
Then it was a cat? Boy.
So…. if you did that on purpose (or on accident), well done. (:
Passion means to be willing to suffer.July 31, 2020 at 11:56 am #117265
Thanks for reading, Gracie! I appreciate it. Yes, this is by no means a finalized draft, so I’m sure there are plenty of typos lurking. At this point, I’m looking more at story flow, possible plot holes, character development–stuff like that.
Would you be interested in giving me a more in-depth critique of the whole thing as I go along? If so, I’d prefer to send it to you in installments via email, rather than sharing the whole story on this forum. Would that work for you?
And if you’ve got a work that you’d like similar help on, I’d be happy to oblige.July 31, 2020 at 1:15 pm #117273
I’ll tag you to a character building game on here.
It’s helped me with learning about and rounding some of my characters.
Would you be interested in giving me a more in-depth critique of the whole thing as I go along?
Interested, yes, very. (But I’m not sure you want me to do it.)
Disclaimer: I’m not sure if I’d be a very consistent helper right now. School’s about to start, and I’m trying to finish my math from last year before chemistry starts in a few weeks. And then when school actually starts? It will probably be a crazy first several weeks…
I will not be offended if you ask someone else.
I’d prefer to send it to you in installments via email, rather than sharing the whole story on this forum. Would that work for you?
I’m not sure. I don’t think my parents would want me to put my email on here. But I have an idea. I will expound in a bit. (: (I get what you mean about not wanting to put your whole book on here.)
And if you’ve got a work that you’d like similar help on, I’d be happy to oblige.
I have someone reading my closest W.I.P. for historical accuracy. But I’d love for you to read it and give me your thoughts. (: I’ve been posting chapters on here for a while. I can go back and tag you there as well. Thanks for offering!
Passion means to be willing to suffer.July 31, 2020 at 2:35 pm #117325
Gracie, I totally understand if you’ll be busy, but if you’re willing to help, I don’t mind if it takes a while. I could send you the story chapter by chapter, and I wouldn’t send a new one until you were through with the one that came before, so you wouldn’t feel backlogged. And you could give as much or as little critique as you felt in the mood for. The more eyes, the better!July 31, 2020 at 3:20 pm #117328
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