Novel buddies for the week of Sept. 26 - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 15 Old 09-26-2006, 12:14 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Well, I hope to see the novel buddies thread get a little more active. I'm going to give twilight girl my fifteen minutes right now, and I hope to have something to discuss tomorrow
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#2 of 15 Old 09-26-2006, 01:37 PM
 
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Here is a parody of a cultural description of a Japanese bathhouse that I am planning to submit to a travel magazine.

Bathing in Public in Japan

I am taking some time out from my position as Director of the Year in Japan program at Morioka Women’s Junior Technical and Agricultural College to pen some helpful observations about Japanese bathing customs.

By now, probably most of us living here in Japan have taken a bath at least once. Taking a bath in the Japanese ofuro of a private house is one thing. But taking an ofuro in public is another thing altogether. The Westerner will find many of the rules to be complicated and strange. It is most important to follow the standards of etiquette at all times.

Unfortunately, I can only speak about the customs of the men’s side of the bath house, having failed thus far to gain entry to the women’s side, despite repeated attempts on my part and the fact that my alien registration card clearly says that I have an advanced degree.

Studies show that the Japanese have been bathing for several centuries at least. Bathing in Japan has always had its communal side, perhaps because early Japanese did not know that one could heat water with fire. Many Americans might find the idea of paying good money to sit in a large tub full of naked men rather odd, but in Japan I can assure you that it is a perfectly normal practice.

When you enter the public bathhouse in Japan (and the procedure is much the same at a hot spring, or “O-Den”), you will see a counter where you are expected to pay a small fee. These counters are generally staffed by very fat women, who will give you the traditional surly nod to indicate the door of the men’s section. Once entering, you will find yourself in a changing room containing benches in front of lockers.

It is expected that you will remove your clothing in this room and put it in these lockers. If you are too shy to strip naked at this time, you can wear under shorts and perhaps an under shirt into the bathing room proper. But remember that the Japanese have a taboo against wearing socks in an ofuro. And it is considered especially barbaric for some reason to enter the bathing area completely naked except for your socks, so be warned.

Before you actually go into the bathing area, which can be entered through the door that you did not use to enter the changing room in the first place (be careful about this!) you will see a couple of vending machines, one of which will be selling soap and the small towels that in Japan also double as washcloths. Hopefully you will have already brought with you a proper sized bath towel, but if not, half a dozen or so Japanese towels should do in a pinch.

You can buy a bar of soap and a washcloth/towel of course, but if you don’t, you will find that many people in the bathing area have soap and towels that they are not using, so you can simply use theirs. In fact, using a stranger’s towel and soap in a Japanese bathhouse is the fastest way I know to get to know people very quickly.

Once you enter the bathing area, you will see the large soaking pool, usually full of happy Japanese men laughing and pointing. You will also see an area with some small stools and buckets with taps coming out of the wall. In a Japanese bathhouse, as in a private ofuro, one is expected to wash one’s hair, body, and miscellaneous clothing items before entering the soaking tub. This means entirely rinsing off as well.

Find a nice unoccupied spot next to two unused taps. You will need two - one to wash with and one to hang your underwear on. Take off your underwear and hang it on one tap, then wet yourself down with the other tap and begin scrubbing. Be sure to use the washcloth you borrowed to clean all those hard to get at places. After you have thoroughly rinsed off, either from the tap or by dumping many buckets of water on your head, it is time to go to the soaking pool.

When testing the soaking pool with one’s toe, the average Westerner is likely to find the water extremely hot. There are two schools of thought as to how to enter the pool. The first is known as the “Zen” method, where one sits on the edge and slowly and almost imperceptively lowers oneself into the water. While this method has its advantages, the true Zen adept will take from 30 to 45 minutes to become fully immersed. The second method is known as the “American” method. Here, one simply closes one’s eyes, holds one’s nose, and dives in.

Once you are under the water, you will find yourself in a world that you have never experienced before. Don’t be alarmed. The pain will subside presently as your body adjusts naturally to the 140-degree temperatures.

Raise your head above the water. You will find that the Japanese have stopped laughing and pointing. It is Quiet Time in the ofuro, as each man becomes lost in his own thoughts. Taking care not to intrude in any way on their solitude, this is a perfect opportunity to observe some aspects of Japanese culture that you would normally not get to see.

Some of the men luxuriating in the Ofuro may have folded their washcloths into small squares and placed them on the top of their heads. No one knows why they do this. If the bathhouse is any kind of bathhouse at all, you should notice a group of seven or more men at the end of the pool, whose bodies are almost completely covered with what the Japanese call “hamachi” or tattoos. In an age where almost everyone seems to be sporting tattoos, even women, the workmanship of Japanese tattoo artists is second to none. If you go closer, you will see that the colors are particularly vivid, as the Japanese have learned to produce dyes that do not fade. Look even more closely and you will discover that much of the subtle shading that from afar looked to be part of the coloring is actually the result of tiny, almost microscopic cross hatching. Notice the extreme attention to detail.

Then pull back a bit. When a Japanese man decides to get these kinds of tattoos, he picks a theme that he will then keep to religiously until all the skin on his body is covered. There are number of traditional themes, and these can include mythological animals, episodes from the lives of the gods or famous warriors, and gang rape. Sometimes it is hard to tell clearly what the theme really is just from the part of the body appearing above the water, and you may have to dive down to get the full effect of the total design.

Now that you have gotten to expand your cultural horizons, it is time to partake in what the soaking pool is really designed for. Sit back and relax!! If you concentrate, you will find yourself floating away in almost total ecstasy. (You should remember at this point that it is considered extremely rude to piss in an ofuro, so be discrete.)

After five minutes or so, it is probably time to leave. Hoist yourself out of the pool, retrieve your underwear, and go to the changing room to dry off. Once dry and dressed, you should feel absolutely wonderful. But wait! Your Japanese bath experience is not quite over!

In the changing room you will probably notice another vending machine selling beverages. Japanese men like to enjoy light refreshment after bathing, and there is nothing lighter or more refreshing than a nice cup of Japanese sake.

In Japan, sake is considered an alcoholic beverage, which technically it is. I believe it is considered as such because the average Japanese will begin to feel its affect with as little as one glass. This is not due to the chemical properties of the drink, but to the well-known fact that the intestine of the typical Japanese is longer than that of the typical Westerner. (The average Japanese intestine is over 900 feet long.) This of course means that since the average Western intestine is 7 or 8 times shorter than that of a Japanese person, a Westerner can drink seven or eight sakes with no noticeable effect. I know that seven or eight cups of vending machine sake may sound daunting to the first timer, but they are so light you should be able to polish them off in 15 or 20 minutes or so.

You should now feel like a new man. You are now ready to return to your graduate research or your English teaching class with a new sense of purpose, not to mention a heightened knowledge of Japanese culture.

Cheers! And come back soon!
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#3 of 15 Old 09-26-2006, 06:02 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I promise I will post thoughts/reaction to this piece later today or tomorrow!
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#4 of 15 Old 09-27-2006, 11:17 AM
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Sorry, double post.
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#5 of 15 Old 09-27-2006, 11:19 AM
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Unagidon, other than occassionally reading them, I have no experience with this style of writing. Keep that in mind!

I enjoyed reading it! My dd, at 14 went to Japan and HAD to go to the bath house as part of the trip. (cultural thing) She wasn't as horrified as I would have been! It was fun to read your description.

THis sentence..."Many Americans might find the idea of paying good money to sit in a large tub full of naked men rather odd, but in Japan I can assure you that it is a perfectly normal practice." I would make 'american MEN might find...". As a woman, I would find it, uh, interesting! Maybe frightening!



"You can buy a bar of soap and a washcloth/towel of course, but if you don’t, you will find that many people in the bathing area have soap and towels that they are not using, so you can simply use theirs. In fact, using a stranger’s towel and soap in a Japanese bathhouse is the fastest way I know to get to know people very quickly." I'd include something at the end, like 'get to know people very quickly, though not pleasantly'. Not that exactly, but to point the way.


'Find a nice unoccupied spot next to two unused taps. You will need two - one to wash with and one to hang your underwear on. Take off your underwear and hang it on one tap, then wet yourself down with the other tap and begin scrubbing.' I'd shorten this paragragh. You mention the two taps, twice. I'd go for leaving the 2nd sentence out altogether.

"Once you are under the water, you will find yourself in a world that you have never experienced before. Don’t be alarmed. The pain will subside presently as your body adjusts naturally to the 140-degree temperatures." I would imagine you would SEE things you wouldn't otherwise be privy to, also. Can you tactfully describe the, uh, scenery?



"Some of the men luxuriating in the Ofuro may have folded their washcloths into small squares and placed them on the top of their heads. No one knows why they do this." I think you should venture a humorous guess.

The Japanese don't really have a longer intestine, do they? If this was humor, I missed it.

I think it could use a few more punchlines. A few more spots of humor. Diving under water to inspect the tatoos could easily be 'punched' up. (In fact, I would think you might GET punched)

It was interesting to read about another cultures customs in a tongue in cheek way. Let us know if it gets published!




Ok, so here's Chapter 1. I'm open to any ideas, including more sensory detail, etc, though I'm mostly happy with it for now. Mostly I'm posting it this week because A) you'll all get a sense of where I'm coming from, and B)whaat I've written this week needs a lot more work! I may post TWICE this week, as I need help with the romantic stuff.

Don't be afraid to rip into it! The goal is for it to be clear, fascinating and to get it published. Not to make me feel good!






Chapter 1
Shopping

Chapter 1
Shopping

A new thought came to Lisa Clark as she studied the tiny infant lying in her aching arms. Her stomach twisted and trickles of sweat ran from her underarms as the thought drummed repeatedly through her head.
What if she doesn’t come back?
She remembered how tenderly the too-young mother had kissed her infant’s fingers before darting from the aisle. Had she run straight for the exit?
It had been a long week. The weather had turned unseasonably hot and muggy for spring, she’d gotten a flat tire in rush hour traffic, and Mr. Harker, her boss, had been in a nasty mood. The newest employee in the offices of a fashion accessory wholesaler, Lisa soon discovered why there had been an opening. Mr. Harker took his bad moods out on his most recent hiree. She hated the job, hated her boss and loathed the very idea of going in each morning.
What am I going to do about this baby? Awkwardly pushing her hair out of her eyes with her wrist, she began circling the store, just as her thoughts circled in her head.
How long should I wait before I call someone? The thought of alerting the authorities made her feel nauseous.
She could try and to call her parent’s or Julie, her best friend, for advice. Her mother would say to call the police, to let the proper authorities handle the problem. As an adoptive parent, her mother believed that CPS could right the wrongs and protect the innocent children. After all, CPS had brought them Lisa, and their son, Tim.
Lisa’s own experiences as a foster child had left her feeling less convinced.
She trusted her mother’s judgment on most things, but her mother hadn’t shared those lonely years with her and had never understood her need to ‘dwell’ on them. Julie did.
What would Julie do? Having met in a foster home when they were 10, they had shared the horror of having no family to call their own. She thought back to the two of them sharing a room at Mrs. Jenner’s, of Julie crying herself to sleep because she so missed her neglectful, drug-addicted mother. Of her own pain at knowing that as bad as Julie had it, she at least had a mother to miss.
She called her friend’s home number, this wasn’t something to discuss with someone who was fighting rush-hour traffic! When Julie didn’t answer she hung up, unable to think of how to word a message.
“This is not the evening I had planned,” she grumbled aloud to the quiet baby. “My arm is about to drop off! Five minutes. That’s what your mother said. Five minutes! And here we are, walking till my feet blister, an hour and a half later!”
The baby squirmed on her arm and Lisa changed her tone, crooning the rest of her irritation as if it were soothing words. “All I wanted was a book. Some hot pirate romance. Salt spray, crashing waves, helpless maiden.” She sighed. “So, I found a real helpless maiden, didn’t I? Know any pirates, kiddo? It’s Friday night and I don’t have a date.”
Her deep discussion with the baby earned her an odd look from a slim businesswoman, as she walked past.
“Great, now I’m talking to myself.” Another squirm, a mewling cry. “No, you’re right, I’m talking to you.” In a quieter voice she continued, “Gettin’ hungry? Let’s go eat. You’ll love the menu here.”
“Excuse me?” said the woman behind the lunch counter.
“Oh, ah, nothing. I just wanted to order.” She refrained from talking to the baby until she was handed her dinner; a B.L.T., chips and iced tea. Balancing the tray in one hand and the baby in the other, diaper bag slung over her shoulder and her still unpaid for book tucked under her arm, she barely managed to maneuver the four feet to the first table without dropping anything. Sliding awkwardly into the attached plastic seat, she muttered, “Boy, oh boy, do I have a few things to say to your mother when she gets back.”
Pushing her own dinner to the side, and popping the only full bottle of formula in the diaper bag into the waiting, tiny mouth, she began speaking in that sing-song way people sometimes use on babies.
“I could be an axe murderer, or one of those whackos who sells babies on the Internet. Yes, I could.” At this, the baby stopped sucking and stared at her wide-eyed for a moment. Then, apparently deciding that she was neither, began to suckle again.
“What’s your name? Where did your mother go?” she whispered. Huge blue eyes stared trustingly up at her, but the babe offered no information
It hadn’t occurred to her to ask the mother for her name, or even the baby’s name, so she couldn’t very well page her. She had a vision of herself calling the police, the young mother returning, apologetic and frightened, having some plausible excuse for her absence.
Balancing the babe against her shoulder, she gently burped her. Rubbing her cheek against the downy head, she noticed that instead of the usual sweet aroma babies gave off, this baby smelled of old urine, spit-up baby formula and the hot, sharp smell of a baby who has cried a long time. She cradled the infant again in her left arm as she tried to eat with her right.
Glancing down at the cover of the paperback she’d picked out, she studied the half-naked young woman who was tied to the mast, long hair falling in a wild mass to her waist. An incredibly handsome pirate, despite a rather sinister-looking eye-patch, held a cutlass above her. His own hair fell thickly past his broad shoulders, and a neat beard covered the lower half of his face. Just two hours ago she’d thought it was the perfect book; an innocent young woman who stows-away, a commanding-yet-understanding and incredibly sexy pirate, plenty of passion, adventure and romance.
*******


In fact, just a few hours ago, she’d been so caught up in the story she might have finished the first chapter right there in the store. But the piercing screams being emitted from a tiny infant a few aisles away, had made it impossible for her to concentrate. She doubted there had been many crying babies on ships.
Especially pirate ships.
When the infants screams became louder, rounded the end of the aisle, and hit a new peak in the area of the movie magazines, just at the other end of the short row of paperbacks, Lisa peeked over the top of the pirate book. Bouncing a tiny, but very vocal baby irritably in her arms, was a girl of maybe 15 or 16, wearing a tiny black t-shirt that had “Naughty Girl” across the front of it in glitter. Her muddy brown hair hung lank and greasy.
“Oh, please, shut up!” the girl had muttered under her breath. She’d been trying to push a shopping cart with one hand and jiggle the baby with the other but now gave up and set the howling, red-faced infant down on a thin receiving blanket on the bottom of the metal cart. As the tiny body came in contact with the hard surface, the screaming reached a new level of intensity.
The girl began digging through a faded diaper bag perched on the seat of the cart.
Let her find that baby a pacifier, Lisa had thought, or a bottle, but was dismayed as instead the girl rooted around and pulled out a package of chewing gum, nonchalantly unwrapped a piece and folded it into her mouth.
By now, she could feel the baby’s screams in the pit of her stomach. She’d always had a soft spot for the babies in the foster homes she’d been in. Not only were they helpless and motherless, but they were almost always happy to snuggle in her arms while she crooned and rocked them. They were never too busy. She had passed many lonely rainy afternoons, rocking first one baby, and then another, singing them lullabies she made up on the spot and playing “This Little Piggy Went to Market”. The sound of a baby crying, any baby, had always twisted her gut, made her feel sick.
Grabbing the young woman by the shoulders and shaking her was her first thought, but, she doubted that doing so would quiet the baby. Maybe she could play up on the girl’s maternal pride, for despite her age, the baby obviously belonged to her.
Pitching her voice above the screams, she yelled, “Is it a boy or a girl?”
The girl’s head snapped up, surprised that she wasn’t alone.
“A girl,” she yelled back. She bent over the cart and patted the wailing infant gently on the belly, studying her as if she were a science experiment that was going horribly wrong, but made no move to provide comfort.
“She cries like this a lot.” She looked up, making eye contact for the first time and Lisa noticed the nearly purple depressions beneath her eyes. “I don’t know,” she shook her head. “I feed her, change her, walk her. She just screams. Sometimes, I just can’t take it anymore,” her voice quavered, “then I put her down for a minute, ya know? And just chill.”
The baby was red and sweating from exertion, her little face screwed up in an expression of infant rage. Her breathing was coming in quick gasps and sobs and she sounded as if she were going hoarse. A few people slowed as they went by the aisle, peering in their direction as if they were expecting to see some poor infant being murdered.
She had never before been so desperate to make a noise stop.
“Could I hold her?” she yelled.
Now the young mother was surprised. Her look said ‘why would anyone want to?’ but after a second’s hesitation, she nodded. Lisa reached down into the shopping cart, easing her right hand under the baby’s head, cringing as she felt the hard metal of the cart against the back of her fingers through the thin, discolored blanket.
Remembering a colicky baby in one of the homes she’d lived in, she recalled a trick the harried foster mother had shown her. Very gently she laid the baby, still screaming her near-hoarse cry, face-down over her left arm, with her head resting by her elbow and one thigh securely held in her left hand. With her right hand, she carefully stroked the tiny back and at the same time, she paced a few steps in each direction.
The effect was the same as if the baby had come with an on-off switch, and she had turned it off.
Silence.
Well, almost silence. Little huffs and sobs still wracked the small, damp body. A man in the next aisle muttered, “Thank God!” loud enough for the two women to hear, and a woman was heard shushing him.
The young mother stared, open-mouthed, as Lisa paced left and right across the aisle with the now quiet babe.
“Wow! She really likes you! She always cries this time of day, no matter what I do.” The young girl stood still for a minute, watching warily. “Look, I know I’m asking a lot, but I really need to run to the bathroom and there’s no way to hold her there, and she’ll start crying again, anyway. Could you hold her for just five minutes, please?”
Lisa found that quieting the baby had left her feeling rather all-powerful and benevolent. Poor girl, she thought. Too young to be on her own with a baby, she looked like she needed nothing so much as a hot bath and a long nap. A few minutes wouldn’t hurt anything.
“Go on,” she waved a carefully manicured hand in the direction of the ladies’ room. “Take your time. I can read a little more of my book while we wait.”
"I just want to grab a few things on my way back.” She was already backing away, down the aisle, away from both of them. “Not five minutes!”
Coming back toward them, the girl reached over, grasped a tiny hand and gave it a kiss before turning a relieved smile on Lisa.
“Back in a few,” the girl sang as she ran from the aisle.
Retrieving her book from the shelf, Lisa tried to open it with the fingers of her right hand. It took a few minutes to get to the right page and she’d grumbled as she’d dropped the book once. She’d never noticed that it took two hands to read a book before. So much for passing the time.
When she finally managed to finish the first chapter, with much fumbling and muttering, she glanced up to see if the girl was back yet, then started on the second one. Finishing the second chapter, she walked to the end of the aisle and peer and looked around.
She had said ‘take your time’ and the girl had mentioned picking up a few things, but she had left her cart here. How much could she carry?
Pacing slowly up and down the book and magazine aisle with the baby a dead weight on her arm, she debated going to look for the baby’s mother, but was afraid she’d come back looking for her child, and that they’d miss each other. After another few minutes, she decided to risk it, tucked the book she’d been reading under her arm, swung the diaper bag over her right shoulder, and turned the corner out of the book aisle and onto the larger one that ran the width of the store.
Looking carefully in each direction, she made a quick loop of the store, peering up each aisle as she did.
Surely, she thought, as she came to each new aisle, the girl will be in this row agonizing over which brand of shampoo to buy, or what kind of cookies to get. Maybe she just got distracted by a rack of CDs or a new video game. When she got back to “Books and Magazines”, she turned around and did the whole thing over and over, round and round unable to think of anything else to do.
Twenty or twenty-five minutes had passed, and she was irritated at being so taken advantage of. What was that girl doing? Having dinner? Her arm felt as if it were going to fall off and her shoulder ached. She was mentally berating herself for getting into such a mess, when she felt her left arm grow very warm, and then very cool.
Great, she thought. Was it good luck if a baby peed on you? Or was that just when a bird pooped on your car?
“Well,” she muttered to the child, “at least I’m wearing short sleeves.”
Where to change the baby? She couldn’t just lie her on the thin cotton blanket, as her mother had. Heading for the changing area in the Ladies’ room, it struck her that she hadn’t looked there for the mother. She raced to the bathroom, half convinced that she’d find the girl passed out in one of the stalls, or simply taking her time applying make-up. When she threw open the door, she scared a small boy washing his hands at the sink with his mother. The bathroom was empty except for them.
Feeling like a thief, she dug into the diaper bag, and pulled out the only disposable diaper and a somewhat cleaner, though obviously second-hand, sleeper. She hated to risk waking the child, but hated the feeling of being peed on even more.
As soon as she shifted the baby onto the changing table, the little body arched and a small whimpering sound escaped her, but then she quieted.
It had been some time since she had changed a baby. The tape on the diaper stuck to her thumbnail and pulled off a big chunk of her nail polish. The baby watched her intently the entire time, her blue eyes large and owlish, one fist stuffed in her mouth.
There was a small travel-size package of wipes in the diaper bag and she used 3 or 4 of them, giving the baby a mini-bath. The creases of the baby’s arms and legs and neck had baby powder and sweat caked in them, and her tiny bottom was an angry pink. Since the stained and spit-up-on blue sleeper the child was wearing was wet through, she slipped the remaining outfit onto the now-quiet baby.
“All dry, Baby-face.” She looked down at her own dark green blouse, with the extra dark spot just above the waist. “At least one of us is. Now I see your mother’s point about using the Ladies’ Room,” she whispered. “There really is no where to put you down. I should have skipped that cup of coffee before I left work.”
Holding the baby on the table with one hand, she rifled uneasily through the diaper bag, looking for anything that would give her a clue; a wallet, checkbook, an envelope with a return address, a bill with a name on it. It had seemed wrong to search the girls’ bag before, but now she was panicking. All she found were gum wrappers, the bottle she’d just fed the baby, and the travel size package of baby wipes. The zippered part of the bag, where you might put papers, money, an I.D. or checkbook contained only two sticks of gum and a sanitary pad.
Running a critical eye over the baby, she noticed her belly button was totally healed, and she could hold her own head up, but it was wobbly. She doubted the infant was more than a month or six weeks old. Scooping the baby up she threw the thin, stained receiving blanket over her shoulder to protect her clothing from further mishaps and gathered up the useless diaper bag.
In college she’d taken only business and computer courses and wondered now if a course or two in Early Childhood Ed wouldn’t have been a good choice. Even her time management courses weren’t doing her any good at the moment!
Not that those courses did me much good job-wise, she thought wryly. Her job wasn’t what she’d dreamed of when she’d been going to school. The dreams hadn’t included a boss, just an interesting job and an excellent paycheck.
A voice came over the store speakers, interrupting her thoughts, announcing that the store was closing in ten minutes and asking that everyone bring their purchases to the front of the store, then switched back to The Beatles singing ‘Hey, Jude’.

(Possibly, this would be the end of 'chapter 1'. Not sure)


Now what? Her heart dropped. She had to decide what to do. Panic set in as she trailed slowly up and down the aisles of the infants’ department. She held her cell phone in her trembling hand. Push 9-1-1! Just do it and get it over with!
She imagined what would happen if she did. The police would come, take her statement, ask lots of questions. They would take the baby, though at this hour on a Friday, they would take her to the hospital, where she would stay until a social worker from CPS could get out there on Monday. Then, the child would be placed in a foster home. She looked down a the baby again, and blue eyes looked trustingly back up. She remembered how lovingly the young mother had kissed her babe’s fingers, how she’d gently patted the screaming infant’s belly.
She’d had seemed incompetent maybe neglectful, but not abusive. Throwing this babe into the system wouldn’t give her mother the skills to take care of her.
What if I just wait till Monday? Keeps the baby from spending a weekend in the hospital; gives that poor girl a chance to change her mind, wise up. She was so young, too young and didn’t look like she had two nickels to rub together. CPS will put her through hell. Just for the weekend. If I find her, I’ll threaten to call CPS unless she takes some parenting classes. If I don’t, I can still call CPS.
Decision made, but heart pounding, she grabbed an abandoned shopping cart, struggled to push it with one hand while snuggling the baby with the other. Putting a can of formula in the cart, she remembered how much the puppies at one of her foster homes had eaten, and put two more in beside it, then picked out two baby bottles with silly designs on them, a dozen small disposable diapers, and a super-size container of baby wipes.
Going quickly through a bin marked ‘clearance’, she found a soft, thick, baby size quilt, on sale for $6.00 because it was nearly summer and no one was buying heavy, warm things, put it in the bottom of the cart and laid the baby on top. Then, she simply stood and stretched her throbbing arms above her head for a minute. Leaving the department, she noticed the clearance rack had some cute one-piece outfits hanging on it and decided to spring for one of those, too.
Anxious about whether or not this was a good idea, and where else she might look for the baby’s mother, she was taken off guard when the cashier at the check-out exclaimed, “Ooooh, what a pretty baby. How old is she?”
She looked down at the infant, dressed now in the pink sleeper, her dark brown fringe of hair falling on her forehead, her eyes large and owlish, and smiled. And stalled.
Even a babysitter would know the age of the baby she was caring for.
“One month,” she blurted, hoping she was at least close.
“Wow, she’s small for a month, huh? How much does she weigh? My nephew is six weeks old and he’s much bigger.”
“Well, babies are all so different, aren’t they,” she answered, distractedly, while thinking, how much does she weigh?! Having carried the baby all over the store for hours, she was glad she wasn’t any heavier! Her arm would ache for days as it was. “They grow so fast! What’s your nephew’s name?”
The clerk rambled on and on. The woman wouldn’t be asking any more questions; she was too busy talking about her nephew.
Surely, she thought, paying the woman at the check out the astounding sum of $72, the baby’s mother would be back tomorrow, contrite, concerned and grateful. She’d bring the baby back to the store first thing in the morning, and wait for the mother to return! Creeping through the alarm system at the door, she half-expected the alarm to alert the clerks that she was kidnapping a child.
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#6 of 15 Old 10-02-2006, 11:15 AM
 
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Dear Red,

I tried to do a close reading and I only got halfway. I'll try to finish it as soon as I can.

You've got a good story going here. If I can give you one general criticism it's that you sometimes don't write enough. Since you do write well enough this should not be a problem.

I'll add something a bit personal. As you no doubt know, I am not a mother, but a father. Your story might (to some) fall under the category of some sort of "chick lit". But it is, in fact, very compelling. I would like to encourage you to keep your potential male readers in mind. They will often have a different base knowledge of some of the stuff you are talking about. This does not mean that you have to define everything that you do. Again, it may just mean that you have to expand on some of your descriptions a bit.

Here are my comments, in brackets.

Chapter 1
Shopping

A new thought came to Lisa Clark as she studied the tiny infant lying in her aching arms. Her stomach twisted and twin trickles of sweat ran from her underarms as the thought drummed repeatedly through her head.

[This makes it appear that there were two trickles of sweat running from each of her underarms. When you use the plural “trickles” the “twin” will be understood.]

What if she doesn’t come back?

She remembered how tenderly the too-young mother had kissed her infant’s fingers before (putting down the baby and) darting from the aisle. Had she run straight for the exit?

[You need to tell us what the mother physically with the baby before running down the aisle. But you may have done this in some prelude before this chapter. If you didn’t, this is a perfect place to add more detail about the mother. If you did, then you can probably ignore this comment.]

“A quiet weekend, an afternoon on the beach, a few drinks tomorrow night at Rocky’s with Julie,” she muttered. “I wasn’t planning on an evening of babysitting!”

[“I wasn’t planning an evening of babysitting implies that Lisa has already made her decision about the baby, when in fact, the theme of the first chapter is about her making this decision. Most people would have 1) chased the mother down the aisle or 2) told the store manager. Lisa hasn’t. The fact that she did neither of these things already argues her confusion (about what she wants to do). The fact that she then “does nothing” and waits for the mother, something that she talks herself into believing is neutral or even honorable, is going to instead pull her into her actual decision. You are setting up the idea in this chapter (and doing very well) that Lisa doesn’t really understand herself yet. The reason why she doesn’t and the resolution of this tension is what the book is about.]

It had been a long week. The weather had turned unseasonably hot and muggy for spring, she’d gotten a flat tire in rush hour traffic, and Mr. Harker, her boss, had been in a nasty mood. The newest employee in the offices of a fashion accessory wholesaler, she’d (Lisa) soon discovered why there had been an opening. Mr. Harker took his bad moods out on his most recent hiree. She hated the job, hated her boss and loathed the very idea of going in each morning.

[“Mr. Harker” is a very good name to use for her boss. It captures him well. I think you might want to replace “she’d” with “Lisa” here. When you introduce a new character and that character is not intimate with your main character, and you want to talk about the relationship of that character to your character, you should often use your character’s name. This introduces an emotional space between (in this case) between Harker and Lisa, which is part of what you are trying to convey.]


What am I going to do about this baby? Awkwardly pushing her hair out of her eyes with one (her) wrist, she began circling the store, just as her thoughts circled in her head.

[You should say her wrist, unless you are trying to say that for some reason she didn’t push her hair out of her eyes with both wrists. As was the case with the trickles of sweat, while it is absolutely necessary to introduce these natural movements in your descriptions of action, since they can convey so much about the mental states of your characters, you should in a way do this as unobtrusively as possible. In the case of the wrist, when you specifically say “one” the reader will tend to pause and say to herself “why just one”?]

How long should I wait before I call someone? Just the thought of alerting the authorities made her feel nauseous.

[You can add more here, because her not immediately calling someone is a problem and this problem is what is giving this chapter its energy. You could say something between these two sentences like “She knew she should call someone right away. If someone else was in this spot and asked her what to do, she would tell that person to call someone right away. But for some reason, just the thought of alerting the authorities herself made her fell nauseous.”]

She used her cell phone and tried to call her mother or Julie, her best friend, for advice. Her mother would say to call the police, she was certain. But she and Julie had met in foster care, and both had experienced the horrors of having no family to call their own, no one to protect them. She wondered what Julie would do.

[Now you are starting to get to the meat of what’s going on in Lisa’s head. But the sentence “But she and Julie...” is carrying to much weight right here. As a reader, I want to know why she doesn’t explicitly consider Julie to be her sister. The fact that she does not seem to regard her as a sister may imply something about their relationship that you might want to further allude to here. Also, your statement about the horrors of foster care is going to disorient a lot of readers who may not have experience with foster care or who may have had good experiences of it. It is clear that Lisa thought the experience was horrible, but you’ve put it here like it is a point of fact (as it may well be) and not Lisa’s own opinion. It would be all right here to have Lisa remember something about it that would convey the same thing as your categorical statement. Because this sentence is the key to why in this chapter she does what she does.]

No one answered either phone, and there was no message she could think of to leave on their answering machines, so she was back to figuring it out on her own.

[This sentence is a bit awkward. You might rewrite it as “No one answered the phone. She could think of no message to leave so she was back to figuring it out on her own.” “No one answered the phone” is a good curt statement and making it its own sentence conveys the finality of it. You don’t need to talk about an answering machine because the idea of leaving a message already implies this.]

“This is not the evening I had planned,” she grumbled aloud to the quiet baby. “My arm is about to drop off! Five minutes. That’s what your mother said. Five minutes! And here we are, walking till my feet blister, an hour and a half later!”

[Okay, so now I know that the mother handed her the baby. Good. I would like to see this part though. It is very good that you have her, in effect, arguing with and blaming the baby. This is very natural.]

The baby squirmed on her arm and Lisa changed her tone, crooning the rest of her irritation as if it were soothing words. “All I wanted was a book. Some hot pirate romance. Salt spray, crashing waves, helpless maiden.” She giggled. “So, I found a real helpless maiden, didn’t I? Know any pirates, kiddo? It’s Friday night and I don’t have a date.”

[This is good too, but don’t have her giggle. Overall this isn’t a giggling matter. What you might want her to do here is not giggle, but sigh, because the words she then says are wonderfully ironic.]

This earned her an odd look from a slim businesswoman, as she walked past.

[What earned her the odd look? What she said or the fact that she seemed to be having an earnest conversation with the baby. I think the latter, because the businesswoman is walking past and this implies that she only would have heard part of Lisa’s statement. Unless the very last thing she says (it it’s short) would earn such a look, you might have to say that “Her earnest words to the baby earned…”

“Great, now I’m talking to myself.” Another squirm, a mewling cry. “No, you’re right, I’m talking to you. Gettin’ hungry? Let’s go eat. You’ll love the menu here,” she joked, in a quieter voice as she walked up to order some food.

[Good dialogue. But we can see the joke, so you don’t have to also tell us it’s a joke.]

“Excuse me?” said the woman behind the lunch counter.

[I think the woman behind the lunch counter would say Yes?, Lisa had already mumbled something that the woman had been unable to hear.

“Oh, ah, nothing. I just wanted to order.” She refrained from talking aloud to the baby until she had her dinner; a B.L.T., chips and iced tea. Balancing the tray in one hand and the baby in the other, diaper bag slung over her shoulder and her book tucked under her arm, she barely managed to maneuver the four feet to the first table without dropping anything. Sliding awkwardly into the attached plastic seat, she muttered, “Boy, oh boy, do I have a few things to say to your mother when she gets back.”

[You can cut “aloud” and replace “had her dinner” with finished her dinner. This sentence needs to also go at the end of the paragraph, since you have her having her dinner before she starts it and have her talking to the baby after you tell us she refrained from this. Unless, of course, the first part of the sentence is referring to something that Lisa is thinking while she is getting her food. In that case, you will have to say so.]

Popping a discolored plastic bottle of formula into the waiting, tiny mouth, she began speaking in that sing-song way people sometimes use on babies.

[You might want to have her feed the baby before she feeds herself to indicate her desire to mother it. You will have to have her get the bottle out of the bag and, in fact, you will have to have her search the bag (if she didn’t do this already in the section you didn’t post. And, in fact, she would probably search the bag to try to find out something about the baby and the mother. So the search needs its own account. As for the bottle, Lisa probably needs to open it up and smell it or something since she herself did not put the liquid in it. Is it spoiled? Finally, when she talks to the baby, you just need to say that she spoke baby talk to it; everyone will know exactly what you mean.]

“I could be an axe murderer, or one of those whackos who sells babies on the Internet. Yes, I could.” At this, the baby stopped sucking and stared at her wide-eyed for a moment. Then, apparently deciding that she was neither, began to suckle again.

[What she says is a good thing for her to thing WHILE she’s talking to the baby, but it’s sort of creepy to be hearing her actually say it to the baby, and in baby talk yet. However, I see what you are trying to do here. You can have her think it and have the baby react as though it is reading her mind. Of course it isn’t, but relating her thoughts to its actions would be a very good image.]

“What’s your name? Where did your mother go?” she whispered. Huge blue eyes stared trustingly up at her, but the babe offered no information.

[You have to say that Lisa stopped talking baby talk here and then said this. And this is very good. Don’t call the baby a babe, though. A “babe” is something else to many people.]

It hadn’t occurred to her to ask the mother for her name, or even the baby’s name, so she couldn’t very well page her. The store wasn’t big enough for her to have missed her, anyway. She had a vision of herself calling the police, the young mother returning, apologetic and frightened, having some excuse for her absence.

[Not sure what you mean when you say “the store wasn’t big enough to have missed her. Who missed her?]

Balancing the babe against her shoulder, she gently burped her. Rubbing her cheek against the downy head, she noticed the usual sweet aroma babies gave off was missing, replaced with old urine, spit-up baby formula and the hot, sharp smell of a baby who has cried a long time. She cradled the infant again in her left arm as she tried to eat with her right.

[Nice scene over all, but it has some problems. When you say that the sweet aroma was replaced, you are implying that she had already smelled this on the baby. So the stuff you say after it is jarring, since none of the stuff that would produce those smells has happened since she got the baby. All you would need to do is to is say “instead of the usual sweet aroma…” Also, you should now go back and delete the line where you imply that she is going not talk to the baby until she finishes her dinner, because she is now feeding the baby and eating dinner at the same time.]

Glancing down at the cover of the paperback she’d picked out, she studied the half-naked young woman who was tied to the mast, long hair falling in a wild mass to her waist. An incredibly handsome pirate, despite a rather sinister-looking eye-patch, held a cutlass above her. His own hair fell thickly past his broad shoulders, and a neat beard covered the lower half of his face. Just two hours ago she’d thought it was the perfect book; an innocent young woman who stows-away, a commanding-yet-understanding and incredibly sexy pirate, plenty of passion, adventure and romance.

[You don’t tell us where she got the book or where she has been keeping it. She could take it out of her purse, but you have just told us that her hands are full. Having her have the book out at all, implying that she’s thinking of reading it, is jarring given what’s going on in the chapter. You could, however, introduce the book in the introduction itself. She is going to buy this book. She’s just put it on the table. But you still have to get it one the table explicitly, fitting it in with the fact that she has been carrying the baby, the tray, the diaper bag and her purse.]
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#7 of 15 Old 10-03-2006, 09:38 AM
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Unagidon, May I just call you "master" from now on?

A 'close reading'? Is that really what this is called? Where do you learn to do this? THis is a phenomenal help! I can't believe how much difference this is going to make!

One question before I go re-read and re-write....This book starts with Lisa already holding the baby. Over the next chpater or so, the whole scene, with the mother leaving the child, is explained. Do you think it's ok for the reader to have to wait to get the whole story? Is it confusing, like when the mother kissed the baby's fingers and ran, did that confuse you because you didn't know how LIsa came to be holding the baby?

I guess I want to know if you think it's ok to fill in the back story as I go.

Are you published? You're writing is so strong and your editing rocks! If you aren't, you should be!

Again, thanks for such a thoughtful, and time-consuming, reply!
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#8 of 15 Old 10-03-2006, 10:51 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Red View Post
Unagidon, May I just call you "master" from now on?

A 'close reading'? Is that really what this is called? Where do you learn to do this? THis is a phenomenal help! I can't believe how much difference this is going to make!

One question before I go re-read and re-write....This book starts with Lisa already holding the baby. Over the next chpater or so, the whole scene, with the mother leaving the child, is explained. Do you think it's ok for the reader to have to wait to get the whole story? Is it confusing, like when the mother kissed the baby's fingers and ran, did that confuse you because you didn't know how LIsa came to be holding the baby?

I guess I want to know if you think it's ok to fill in the back story as I go.

Are you published? You're writing is so strong and your editing rocks! If you aren't, you should be!

Again, thanks for such a thoughtful, and time-consuming, reply!
Thank you for the compliment. Reading over my comments (which I wrote on my hour and ten minute commute (hint: if you want to find time to write every day, move very far away from where you work) I can see that they are full of mispellings. I probably should have done a "close reading" of my own comments too.

If you introduced how Lisa got the baby before chapter one, you have created a prologue. Prologues are a device that usually refer to some sort of background action that is distant from the main story. Blatty in the Exorcist (both the book and the movie) use a prologue to tell us about the exorcisms in general and the main exorcist in particular who then does not appear for a couple of hundred pages. As a stylistic device, it can also be used to introduce something major that ties the rest of the story together, IF the rest of the story is made up of a bunch of parts. Think of the Airport movies or maybe a book someone will eventually write about the World Trade Centers, where the book will no doubt open with the 9/11 attack then go into a group of individual stories.

Neither of these are what's going on in your story so it is probably better to put the whole Lisa gets the baby thing in Chapter One.

Now Lisa no doubt is just shopping at first, so you still have the question of how to get us interested in Lisa before the interesting thing happens to her. You have to hook the reader in your first paragraph. (Of course, after you win your Pulitzer, you will get several more paragraphs of room to hook your reader). A book that does this well is Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. The character he introduces is just standing in a department store. This character is sort of a freak, so Toole captures us by describing him against his mundane surroundings. However, you can use this too by using the first chapter to make Lisa stand out in some way. You can also use it by setting her up as a sort of "normal" person who is just about to have a major event fall right on top of her head.

I've jumped ahead of myself and have already suggested that you should start witht the story of Lisa getting the baby in the first place. You could actually make that your chapter one and the piece your posted chapter two. You could make chapter one very short and overall it could be powerful is you made it rather mundane, as though being handed a baby in a store is the most natural thing to happen in the world. You could structure this by giving us your best one paragraph physical description of Lisa. You could have the mother sort of hanging around in the background. After all, the mother is making a choice here. Why choose Lisa? In a way, you task in your first paragraph is to make the reader "choose" Lisa too.

You probably, for technical reasons, don't want to put the handoff later in the story unless there is some deep dark mystery attached to the whole thing that you need to reveal later. And I do mean deep dark mystery. But it looks to me like you already have such a mystery in Lisa's actions. So adding another one (and that is what the "tell us later" device does) might be confusing..

I have not been published, mostly because writing is a sort of hobby for me. Like most people that like to write, I do of course fantasize about doing it for a living, especially because I never seem to have writer's block or anything like that. But again, thank you for your compliments.

I will try to do the other part of your chapter tonight.
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#9 of 15 Old 10-03-2006, 12:01 PM
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I edited the first part of the chapter, to get the feel of what you were saying. That, naturally, led to editing the second part. I'm deleting the 'old' version, and putting up the new in the original post, so as not to take over the board!


This was pretty quick, so there are more changes I want to make, now! I swear, I could just edit this one thing for the rest of my life!


I really think you should start submitting things! Your writing is clean and concise, interesting and insightful. These are not meant as 'compliments', but simple truths.


I'm not sure about moving around Lisa being given the baby. It's a good hook, gets your attention. I'll have to think hard about how else I could do that.


Thanks for the help!
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#10 of 15 Old 10-03-2006, 02:23 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Unagidon,

I quite like the Japanese bath house piece. Before you submit it, I would re-read it with an eye toward traveler's who have never been to Japan, and do not immediately recognize some of the terms or context.

i.e. second pp. you mention "ofuro" without really giving the unfamiliar reader the connection or definition.

"Before you actually go into the bathing area, which can be entered through the door that you did not use to enter the changing room in the first place (be careful about this!)" [I like the joke, but, the first part is too wordy for me. Perhaps, "can be entered through the second door, not the one through which you entered the changing room" Maybe that's just as wordy. Anyway, it's funny, but a tiny bit unwieldy.]

"Bathing in Japan has always had its communal side, perhaps because early Japanese did not know that one could heat water with fire." [I don't get it]

"it is considered extremely rude to piss in an ofuro" [don't like the use of piss here. too crass sounding for an otherwise refined-sounding piece. any number of expressions would fit more nicely here "relieve oneself" "urinate" whatever.

Also, I don't quite get the sake paragraph. Don't know the biology of why a longer intesting would make sake hit you harder.

Polish it a bit, and I think it would be a great submission. I wish I still had mine that I wrote about flying on the "vuelo del lechero" (or milkman's flight) from Costa Rica to Guatemala with connections in Managua AND San Salvador. The trip itself screamed out "THIS IS THE THIRD WORLD" that you couldn't help but find it eye-wateringly hysterical (if you took it seriously it would just bring on a depression). I had a fun piece that I wrote actually as a letter home, then submitted it to a travel magazine here in Costa Rica. I ended up getting hired as a writer/editor for that magazine because of it! In this type of writing I think you and I share a similar style A sort of Douglas Adams worldview.
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#11 of 15 Old 10-03-2006, 02:30 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Red,

I just got another translation assignment for today. I will try to get back to Lisa and the baby as soon as I can!

Judi

Unagidon,

there is a place where you used "affect" and it should have been "effect", you'll find it.

j.
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#12 of 15 Old 10-03-2006, 10:40 PM
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Twilight girl, you're first priority musst be your Twilight Girl, not my Lisa or fitting in everything! Worry not!


Find time for your stuff! I'd love to read more of your work.
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#13 of 15 Old 10-05-2006, 12:04 PM
 
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OK, Red. The part you revised is solid and excellent except for a couple of typos. You now have a firm foundation indeed for what is to come. You will of course go back and revise it continually and what the readers see when the day comes for them to line up at your table for your autograph at the bookstore may hardly look like what it looks like today. But that's how it's done.

Here's the next part.

----------------

In fact, just a few hours ago, she’d been so caught up in the story she might have finished the first chapter right there in the store. But the piercing screams being emitted from a tiny infant a few aisles away, had made it impossible for her to concentrate. She doubted there had been many crying babies on ships.
Especially pirate ships.

[Good effect. You can intensify it by shortening the time period to, maybe, 30 minutes. In a way, part of what you are doing is talking about how something that is seemingly innocent can change a person’s life instantly.]

When the infant’s screams became louder, rounded the end of the aisle, and hit a new peak in the area of the movie magazines, just at the other end of the short row of paperbacks, Lisa peeked over the top of the pirate book. Bouncing a tiny, but very vocal baby irritably in her arms, was a girl of maybe 15 or 16, wearing a tiny black t-shirt that had “Naughty Girl” across the front of it in glitter. Her muddy brown hair hung lank and greasy.
“Oh, please, shut up!” the girl had muttered under her breath. She’d been trying to push a shopping cart with one hand and jiggle the baby with the other but now gave up and set the howling, red-faced infant down on a thin receiving blanket on the bottom of the metal cart. As the tiny body came in contact with the hard surface, the screaming reached a new level of intensity.

[You might just want to say “got louder” here instead of “reached a new level of intensity”. I know that you are using intensity for effect, you are putting the baby in contact with a hard surface and showing her reaction. Since she’s just a baby, her reaction will seem more natural if it is expressed more simply.]

The girl began digging through a faded diaper bag perched on the seat of the cart.
Let her find that baby a pacifier, Lisa had thought, or a bottle, but was dismayed as instead the girl rooted around and pulled out a package of chewing gum, nonchalantly unwrapped a piece and folded it into her mouth.

[You might want to change nonchalantly to nervously since this would fit in better with the mental state you showed her to be in in the earlier paragraph.]

By now, she could feel the baby’s screams in the pit of her stomach. She’d always had a soft spot for the babies in the foster homes she’d been in.

[Don’t want to interrupt your flow here, but the contrast between “pit of stomach” and “soft spot” is very good.]

Not only were they helpless and motherless, but they were almost always happy to snuggle in her arms while she crooned and rocked them. They were never too busy [for her]. She had passed many lonely rainy afternoons, rocking first one baby, and then another, singing them lullabies she made up on the spot and playing “This Little Piggy Went to Market”. The sound of a baby crying, any baby, had always twisted her gut, made her feel sick.

[Here, you might replace gut with inside, because now you don’t want a contrast, you want smoothness since you are talking about Lisa’s maternal instincts.]

Grabbing the young woman by the shoulders and shaking her was her first thought, but, she doubted that doing so would quiet the baby.

[You are trying to communicate something here by saying “shaking her” and I think that you are trying to say that Lisa is annoyed with the girl. Lisa is feeling a lot of things here and you are handing that extremely well. But you could do a little expansion here. You can say more explicitly what Lisa is feeling and you could also say why. For example, you could say something like “the young woman was acting just like a teenager and this aggravated Lisa so much that she wanted to shake her.”]

Maybe she could play up on the girl’s maternal pride, for despite her age, the baby obviously belonged to her.

[If you do something like I suggested above, you would then have to modify this last sentence to say “But maybe she could play up the girl’s maternal pride. For despite her age, it somehow seemed obvious that the baby belonged to her.” You can have Lisa discover things from sentence to sentence and this will make her more and more interesting to the readers who are, after all, discovering both Lisa and the events in the story itself.]

Pitching her voice above the screams, she yelled, “Is it a boy or a girl?”

[Lisa should lower her voice instead of raising it. This will both get the girl’s attention better and will be less likely to be threatening. This will also allow Lisa to get closer to the girl, which is also something she needs to do.]

The girl’s head snapped up, surprised that she wasn’t alone.
“A girl,” she yelled back.

[You can use this moment where the girl speaks to introduce her to us, for she doesn’t really begin to exist as a character to us (as opposed to an object that Lisa is observing) until this moment. Yelling could tell us something about the girl, but you have an opportunity to do much more than this. Something like:

“The girl’s head snapped up, surprised that she wasn’t alone. She looked at Lisa, first startled, then angry, then a bit confused, then a bit sad.

“A girl,” she said softly.]

She bent over the cart and patted the wailing infant gently on the belly, studying her as if she were a science experiment that was going horribly wrong, but made no move to provide comfort.

“She cries like this a lot.” She looked up, making eye contact for the first time and Lisa noticed the nearly purple depressions beneath her eyes.

[Good image, but Lisa would have seen these depressions already when the girl’s head snapped up. Also, the reader would assume that the girl would have made eye contact already, if only to identify who the stranger was who was asking her the question. You might get more if you say something like “She cries like this a lot.” The girl seemed to have trouble maintaining eye contact with Lisa. [And here you could now do a deeper physical description of the girl.] P// The girl had a pale waxy complexion and deep purple circles under her eyes. Lisa noticed that she had a bit of makeup on, but it looked like it had been applied quickly and not well and overall the girl looked like someone who had fallen asleep during a long bus ride and had awaked suddenly at the end of the line.”]

“I don’t know,” she [said the girl shaking] shook her head. “I feed her, change her, walk her. She just screams. Sometimes, I just can’t take it anymore,” her voice quavered, “then I put her down for a minute, ya know? And just chill.”
The baby was red and sweating from exertion, her little face screwed up in an expression of infant rage. Her breathing was coming in quick gasps and sobs and she sounded as if she were going hoarse. A few people slowed as they went by the aisle, peering in their direction as if they were expecting to see some poor infant being murdered.

[Good idea to have people do this. But you could play here and try to put the idea of what they were expecting into their body language. “A few people slowed as they went by the aisle, lingering perhaps a bit too long while they inspected the baby and the scene out of the corners of their eyes.]


She [Lisa] had never before been so desperate to make a noise stop.

“Could I hold her?” she yelled.

[Babies can cry loudly, but if a baby is crying loudly enough where you have to yell to be heard over it, the baby is probably in serious trouble and this would have brought all the customers and staff in the store running. Overall you seem to want to show the relentlessness of the baby’s crying and you don’t need to make the baby’s crying especially loud to do this. You have already said that the baby is getting hoarse, and a hoarse baby is going to cry in gasps that will get progressively softer. So here, Lisa doesn’t have to yell. She should ask quietly and softly, because she doesn’t want to spook the mother.]

Now the young mother was surprised. Her look said ‘why would anyone want to?’ but after a second’s hesitation, she nodded. Lisa reached down into the shopping cart, easing her right hand under the baby’s head, cringing as she felt the hard metal of the cart against the back of her fingers through the thin, discolored blanket.

[Lisa should wince, not cringe.]

Remembering a colicky baby in one of the homes she’d lived in, she recalled a trick the harried foster mother had shown her. Very gently she laid the baby, still screaming her near-hoarse cry, face-down over her left arm, with her head resting by her elbow and one thigh securely held in her left hand. With her right hand, she carefully stroked the tiny back and at the same time, she paced a few steps in each direction.

The effect was the same as if the baby had come with an on-off switch, and she had turned it off.

Silence.

Well, almost silence. Little huffs and sobs still wracked the small, damp body. A man in the next aisle muttered, “Thank God!” loud enough for the two women to hear, and a woman was heard shushing him.

The young mother stared, open-mouthed, as Lisa paced left and right across the aisle with the now quiet babe.

“Wow! She really likes you! She always cries this time of day, no matter what I do.” The young girl stood still for a minute, watching warily. “Look, I know I’m asking a lot, but I really need to run to the bathroom and there’s no way to hold her there, and she’ll start crying again, anyway. Could you hold her for just five minutes, please?”

[This passage is a VERY pivotal one for your whole book and you need to spend a lot of time crafting it. This is the passage where the mother decides to abandon her baby. You have to think about what the mother is going to do later in the book (whether she reappears in some form or another or not) and it is this passage where you set up everything that you want the reader to think about the mother going forward.

Your description of the mother so far sets her up as a type, but in this passage she is going to make a critical moral choice and it is here that she reveals to us who she really is. Right now, she looks like she is handing the baby off without a second thought, as though she was waiting for the baby to simply calm down a bit before she cleared away a discrete spot among the bath towels on the shelves to abandon her. This may in fact be the image you want to project, but if it is, you need to now revisit the rest of your description of the girl to set her up more firmly that way.

Now I would suggest that you put in some more ambiguity here. If the mother was this bad, the reader is going to wonder why she didn’t just stick the baby in a dumpster somewhere already. You could expand your earlier description of the baby to show us signs that the mother is trying or was trying in her own way to do the best she can. Unless you are trying to make the mother sound positively evil (and you might want to do this in order to totally write her out of the story) it might be better to make the mother someone who has obviously tried and failed. This could also set up an interesting contrast between the mother and Lisa, because you are setting Lisa up to take over for the mother. Now it is Lisa’s turn to try. Will she fail too? And if you do set up this contrast, you can then also introduce into the book episodes where Lisa’s mothering is (temporarily) failing. Right now, Lisa’s mothering is superior to the baby’s real mother, but as Lisa learns about herself, you might find it helpful so show that Lisa doesn’t know as much about parenting as she first thinks. In fact, if she knew as much about parenting as a real parent does, she would probably be approaching the problem of the baby with more gravity. Parenting is one of the things that the baby can “teach” her and this can be a good focal point for your story of the baby as an independent character in her own right.]


Lisa found that quieting the baby had left her feeling rather all-powerful and benevolent. Poor girl, she thought. Too young to be on her own with a baby, she looked like she needed nothing so much as a hot bath and a long nap. A few minutes wouldn’t hurt anything.

[This is good. We know that Lisa really has no idea what she is getting herself into and this bit of vanity sets Lisa up for part of the lesson she is going to learn in the rest of the book.]

“Go on,” she waved a carefully manicured hand in the direction of the ladies’ room. “Take your time. I can read a little more of my book while we wait.”
"I just want to grab a few things on my way back.” She was already backing away, down the aisle, away from both of them. “Not five minutes!”
Coming back toward them, the girl reached over, grasped a tiny hand and gave it a kiss before turning a relieved smile on Lisa.

[This is good, because it makes the wheel come full circle. When you write the part about kissing the hand, make sure that you write it exactly as you have written it the other times. This will help draw the reader’s mind back to the earlier section.]

“Back in a few,” the girl sang as she ran from the aisle.

[The girl can “sing” here, which can indicate relief. And you are definitely on the right track when you can put the full weight of the girl’s emotion about leaving the baby on a single word. But make sure that that word jibes with how you want the reader to feel about the mother.]

Retrieving her book from the shelf, Lisa tried to open it with the fingers of her right hand. It took a few minutes to get to the right page and she’d grumbled as she’d dropped the book once. She’d never noticed that it took two hands to read a book before. So much for passing the time.

[You need a bit more here. If the mother is only going to go for five minutes, I’m not sure that Lisa would instantly reach for the book. It’s a good image, but she either needs a motivation to do it immediately or you need to have Lisa wait a while before she does this. She might reach for the book as a first act of frustration from waiting too long. Too long would probably be about 20 minutes. But you will probably have to fill those 20 minutes with some more narrative and that narrative could be Lisa thinking about anything; say, for example, about her own childhood. Also, before Lisa picks up the book, you should probably have the baby fall asleep, and I mean really asleep. When you left the baby, it was still fussing.]

When she finally managed to finish the first chapter, with much fumbling and muttering, she glanced up to see if the girl was back yet, then started on the second one. Finishing the second chapter, she walked to the end of the aisle and peer and looked around.

[Chapters are good because they indicate both the fixed passage of time and ‘waiting points’ that Lisa sets for herself. “I’ll just read to the end of the chapter” she thought as the time passed. However, you already told us that Lisa has been reading this book for some time before she meets the baby, so you need to make sure that what you said about it before squares with what you say now.]

She [Lisa] had said [to the mother] ‘take your time’ and the girl had mentioned picking up a few things, but she had left her cart here. How much could she carry?

[Just a comment here. Is there anything in the cart? You might put some things in the cart when we first meet the mother; things that will tell us about the mother. Does it look like she has really been shopping? In a way, the cart could hold all of the mother’s aspirations about the child. In a way, that’s why we all shop and I think your readers could really relate to this.]

Pacing slowly up and down the book and magazine aisle with the baby a dead weight on her arm, she debated going to look for the baby’s mother, but was afraid she’d come back looking for her child, and that they’d miss each other. After another few minutes, she decided to risk it, tucked the book she’d been reading under her arm, swung the diaper bag over her right shoulder, and turned the corner out of the book aisle and onto the larger one that ran the width of the store.

[Dead weight is usually a good image, but it is jarring when referring to a baby. However, it does indicate that the baby is well and truly asleep. But also keep in mind that you have had Lisa hold the baby now for something approaching an hour in the classic colic hold. Her arm must be very tired and possibly sore.]

Looking carefully in each direction, she made a quick loop of the store, peering up each aisle as she did.

[Does she take the cart? You should say. If she leaves the cart, it would mean that she is already suspecting that the mother is gone. You don’t have to say this outright. But you could even indicate this more strongly if Lisa leaves the cart and takes the baby bag. Keep in mind, however, what Lisa is carrying (or going to have to carry) and how she is going to do it and make sure your reader knows.]

Surely, she thought, as she came to each new aisle, the girl will be in this row agonizing over which brand of shampoo to buy, or what kind of cookies to get. Maybe she just got distracted by a rack of CDs or a new video game. When she got back to “Books and Magazines”, she turned around and did the whole thing over and over, round and round unable to think of anything else to do.

[If you put items in the mother’s cart, you can relate back to them as “clues” to where the mother might be.]

Twenty or twenty-five minutes had passed, and she was irritated at being so taken advantage of. What was that girl doing? Having dinner? Her arm felt as if it were going to fall off and her shoulder ached. She was mentally berating herself for getting into such a mess, when she felt her left arm grow very warm, and then very cool.

[Twenty or twenty-five minutes might not be enough. It would be enough if Lisa was standing there. But remember, if Lisa starts moving around the store, and the mother suddenly returns, it will be Lisa that is gone with the baby. So it really has to seem to Lisa that the mother is not coming back.

You could actually have her start wandering from the place she was waiting, but keeping the place in sight at first.]

Great, she thought. Was it good luck if a baby peed on you? Or was that just when a bird pooped on your car?

[The baby has just peed on Lisa, but this is not quite clear. It is good that you are indicating this in a very minimal way, but you need a bit more. Lisa needs some sort of reaction. Reaction first, then thought. And remember the position that the baby is in as far as the reader knows; on it’s stomach on the inside of her forearm. How would Lisa feel that the baby had peed if the baby was wearing a diaper?]

“Well,” she muttered to the child, “at least I’m wearing short sleeves.”
Where to change the baby? She couldn’t just lie [lay] her on the thin cotton blanket, as her mother had. Heading for the changing area in the Ladies’ room, it struck her that she hadn’t looked there for the mother. She raced to the bathroom, half convinced that she’d find the girl passed out in one of the stalls, or simply taking her time applying make-up.

[Lisa shouldn’t race. She has a sleeping baby on her arm. She should rush.

Lisa is starting to make a more complicated moral judgment about the mother at this point, so her thoughts about what she might find in the bathroom are rather crucial and should be handled with care.]

When she threw open the door, she scared a small boy washing his hands at the sink with his mother. The bathroom was empty except for them.

[Lisa wouldn’t throw open the door. She would probably back into it.]

Feeling like a thief, she dug into the diaper bag, and pulled out the only disposable diaper and a somewhat cleaner, though obviously second-hand, sleeper. She hated to risk waking the child, but hated the feeling of being peed on even more.

[Good image and good reaction. But now you need to tell us if that is all that is in the bag. You can put more in there; extraneous baby stuff (like an age inappropriate toy) to tell us more about the mother’s intentions versus her skills.)]

As soon as she shifted the baby onto the changing table, the little body arched and a small whimpering sound escaped her, but then she quieted.

[Say something about what the baby does with its face. Yawns, smacks her lips, or whatever. You have not, in fact, made it altogether clear that the baby has awakened. But in any case, the reader is going to be thinking about the baby’s face.]

It had been some time since she had changed a baby. The tape on the diaper stuck to her thumbnail and pulled off a big chunk of her nail polish. The baby watched her intently the entire time, her blue eyes large and owlish, one fist stuffed in her mouth.
There was a small travel-size package of wipes in the diaper bag and she used 3 or 4 of them, giving the baby a mini-bath. The creases of the baby’s arms and legs and neck had baby powder and sweat caked in them, and her tiny bottom was an angry pink. Since the stained and spit-up-on blue sleeper the child was wearing was wet through, she slipped the remaining outfit onto the now-quiet baby.

“All dry, Baby-face.” She looked down at her own dark green blouse, with the extra dark spot just above the waist. “At least one of us is. Now I see your mother’s point about using the Ladies’ Room,” she whispered. “There really is no where to put you down. I should have skipped that cup of coffee before I left work.”

[This baby must have flooded its diaper, which is another reason why you should expand a bit on what Lisa felt when it happened.]

Holding the baby on the table with one hand, she [now] rifled uneasily through the diaper bag, looking for anything that would give her a clue; a wallet, checkbook, an envelope with a return address, a bill with a name on it. It had seemed wrong to search the girls’ bag before, but now she was [starting to become really concerned] panicking. All she found were gum wrappers, the bottle she’d just fed the baby, and the travel size package of baby wipes. The zippered part of the bag, where you might put papers, money, an I.D. or checkbook contained only two sticks of gum and a sanitary pad.

{It is fine to wait until now to do this search. However, you will need to say when Lisa pulls out the diaper etc. that she rifled through the bag to find the stuff she takes out. That will allow you to delay the search, but will convey that there is other stuff in the bag.]

Running a critical eye over the baby, she noticed her belly button was totally healed, and she could hold her own head up, but it was wobbly. She doubted the infant was more than a month or six weeks old. Scooping the baby up she threw the thin, stained receiving blanket over her shoulder to protect her clothing from further mishaps and gathered up the useless diaper bag.

[Does Lisa have a purse? And does she still have her book? Note too that she was panicking a minute ago and now she seems fine. You need a better emotional transition here.]

In college she’d taken only business and computer courses and wondered now if a course or two in Early Childhood Ed wouldn’t have been a good choice. Even her time management courses weren’t doing her any good at the moment!
Not that those courses did me much good job-wise, she thought wryly. Her job wasn’t what she’d dreamed of when she’d been going to school. The dreams hadn’t included a boss, just an interesting job and an excellent paycheck.
A voice came over the store speakers, interrupting her thoughts, announcing that the store was closing in ten minutes and asking that everyone bring their purchases to the front of the store, then switched back to The Beatles singing ‘Hey, Jude’.

[Very good images here, and you are also adding another motivation for Lisa to keep the baby, which is that she hates her job and is, in general, dissatisfied with her life. It would be a good place to end the chapter, but to do this, you need to add a hook for the next chapter. Maybe something like “Oh, no. The store’s closing. Where the hell is the mother?” Lisa still didn’t know what she was going to do. But she now knew that she had precisely ten minutes to figure it out.]

I won’t go past this point. But I do want to talk a bit about Lisa. Lisa is becoming more three dimensional. One dimension that you need to explore more fully at this point is that of her emotions. I think that Lisa would be the type of a person who controls her emotions. This would fit in with a lot of things that you have said about her and alluded to in what you have said about her past. People like this don’t exactly “panic” or “yell”. Now there are two things here. First, even if they truly are panicking or yelling, they tend not to see themselves doing this in their own minds. I think that you should lower the key of Lisa’s reactions (and I mean her external reactions). Her self control is good, but it can also prove to be an area of vulnerability as your story progresses. Also, when we get to meet Julie, your earlier writing made them too alike in their emotions. I think that Julie is supposed to be more outgoing and blunt and Lisa is supposed to be more introverted (but not quite an introvert) and controlled. So Lisa needs to frequently pause, think, and react slowly. When the time comes when you need her to react quickly or truly panic, this will add true energy to those moments. Beware of using rough emotions in your work. While you have a solid story line, most of what is important and interesting in your story is taking place inside people’s heads. That’s where the real action is. What they do externally is secondary.

Can't wait to read the next part.

Patrick
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Unagidon, I really just can't thank you enough. I'm so glad I put up the first chapter and that you started with it, because I'm much clearer now on where it needs to go and how to get there.


Seriously, were an english major? How do you know all of the detail stuff? (I can't think of how to say it, but things like keep the language smooth where you're playing up maternal instincts, or how to word things for maximum effect.)

I'm so grateful for your time and help.
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Unagidon, I really just can't thank you enough. I'm so glad I put up the first chapter and that you started with it, because I'm much clearer now on where it needs to go and how to get there.


Seriously, were an english major? How do you know all of the detail stuff? (I can't think of how to say it, but things like keep the language smooth where you're playing up maternal instincts, or how to word things for maximum effect.)

I'm so grateful for your time and help.
I am in a strange mood this morning, so I am going to blow whatever image I have created as some sort of a good writer and simply ramble for a while.

I learned about detail stuff by trying to read prose as poetry and by trying to solve problems in my own writing. Writing is about language, and poetry and prose have many of the same problems. When I read something, I try to see what works (or not) on the level of the writing itself and why. I happen to be a fast reader and I read a great deal, but one can do this kind of reading even if one reads relatively little. (The best reader I ever met, who was a professor of comparative literature, a man who even learned to read Spanish in his fifties so he could read One Hundred Years of Solitude in the original because he liked it so much, was also one of the slowest readers I ever met.) I find myself reading books over again frequently. People ask me how I can read a book twice and I respond, for the same reason that I like to eat my wife's beef stroganoff over and over again even though I already know what it tastes like. Because it is simply good.

So the first rule is to treat your sentences like poetry and understand that every word is important. You are almost providentially lucky in this regard. You have a particular advantage in your writing because of your style. It is uncomplicated and consists of small paragraphs. Whether you realize this or not, this gives your writing a great deal of strength. You are like a person building a strong bridge out of a bunch of small strongly constructed pieces. Most new writers (in my experience) try to build their strong bridge by carving it out of one solid piece of wood.

Your writing is naturally broken down into small parts and it is both easy to see them as they stand alone and to see the interrelationship of the pieces. So if I look like I am a good critic, it's because your writing lends itself to this.

(I don't know if we are allowed her to compare one writer in this forum to another, but the sharpest contrast I have seen so far to you is Twilight Girl and the tiny piece she posted on another thread this week. Her writing is incredibly complex and dense at the paragraph level. Very hard to critique, because one becomes like the prince trying to chop through the forest of thorns to get to the sleeping princess without accidentally chopping off the head of the princess herself. Although, by the way, she looks like a very good writer too.)

I think that you are also now seeing what happens when you write a novel. You have to keep moving back and forth to make sure the continuity is perfect. This is a purely technical problem, but you are also seeing that it is a creative problem as well. I can see when I compare your draft and revised chapter piece that you made some creative changes because the technical problems you ran into suggested new (small at this point) directions you could go in the story itself. For example, when you bring in the paperback book and have to consider the technical problem of how Lisa is going to carry the book, the baby, the baby bag and presumably, her purse you are suddenly faced with treating the book as a sort of "character" in your story and having to build part of the story around it. I'm not saying that the book is a major character or that you had to make a major adjustment to contain it. But you did have rebuild the narrative around an excellent image (since the "plot" itself doesn't need the book) and this gets back to my earlier statement that writing is about language.


You have another advantage. You don't really have a plot. And before you freak out, what I mean by that is that you don't have a plot that is intruding on the language and on what is really important in your story. You have simply put your characters into a situation and that is the plot. There's no detective story to solve, there's no outside historical situation that the characters have to conform to. For the kind of story that you are trying to write, this is a plus. I personally know so many good writers who won't write because "they can't come up with a plot". But a good writer doesn't need a plot. Your book is about the most interesting thing there really is; the contradictions, allusions, delusions, and desires going on in the minds of a group of people. We see these in your book from the inside and from the outside of these people. You have set up a "shocking" episode that is in itself supposed to capture our attention, but this isn't at all a story about an abandoned baby. It's all about Lisa.

I will keep reading and commenting on what you are posting. So we don't get confused, you might want to just start a thread called "Lisa" so we don't miss each other in the mass of threads as time passes. I don't think we should do this offline, because I find that reading other people's comments of other people's writing helps my writing and if our criticisms of each other's writing are helpful to us, they could also be helpful to others. (And let me take this opportunity again to thank you for your helpful comments on my stuff.)

Finally, I would like to say something in general. One of the goals of your writing should be to let your descriptions and dialogue tell us everything. In the best of all worlds, we would never use words to directly tell our readers how our characters are feeling. In fact, in theory, if our dialogue is good enough, we would never need to say "he said, she said" to tell the reader who's talking, much less, "he said sadly, she said nervously." So it is good to try to replace those things with a description. But it is also then good to try to make those descriptions as short and oblique as possible. Short, because prose really is like poetry and simple does equal clean. Obliquely, because this is in fact how we see the world. It's the difference between:

"Do you really want to do this?"

"No," she said uncertainly.

And

"Do you really want to do this?"

She paused and looked down and bit at her lower lip for a moment.

"No..."

There is a world a difference to the reader between being told something, and discovering and deciding something. It is the second thing that engages the reader. You are learning to do this quite well.
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