Tuesday, July 3, 2012

#4 Baby Slushpile: MOONSILK

Chapter 1  Mid-autumn, Moon Shines Bright
It is mid-autumn. The Harvest Moon shines bright again
across the night sky, its pale light dancing
over waves of golden wheat swaying.
But I am still, as ever
in the dark, locked away, a prisoner
in the heart of this tall grain tower,
in the heart of my own
windowless, lightless room,
with only my weaving loom
to help me pass the hours. 
Three weeks gone now
and my last candle
is burning 
I am running out of time. 
I rush 
to tie the final knot
on the silk wedding sheet
that I had been weaving.
I brush
the sheet with a light hand
and let fly the loose threads
of red and gold, gleaming.
And I tremble, just a little 
as I feel a faint heat rise 
from the silk-patterned flight
of the phoenix and the dragon,
My heart starts to pound like thunder 
and I put my hand over my mouth,
for even thunder must suppress its voice
tonight if I am to change
my wardens' minds.
And then I hear 
the heavy wooden beam
that bars my door

"Grandmama!" I cry and leap to my feet
as I spill my threads all over the floor.
"No, child. It is only I." 
came Second Mother’s firm reply.
She appears in my room--
beautiful Second Mother 
with her jet black hair
held up by a bright jade comb
and her dark eyes shining
like wet jet stones.
She is dressed already in her festive clothes--
an emerald brocade with pearl roundels
drapes softly against her ivory skin,
cinched only at the waist by a golden sash
from which a silk jewelry bag swings.
A little flame of hope dances
in my heart. My stomach
flutters with excitement.
“Has Grandmama changed her mind?” I ask brightly,
as I smooth my silver bangs away from my face. 
"Will she let me go to the wedding ceremony?"
I ask, my eyes wide, my voice even more sprightly. 
When Second Mother stares at my hair and does not answer
I run to fetch the silk wedding sheet from my loom. 
"Look!” I say in my brightest voice.
“Look what I made for Little Sister!
Now, she will have something from her own family
to bring to her new husband's home.”
I hold my finished weave up to Second Mother,
who runs her deft weaver's hands
over the delicate threads
when suddenly, she flinches
as if she had been burned 
by the filaments of flames.
She stares at me again, then walks to close the door,
sealing both of us in, the way burrowing beetles
wall up their doors with earth.
"Moonsilk, child," she finally says with a sigh,
"You know you cannot go."
"But why not?" I state my question
as boldly as I dare to an elder,
even though we both know
I already know the answer.


They call me Moonsilk.
It is a good-luck name for an ill-luck child.


  1. I’m a high school librarian and teens love free verse novels. I’ve purchased many in the past few years and they circulate a great deal. Free verse doesn’t appeal to me as much, so it is hard for me to critique. I would say that free verse tends to appeal to my more reluctant or low readers… This may be a little too difficult for the MG free verse reader and you may need to be more direct with that audience. I really like the fantasy element of Moonsilk’s magical powers also.

  2. This is gorgeous! I adore the details and the way you introduced the story's world. I actually loved the verse format. I think it works wonderfully for this story, which may not have been as powerful without it. I would definitely read on!

  3. I'm one of the people who said I'd read more of this even though I'm unsure about a novel in verse. But I really like this. I was immediately drawn in by the voice and the setting. Some of the language is just plain beautiful. I love the line about thunder having to suppress its voice. I have to agree with the first commenter though. This doesn't read middle grade to me.

  4. I started this out unsure why a free-verse novel couldn't simply be rearranged into normal paragraphs and tell the same story, but your first section convinced me that it can add something special that traditional structure would lose. Unfortunately, I felt the second section lost that feeling. I found myself reading it as if it were prose and it flowed better. Going forward, I would hope the rest is more like the first section than the second. I did love the last line, though.

  5. I'm not the best person to critique free verse, either. I'm sure you've read Inside Out and Back Again? If not, I think it's a must read if you're writing verse for this age group. My only critique would be to look for excess words and phrasing.

    "It is mid-autumn. The Harvest Moon shines bright again
    across the night sky, its pale light dancing
    over waves of golden wheat swaying."

    I'd get rid of "again" and "swaying". Neither word adds to the image you've created. "Waves" gives the sentence the movement you want, so swaying loses the economy.

    When revising, I'd read for tight phrasing, beautiful imagery and twists in the expected outcome - pushing each as far as you can. You've done a great job. I'd definitely want to read on.

  6. I've never read a novel in free verse before. I was really curious, and your first section really drew me in. The language is beautiful, and the construction flows around the motion and details of the story.

    I feel like it loses it's magic in the second section.It might be that there's so much dialogue and it instantly jars you out of the magical place you carefully constructed. A lot of other free verse poetry has dialogue but it's a lot sparser. Is there a way to convey what's happening or being said without so much actual speaking?

    I don't even know if this helps. I've never critiqued free verse. Good luck!

  7. I'm not a fan of poetry at the best of times, to be honest, so my opinion is probably harsher than warranted.

    Content wise, though, barring the verse structure, which is a matter of taste, you've got a good hook in the second section - makes me want to know what it is about Moonsilk that she's a pariah of sorts.

  8. I was pleasantly surprised by how well this worked, when it was working, which I'd say was 80% of the time. I'm a harsh critic when it comes to poetry. There were places that needed tightening and there were places that seemed to try too hard.

    I agree with macaronipants's edits, it's a much tighter rhythm that way and highlights the bright, night, light sound, then surprising us with "wheat" (and ending on images is always stronger, I think)

    other little things to clean up, like having the word "jet" twice in the 2nd stanza of 2nd section

    I'm not a fan of a lot of -ing verbs, makes for more passive language

    Yes, push it! I think you could have something special here. Maybe don't worry about MG or YA right now, just write. :-)

  9. I love verse and I write verse. I agree this needs to be tightened up, but that you have a good start! In the 1st stanza: I would leave out "The" in the 2nd sentence. This way your harvest moon comes alive. And leave out "its" in the 2nd sentence. I agree to leave out again & swaying. It would read like this: Harvest Moon shines bright
    across the night sky, pale light dancing
    over waves of golden wheat.
    You might even want to look in a thesaurus for one word for "shines bright."
    In the 2nd stanza 1st line leave out "as ever." In the 2nd stanza I think "windowless & lightless" could have better word choices. They're not immediate enough too passive. The next two lines have too many words.. In the next stanza leave out now, and & is so it should read: Three weeks gone
    my last candle
    burning down
    In the 6th stanza I would leave out starts & and in the 1st & 2nd lines so it would read:
    My heart pounds like thunder
    I put my hand over my mouth,
    Next stanza leave out and & then.
    Usually in verse novels one doesn't use quotations, but italicises the dialouge. Your action is to wordy. Maybe like this:
    Grandmama! I leap spilling my threads over the floor.
    Next stanza put, No, child. It is I, Second Mother. in italics instead of quotations. Next stanza leave out beautiful. You are showing us her beauty in her jet black hair & eyes shining like wet jet stones. Good simile.
    Next stanza show us her festive clothes. Leave out the 1st line. Leave out softly and only. Adverbs don't show.
    In the next stanza leave out little. Next stanza italacize quotes. Don't use tags. Just jump to I smooth my silver bangs away form my face. Leave out last line.
    Do you see the immediacy of what I wrote? Do this for the rest & it will flow better.
    Remember with poetry less words are better & each word has to have a purpose. Show, don't tell. Paint images. use more metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration & other poetry devises. And read, read, read verse novels & poetry. Analyze what you read. Keep going! I want to know what happens next! I'm wondering, if she is not allowed to go to the wedding because of her silver hair?

  10. I really enjoyed this. It flowed easily through my head, creating a great image as I went. It also set up great story questions and makes me want to read on to find out why she isn't allowed to go to the wedding.

    The only thing I didn't like was when the dialogue started. Your first tag 'I asked brightly' really jarred. Similarly, 'my voice even more sprightly' and 'I say in my brightest voice' didn't work for me. All three are at odds with the way the rest of the piece flowed, and pulled me out of the moment.

    The dialogue with Second Mother was much smoother because you weren't trying to describe her tone, you assumed the reader would pick up on it from the context.

  11. Thank you so much, everyone, for your generous and insightful feedback! I also appreciate all the detailed edits. These are invaluable to me as I revise MOONSILK. Again, many thanks!

  12. I've never read free verse in a novel before, and I have to say I'm glad this was my first experience with it. It didn't lack description or emotion. I was still able to see and hear without the verse getting in the way, as some have warned me it would.

    I'm a little late in responding, so I don't really have more to add than what's already been presented. I would continue to read this, completely oblivious to the stylistic difference. It's done that well, in my opinion.