Friday, December 2, 2011

#9 Literary Fiction (Magical Realism): Fellowship of the Fireflies

TITLE: Fellowship of the Fireflies
GENRE: Literary Fiction (Magical Realism)

When his grandparents can no longer care for him on their magical Alabama farm, fifteen-year-old hemophiliac Stephen Hordsley is sent to live with his real estate czar father in Atlanta. Failing to fit inside a world of power struggles and lies, Stephen attempts suicide, landing in a children’s hospital where he meets three extraordinary kids that tell a story revealing clues to his family’s secrets.

My earliest childhood memory of death doesn’t involve the predictable backyard funeral for the family dog or flushing a goldfish down a toilet. For me it was a bonsai. I had named it Laud from a lyric in a hymn (All Glory, Laud and Honor) and it had survived two unusually harsh winters and three brutal Alabama summers on a wicker table on our front porch. For no apparent reason over one weekend when I was seven it turned as brown as a Baby Ruth candy bar and died. Oh death where is thy sting? On the porch in a rectangular dish, that’s where. With my grandparents watching, I buried my little juniper under a great big oak and cried all afternoon until the Braves game came on television after supper. Trees were very important to our little hybrid family, the “feathers of earth,” we called them, the “green of God’s imagination.”

My grandfather, Jedediah “Pappy Jed” Collins, had a bench on our farm under a “sacred willow” where he wrote sermons. Sometimes when I hobbled out to work a crossword puzzle in his shadow, I would find Pappy Jed kneeling with his head against the tree trunk crying, a big man with tears as full as raindrops. On these occasions I knew he was thinking about my mother. I would sneak off quietly, as best I could on squeaky crutches, and wait behind the smokehouse until he was right side up on his bench and ready for company.


  1. Love the writing. Your opening is unique and the voice strong. I'm definitely drawn in.

  2. Love the portrait of the family here and a slight sense of humor even in a sad occasion. Especially like that the narrator's infirmity is just barely referenced instead of coming in as the starting point. One suggestion is that you may have too many instances of quote marks in the end of the first/beginning of the second paragraph. I find that breaks the flow. Great writing though!

  3. Intriguing. I anticipate an interesting story paired with a vivid portrait of the deep south. A touch of Mark Twain. I would definitely like to read this manuscript.

  4. Different. I wasn't sure from the logline, but the excerpt really worked. I agree with the comment about the quotation marks, but otherwise great. I'd love to read this.

  5. Ill admit the logline didn't do much to draw me into this one. The narrative voice was strong, but I am general one for a more active approach and much of this read like someone was telling me a story vs my experiencing it along with the MC. I was waiting for something in here to hook me - grab me and make me want to read further, but I really didnt get that from the bit posted.

    I am intrigued to see how the excerpt and the logline tie together. I wonder if maybe you should be starting this in an action scene and dropping this backstory information throughout a you go. Just a thought.

    Best of luck in the auction!

  6. Thought the logline and opening paragraph revealed a fascinating story unfolding of a remarkable young man, in a most unusual family, but in a beautiful southern setting.
    Agree with the comment regarding the quotation marks in the first paragraph
    I would be very interested in reading the manuscript.

  7. I love this one.

    The paragraphs are quite chunky - or maybe I've been reading too many YA entries. Is there a way you could break up the text a bit?

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I think your writing is beautiful. This is probably my favourite adult entry. I wish you the best of luck.

  8. I'm drawn in by the rich setting details - mighty, supportive trees and a dying but beloved hobbled tree -- a trinity of willow, oak, and juniper. Plus a trinity of generations- son, grandfather, father- who live in different cultures (rural, urban) all in the Mother South. There will be drama! Folksy phrasing with undertones of pathos promise a story with Ecclesiastes-like "time to laugh and a time to cry." Looking forward to reading more!

  9. Your writing is definitely beautiful, but the question I have is: what importance do these memories have? What impact does a dead bonsai and his Pappy Jed's sermons have on where the character is in the *now* of the story. You've introduced this as a memory absent catalyst, although in your log line alone I can see one catalyst: his grandparents sending him away, which is a death of sorts, a death of the life Stephen knew. I think I'd be more engaged if I saw that catalyst, saw the scene where he was leaving, passing the farm. The sight of the trees fading in the distance would certainly be enough of a catalyst to make him think of death, and you could use these memories to punctuate Stephen's sorrow over leaving. That would give them purpose, and would show him dealing with his emotions. In fact, that would make the memories almost active within the narrative, as they evoke something within the character and the reader. And by using that construction, showing him first in a car as he leaves, you would present a *now* in the story and ground the reader in a scene where something happens that forces Stephen to deal. Cause and effect would work here.

    As is, I feel a bit disconnected because nowhere in the first page do I feel grounded in Stephen's present, which happens when using phrases like "sometimes this would happen" and "on these occasions" because these both imply we are not being introduced to the story by being plopped in one specific occasion, one point in time, one scene. Unless this became a clear scene in the next few paragraphs, I'm unsure I'd continue, no matter how much I like the premise. The thing is, your writing is strong, and so I'm convinced you could improve this and really get the reader in there.

  10. The quote marks around unique concepts highlight their uniqueness, where I think a better approach would be to leave them unquoted to highlight how normal and everyday these things are to the MC. Setting up your worldbuilding, you need to give the reader a sense that sacred trees and magic are accepted and not just something that Stephen believes in secret, but that his whole immediate family believes, and that is "true."

    I'm interested in the intersection of disability with magic and the unpleasant city bustle. In the last sentence of the logline, I'd change that (in "kids that tell a story") to who.

    I would like a sense of how old the MC is in the "present" of the story and what the "present" is, to help me feel grounded and invested in the character and the story. I suspect that's coming soon, and within another paragraph or two we'll know why he's thinking about death, but there isn't enough of a hint threaded in here to keep me curious.

    I like the opening line. The first few sentences intrigue me. "The predictable" isn't needed. Just saying "it wasn't these things" says "my experience was non-standard." But I like the voice and the premise is interesting. Neat title, too.

  11. I really like the writing here. It's evocative and emotional and very fresh. The sudden death of the Bonsai tree is emotional and has portents. I also like the atmosphere you're building, of adult sadness and helplessness, and a boy on crutches sensitive to this. "As brown as a Baby Ruth candy bar" wins my heart as an image. I also like the contrasting worlds set out in the logline. Fascinating story. For the right agent and editor, this is powerful work.