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On to First Page Friday!
A Ghost of a Second Chance
by K. Tate
The Chinook wind stirred the fallen leaves and tossed them around the deserted street. An eastern wind carries more than dust and ashes, Laine’s mother had told her; it uproots secrets. And everyone knows once one secret is told, no secret is safe.
Laine paused in front of the Queen Anne Hill Chapel doors. The sun, a faint pink glow over the eastern hills had yet to shine, but Laine hadn’t any doubt that it would rise to another scorching Indian summer day. She looked out over sleeping Seattle. The dark gray Puget Sound stretched away from her. On the horizon, distant ships bobbed and sent quivering beams of light over the water.
She turned her back on the ships, on any dream of sailing away and inserted the key into the heavily carved wooden doors. They slid open before Laine turned the key. Odd. The chapel, built in the 1930s, had a musty, empty smell. She stepped into the cool shade of the foyer and the door swung shut, closing with a click that echoed through the cavernous room. The morning sounds--birds, crickets and insects--disappeared when the doors closed. Laine’s sneakers padded across the terracotta tile, her footsteps loud.
She had thought she’d be alone, which is exactly why she’d chosen to come at near dawn. Not that she’d been able to sleep. She hadn’t slept for weeks. Which may explain why at first she’d thought the girl standing in the nave, facing the pulpit, her face lifted to the stain glass window, might be a ghost, or even, given her surroundings, an angel.
Although Laine couldn’t see her face, the way the child’s head moved, it looked as if she was having a conversation with the Lord trapped in the glass, or one of the sheep milling about His feet, giving Laine the uncomfortable sense of interrupting. The meager morning sun lit the glass and multi-colored reflections fell on the girl, giving her an iridescent glow. Slowly, she turned and Laine realized she wasn’t a child, but a young woman, around twenty, wearing vintage clothing.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
I like that this chapter begins with a secret, because it gives the reader immediate motivation to keep reading. After all, there are few things more compelling in a story than untold secrets. The eastern wind carries with it the threat/promise that Laine’s will come to light at some point in this story.
The Seattle setting feels authentic because the author gives us just enough (but not too much) detail. Establishing setting in a specific geographic location can be tricky; you want to root the reader in the narrator’s environs without sounding touristy. I assess setting in a book the way a psychologist might assess a lie: Just as a psychologist suspects a lie if a person offers too many details, I suspect that an author is writing about a place he or she has never actually visited if the descriptions are too flowery or the story is full of regional clichés. There's nothing wrong, of course, with writing about a place you've never been; you just have to go about it carefully. If you pepper a story that takes place in, say, San Francisco, with sightings of the Golden Gate Bridge, trolley cars, and Rice-A-Roni, the reader is going to see through it. So make sure to do your research and establish setting with a light hand, as this author has done. Give readers enough to go on without turning it into a travelogue.
The writing in general is quite vivid. The author taps into multiple senses to engage the reader in the unfolding scene, and the story takes on an eerie quality when the iridescent girl appears.
One thing to watch for in this sample: verb tense inconsistency. In the first sentence, we have an observation from Laine’s mother in the present tense. It might read more smoothly if it went something like this: “According to Laine’s mother, an eastern wind carried more than dust and ashes; it uprooted secrets.” The first sentence of the fifth paragraph also shifts from past to present tense. You might also try to eliminate the “is” from that sentence by recasting: “She’d chosen to come at dawn so that she could be alone. Later in the paragraph, we switch again to the present with “Which may explain why…” Make sure to pick one tense and stick with it.
This chapter could also benefit from some light copyediting to resolve minor mechanical issues (e.g., “come at near dawn”) and some clunky syntax here and there. But the author does an excellent job of setting the scene, making it vivid, and leaving the reader with enough unanswered questions to keep the reader turning the pages.
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