Monday, August 1, 2016

First Impressions - Ohio, 1863


It's been a while, but First Impressions is back with the first page of a young adult historical fiction novel from Melissa Guthrie. You can find her on twitter @MelissWritesNow. My partners in crime - Dianne K. Salerni and Krystalyn Drown - will also be critiquing this first page on their respective blogs, so I hope everyone will pay them a visit to see what their thoughts were.
 

Hewitt Town, Ohio
July 4th, 1863

            Henry Clemmons opened his eyes just as acid bubbled up from his stomach. He bolted upright, grabbed a pail from beside the bed, and retched into it. The room spun. Henry sprawled back into the mattress. He rolled into a ball and moaned.
            “Ah,” a voice said. Calm. Gentle. “You’re awake.”
            On the other side of a doorway stood Lincoln Hewitt. Link, as Henry knew him, was bent over a long board made of poplar wood, dressed in the same dark pants Henry saw him in the night before. His feet were bare, stained black. His dark hair, the color of ink, was brown with sawdust. A cigarette burned between the first fingers of his right hand, the scent of tobacco heavy in the air.
            “Did you sleep at all?” Henry asked. He climbed from the bed and looked down, his nakedness a stark reminder of the night before, gin in his mind and clothing lost piece by piece. He found his drawers tossed over a trunk at the end of the bed and pulled them on. He looked back to find Link watching him, a small smile on his lips which he moistened with the tip of his tongue.
Link’s eyes were his most notable feature. Never before had Henry met a person, male or female, with eyes like his. Link eyes were the color of sky after a snowstorm, cold and gray. An ash fell from the cigarette and landed dangerously close to his toes. Fire burned in Link’s eyes, sometimes bright as dawn and sometimes smoldering like embers, always burning.
“The Welk baby died last night,” Link straightened and took a drink from the tin mug that seemed permanently affixed to the middle finger of his right hand. Dark circles ringed his eyes. His shoulders were loose and slouching. He wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his arm and looked around the shop as if he were surprised to see slants of daylight coloring the workshop’s dark corners. “Pull yourself together and eat something for breakfast. The Widow up the way brought biscuits and I found some berries.”
Henry cleared his throat and attempted to moisten the inside of his mouth, as if just the thought of the widow’s dry, crumbling biscuits, produced in mass quantities, was enough to make swallowing a chore. Link brought the old woman meat and provisions from town and she repaid his efforts with biscuits best suited as doorstops. “There’s goats milk as well, if you are so inclined. Should you add the milk to the biscuit, perhaps it will be more palatable.”
            “You really want me to eat, don’t you?” Henry asked.
            “Can’t have you wasting away.”
            “What’s the catch?”
 ***


My thoughts:
           ... On the other side of a doorway stood Lincoln Hewitt. Link, as Henry knew him, was bent over a long board made of poplar wood, dressed in the same dark pants Henry saw him in the night before. His feet were bare, stained black. His dark hair, the color of ink, was brown with sawdust. A cigarette burned between the first fingers of his right hand, the scent of tobacco heavy in the air. I think the reader can guess that Link is Lincoln's nickname, and I'm a little confused by Link bent over the board. What is he doing?
            “Did you sleep at all?” Henry asked. He climbed from the bed and looked down, his nakedness a stark reminder of the night before, gin in his mind and clothing lost piece by piece. He found his drawers tossed over a trunk at the end of the bed and pulled them on. He looked back to find Link watching him, a small smile on his lips which he moistened with the tip of his tongue.This little gesture strikes me as flirting. Is Link flirting with Henry? Is there something more between them? I get the impression there is especially when Henry compares Link's eyes to a snowstorm.
Link’s eyes were his most notable feature. Never before had Henry met a person, male or female, with eyes like his. Link’s eyes were the color of sky after a snowstorm, cold and gray. An ash fell from the cigarette and landed dangerously close to his toes. Fire burned in Link’s eyes, sometimes bright as dawn and sometimes smoldering like embers, always burning. This seems at odds with the first description comparing Link's eyes to a snowstorm: cold and grey.
“The Welk baby died last night,” What does this have to do with anything? Is it important? Does it mean something more than just sad news? Just asking.
Link straightened and took a drink from the tin mug that seemed permanently affixed to the middle finger of his right hand. Dark circles ringed his eyes. His shoulders were loose and slouching. He wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his arm and looked around the shop as if he were surprised to see slants of daylight coloring the workshop’s dark corners. “Pull yourself together and eat something for breakfast. The Widow up the way brought biscuits, and I found some berries.” Why is Link sweating? Has he been exerting himself in some way we aren't privy to?
Henry cleared his throat and attempted to moisten the inside of his mouth, as if just the thought of the widow’s dry, crumbling biscuits, produced in mass quantities, was enough to make swallowing a chore. Link brought the old woman meat and provisions from town, and she repaid his efforts with biscuits best suited as doorstops. “There’s goats milk as well, if you are so inclined. Should you add the milk to the biscuit, perhaps it will be more palatable.”
            “You really want me to eat, don’t you?” Henry asked. Why wouldn't Link want Henry to eat?
            “Can’t have you wasting away.”
            “What’s the catch?” This strikes me as an odd thing to say - although we don't have what follows which might make perfect sense of it. But why should there be a catch?

Conclusion: Part of me thinks there needs to be something more on this first page to entice readers, but the other part of me is curious. If Link and Henry are having a relationship, it would have be in secret, yet neither acts ashamed or embarrassed or secretive. But if there is no relationship beyond friendship, why does Link look at Henry that way and lick his lips? Why does Henry notice Link's eyes? And what does the death of the Welk baby have to do with any of it?

Readers, what are your thoughts on this first page?
            




14 comments:

  1. I wasn't sure what the purpose of the various elements were either. Really uncomfortable with the flirting aspect, as straight dudes would never do that. A little more purpose and clarity needed, but it does have personality.

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  2. The board think stopped me in my tracks.....

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  3. Some unnecessary words need to be cut and the writing tightened somewhat...but them I'm more contemporary :)

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  4. I definitely read hints of a deeper relationship. Which would probably keep me reading for a bit...

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  5. Thank you to everyone for your comments!

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  6. I got to "He climbed from the bed and looked down, his nakedness a stark reminder of the night before" and assumed lovers. Then I looked at the year again and wondered.

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  7. So, I'm thinking strip poker...I'm thinking Link's a doctor and went out on a call to tend the Welk baby. I'm thinking not gay, but perhaps some adjustment in the writing has to occur to stop folks from jumping to that conclusion. I agree with others. Something happened last night and we need to know more about it right up front. Still, I'd read page two.

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  8. Love this line ... gin in his mind and clothing lost piece by piece.

    I got the feeling they have a relationship too. I'd echo your edits :)

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  9. From my take away, it seems like Henry and Link are considering a relationship or maybe they already have and intimate one. Still, the story kept me wanting to know what's going on. I agree with the edits. Keep it up!

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  10. I wasn't hooked by the first line or first paragraph. That's my biggest suggestion--shoring that up so that there's a emotional connection right away. Someone retching is definitely not the best introduction and makes for a poor intro to the character.

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  11. 'tis bold starting your novel with puking :)

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  12. Congrats to Melissa for her bravery in submitting to public critique!

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  13. It definitely appears as if there is a relationship between the two. I liked the edits to pare it down/tighten.

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  14. Although I have some of the same questions as everybody else, I LIKE this start. The author definitely does a good job of "showing, not telling." I mean, she COULD have just said the guy woke up with a hangover... :)

    I was thinking maybe the Link fella might be using that wood to build a coffin for the baby who died?

    Not sure if the men in this story have an intimate relationship or not, but it does seem to be leaning in that direction. If they DON'T, I think Melissa should make that more apparent to her young readers.

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