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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What is Behind Door # Two?


This might be premature of me, however, I am submitting the first page of my second novel to a "First Page" contest at the Orane County Christian Writer's Conference at the end of the month. I am looking for critiques, my friends!

FREE CONTEST~There is a prize involved for the most helpful comment! A Steve Green CD--brand new--titled "For God and God Alone" or maybe a million dollars...it depends on which I can lay my hands on first.

So, here's the rules.
1) Read page one of my new book (below)
2) Write a comment that would be helpful to me as the author in the comment section of this post. In one week, I will decide which comments are helpful and have a drawing for the CD. I will post the winning comment and send the CD on that day. Easy!

Book 2
Chapter One

Willow left her restaurant five minutes before seven, erroneously thinking that ample time to arrive. She slid onto the driver’s seat of her VW van which she then rolled down the snow-packed main street of Sage Meadows, Oregon. Five minutes should have been plenty of time to drive five blocks to the town center, but tonight, revelers slowed traffic to a stroller’s pace.

Having moved to the area less than a year before, Willow had no idea that tourists came in droves for the western town’s quaint tree lighting ceremony. Who would have guessed?

As her van crawled by the gathering, she strained to find an empty spot. Nothing. She did see plenty of scarves, hats, and mittens—all red—in theme of the season. How original, she thought. A Suburban behind her honked with impatience. Willow jumped, cursed, and sped on.

She finally found a space at the curb, two blocks away. She still radiated internal heat from the fast pace she kept in the restaurant kitchen, so her wool pea coat hung open and her alpaca muffler and cap bulged from her pockets as she trotted toward the festivities. Her thick wool socks slipped in her Birkenstocks with each slap-slap on the street. The gravel truck had been through that day spewing fresh volcanic ash gathered from the surrounding Cascade mountains. The tiny stones peppered the snow, providing better traction for vehicles and walkers.

As she neared the crowd, she could hear high-pitched laughter and mellow murmurs ripple through the chilled air. Children’s voices steamed from their chapped lips as they argued for the best spot on the hay bales that formed a circle around a towering evergreen.

How am I going to find Mum in all of these people? Willow’s mouth curved up from either side of the lip ring in the middle of her lower lip. Her heart still soared when she thought of her good luck at finally finding her birth mother. Had it really been only three months since they met?


  1. Shelly, I do like it and would love to keep reading. There are a couple of lines I would suggest you delete:Para #1 -erroneously thinking that ample time to arrive. [under normal circumstances...says it better.] Line 5 delete the word...also.Para#2 Would she hear mellow murmurs over the high pitched laughter? Also delete..soon to be lit. The rest is fine.
    Linda Shands

  2. Thanks, Linda! You're in the running!:^) Shelley

  3. Im hooked! when's page 2 coming out? i think just making the 1st paragraph a little easier to plunge into would be great. Sentences with a bit simpler structure so the reader doesn't have to pause and reread the sentence to get it. I know that's not very original... but there's my initial thoughts!
    Love you!

  4. Hey Shelley,

    This was a very good passage. It really drew me in and made me want to read more. The only things I could comment on would be the need for more details as you describe the setting and the protagonist. You probably have addressed a lot of this on pages 2 or 3 or 100. But since I have been limited to page one, I will give you my thoughts, and you can do with them what you will.

    On the setting, I was a little unclear where and when this is taking place. I can roughly guess that it is most likely in a modern day English speaking country somewhere near the mountains. As a reader trying to picture the setting in my mind, I would love some more detail. Is this in the American northwest, or the east, or another country? Is it at the base of the mountains or up near the top? When exactly is this taking place; most of your details could fit anywhere from 1950-present day. Also, I was a little confused on one point. You describe the streets in one place as “snow-packed” and in another place as “volcanic-ash peppered”. Has a volcano just erupted scattering ash over the packed snow, or is the ash from long ago, mixed into the snow?

    On the protagonist, you have given some excellent sensory details and description of what she is wearing, but I still don’t know much of what she looks like. What color is her hair. What is her body build? What ethnicity is she? Etc. These details would help me picture her better and be a nice comparison for the later description of her mother that I am sure is coming on later pages. Also, I was a little held up on her lip ring. I have never seen anyone with a lip ring directly in the center of the mouth, so it made me stop for a minute and try to picture it more. Which lip was it in, upper or lower? Was it a ring or just a stud? Was it big or small? Etc.

    The only other thing that was a slight problem for me was that that I initially read the first sentence, where she “left her Sage Meadows restaurant,” to mean that she owned the restaurant. So later I was confused by why she was thinking about hotels. If she owns a restaurant in town, she probably lives there, so why does she need a hotel? Or is the hotel for her mother? Or is the restaurant not hers, but just her choice for dinner that night. Maybe a slight change of wording would clear this up, or maybe I am just reading too much into things.

    As I said before, these are just a few of my thoughts based on the passage you provided. You probably address all of these on later pages, but hopefully some of them will be of interest to you. I wish you the best of luck in the competition. It really is some good writing.

    Jeremy Yarbro

  5. Thanks, Jeremy (and Brielle),

    I really appreciate your encouraging comments, especially since you are both so well read. (BTW-I am currently reading my first Stephen Lawhead book, "T"he Skin Map, which I LOVE!) And, yes, Jeremy, all of those questions are answered in the following pages, but I think you both might be right to simply, so questions are not the major thing in the reader's mind at this point. AND, I know someone very close to me has a lip ring in the center of the lower lip! :^) Jeremy, lava is used to sprinkle snow pack streets in the Cascades, but I can see I cannot assume the reader knows that. Certainly, lava is in rich supply in those mountain towns. And, yes, Sage Meadows is my literary name for Sisters, Oregon. So, back to work. Thank you both so much for the in put--I'm on chapter 7 of this book, so hopefully it will be finished late summer.

  6. Kathleen FletchallApril 8, 2011 at 6:21 PM

    Yes, I agree it is a good first page, which catches my attention. I like the details you have put in about the volcanic ash on the snow, the girl's lip ring(so Oregon!), and the crowd descriptions. My suggestions are small, more grammatical, but I do agree with many of the above comments from Linda and Jeremy.
    Line 5: ...to a stroller's pace.
    Paragraph 4, line 5: Do snow plows spread the ash? Also, perhaps a better detailed description for what it does, is to increase traction for both vehicles and pedestrians alike. That gives the sense, as Jeremy suggested, that the ash is put over the snow.
    Paragraph 5, Line 2: I suppose it is literary license, but, being the teacher I was, I like more accuracy, as it relates to the children's voices steaming. I can't picture that as well as "the children's breath steamed... as they argued..."

    So as a reader(and not a writer), such are my contributions.

  7. Wonderful, Kathleen! I appreciate your suggestions. This might be the best first page ever by the time we are through!


  8. I think the prize should be a puppy and a box of candy bars! Oh and I wouldn't change much except that willow might be more descriptive in her dislike of Suburbans, and might be more descriptive of that hate.

  9. All right, Hoss, I admit it. I have no patience for people in suburbans (or mega trucks) who nearly run me over in parking lots, use tons of gas to buy TP at Costco, or park in three parking spaces instead of one. What's your point?

    Oh, and be careful what you ask for with that puppy prize--you're in the running!

  10. Only two thoughts (although I may be too late to be in the running for the prize:

    1. I'm not so sure I'd put her in Birkenstocks. Yes, it's Oregon. But I know very few people who would wear them (even with socks!) in the snow... your feet would get too cold and wet. Believe me. I know.

    2. In the line about the scarves, etc... you mention twice that they're red. I'd take out the first red and leave the - all red - in dashes as you've done.

  11. Coming in at the last minute! The advantage of that is that others have done most of the work. It was a good idea to post this on your blog, Shelley. The only thing I'd add is that Willow doesn't seem to me like the type who'd drive rather than walk the five blocks; especially since she then ends up parking two blocks away. Do you need the VW for another reason?

    I agree that it's an interesting beginning.

    M. Barker

  12. She's stopping by on her way home. Has to have th evan in the morning to pick up produce for the restaurant. Otherwise she would surely walk!

  13. It's so fun to read about towns and areas I'm somewhat familiar with.

    Could you tweak that sentence about her pea coat being overheated from working in the kitchen? It's funny, but I don't think you meant for the coat to be the subject.

    Also capitalize Suburban, and leave the cap off Mountains. Good start, but maybe start off with a slightly more tense problem than meeting her mother on time.

    Denise N.

  14. Thanks, Denise. You're such an incredibly good editor! How DO you do it? However, the tension in this book will build quickly from internal conflict, to relational, criminal, and finally an epiphany! Of course. :^)

  15. AND THE WINNER IS!!!!!

    Geni White!

    Wait a minute! There is no comment posted here from Geni White, right? Well, she tried! Couldn't quite get the fandangled thing to work, so she e-mailed me and therefore was still in the running.

    Thanks so much to all for the help. This might be a real winner at the First Page contest when I go to the Orange County Conference later this month. Who knows?

    And Congratulations, Geni! I'll get that to you soon!

  16. From Geni-pasted from my e-mail:You need to give readers, in the first paragraph preferably, reasons to care about Willow---not necessarily a physical description, either, but emotional/motivational. Let us know right away what's causing her conflict and/or what she wants that seems unobtainable. Something more urgent than her joy at finding her mother.

    Also, I'd commented on Birkenstocks. I've worn them year -round for twenty years or more. Doesn't seem a problem in cold weather, although I could wear warmer socks, I suppose.

    THANK YOU for allowing me to win your prize! So cool! And so loving of you.

  17. Thanks, Geni. You won the drawing fair and square! Again, thanks to all for the in put!

  18. Hi Shelley!
    How fun! I'm a little envious because I spend all my time commenting on what my students write, but never have time to attempt what I teach others to do. First off, I LOVE your protagonist's name!!! Love, love, love it!
    Now for my 2 cent's worth... Paragraph 3: if her van crawls in the first sentence, it's not likely it'll speed off in the final sentence.
    Paragraph 4: In the sentence, "Her thick wool socks slipped in her Birkenstocks with each slap-slap on the street," what if you inverted it, beginning with the prepositional phrase instead--just to add variety to your sentence structure: With each slap-slap on the street, her thick.....?
    And Paragraph 5: is "argued" the best verb choice? I'm thinking maybe quarreled, bickered, squabbled--something more specific to the action of chiildren... and did their voices steam, or was it their breath?
    (And since I usually only post as "mom" (on my kid's blog), I'm guessing I'll show up as mom here too!!!--Really, it's Roxanne Lemos, and I wish I could see you when you are in California--I know a couple of locals that will be at Mt. Hermon, and my kid works there--have a wonderful time!!!)

  19. Roxanne.

    I wish I could see you while in CAlifornia too, but I'm visiting family this trip.

    Check FB for an invitation to a writer's group. It's time, my dear.

    Write ON!

    Love, Shelley