I am so appreciative to all the brave authors who submit their work for critique and for our two editors who take the time to help us. If you have a first page you would like to see shredded, we have openings in March. Please submit your work to firstname.lastname@example.org with First Page Friday in the subject line. It's such a valuable resource to writers to have an honest review from experienced national editors, especially when we've been told that agents/editors usually read the first page or two and if you haven't caught their attention by then, they reject your manuscript. So this is obviously a great way to start polishing your pages.
On to this week's submission.
by Lisa Buie-Collard
If I asked if you believe in ghosts would you say “yes”, or perhaps admit to believing in the idea of them, or would you flat out say they don’t exist? I thought I knew my answer, until I met one…
The beginning of the end of the life I lived dressed for the occasion, but I didn’t see it for what it was. In fact the day began clear and beautiful in May, full of Texas sunshine. I awoke to slender dark-green oleander leaves waving in a gentle breeze across my freshly cleaned bedroom windows. But the brightness of the day didn’t dispel the emotional storm left inside me from the previous night, from the argument with Christian, which burned on the surface of my mind as lit gas on water. He’d never pushed so far before. Yelling at him hadn’t helped, “Babies, children! That’s all you talk about now.”
“And why not, Evie? We’ve been married three years—”
“I want time to finish this book, Christian.”
“That’s what you said during the last one—”
“I’m not ready yet!”
“When will you be ready, Evangeline? When?”
I glanced at Christian still asleep beside me now, dying to touch him, to erase last night’s ugly words, to have him hold me like he used to when wanting only me had been enough for him. I slipped from the bed, shouldered on my robe and tiptoed to the kitchen. A few minutes later, and with a mug of hot tea in hand, I stared out the kitchen’s also sparkling window and wondered why, when we had almost everything we’d said we’d wanted did he have to start talking about children. Why wasn’t the “we” of the two of us enough?
Outside on the other side of the window, two small birds, brown and yellow with slashes of black on their wings, hopped about on the pyracantha shrubs. Their tiny beaks stabbed at the profusion of insects on the mass of aging white blossoms. The fluttery birds were busy with existence, not thinking about wants or dislikes, not thinking about any bigger picture. I shivered. They were blessedly free from deep thought of any kind. It was their mission in life to procreate, not mine.
Ms. Shreditor's Comments
This story draws upon a very timely issue: the decision whether or not to have children. A few years ago, chick lit author Emily Giffin wrote Baby Proof, a bestseller about a young woman whose husband, like her, never wanted children. However, several years into their marriage, he changed his mind and marital chaos ensued. The book raised a lot of thought-provoking questions about the decision not to procreate.
This first page raises a thought-provoking question of its own: “Why wasn’t the ‘we’ of the two of us enough?” It tells us a lot about Evie’s relationship with Christian. I also like that she watches the birds and differentiates herself from them. Unlike those birds, for whom reproduction is a biological imperative, Evie can choose not to have children. But, as we see on this first page, it’s not an easy choice to make, particularly when her husband is so eager to have children.
I think it’s important that, regardless of whether or not Evie decides to have children by story’s end, the narrative doesn’t oversimplify her. I’ve read stories about childless-by-choice women who experience a change of heart in the eleventh hour (i.e., the last chapter of the book), and the women either dismiss an entire book’s worth of doubt in a single paragraph or are portrayed as selfish and immature throughout the book until they amend for the “error of their ways” by having children. Try to transcend either of these simplistic scenarios.
There are some sentences and passages that could use some tightening up for clarity. For instance: “The beginning of the end of the life I lived dressed for the occasion, but I didn’t see it for what it was.” The sentence is a bit cloudy and could use some revision to clarify meaning. There are also some extraneous words/phrases throughout that impede flow.
Otherwise, keep digging away at the big questions as you’ve done here. This sample has depth, and the subject matter is really compelling. There’s a lot of potential here to break new ground and get readers talking.
Thank you so much to Lisa and Ms. Shreditor. See you next week!