Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Drop the Needle: Anger #4

TITLE: Winter on Brimstone Hill
GENRE: YA Contemporary

After a particularly bad snowstorm--which kills off both the power and their livestock--Sarah's two-year-old sister passes away. Her father is angry at himself for her death, and her mother blames him.

Taking another step down the hallway, I see Mom, her back barely visible between the open wood stove and my father.

"This won't change anything," she says.

He tries to push her aside, but she steps between him and the stove.

"Think about what you're doing. This is all we have. In five years, you'll want these. You'll want to remember." She pauses. "I want them."

"There's no room here for things we don't need," he says.

"Like what? What do we have that's extra? The food? Most of it died three days ago. At this rate, we won't even have enough money to buy seeds. My fancy clothes? I haven't had a new pair of pants in three years, Marcin. Three years." He tries to step around her again, but she blocks him. "What else do we have that's extra? Let's see. This wood stove. You know what? We don't even need this. There's too much heat in this god-damned house. Let's get rid of it. What else? Those two light bulbs. We only need one. We can just carry it from room to room. Or better yet, get rid of them altogether. That sounds like a great idea."

My father takes hold of her wrists, and for the first time I see what she's protecting--the shoe box filled with pictures of her history, of us as kids, of Grace.


A hand touches my shoulder, and I jump. Joseph stands behind me, his face pleading.

"Whatever you're trying to say, just say it," my father says. "It'd be nice to have some honesty around here for once."

Mom's practically hysterical. "What else is extra? Hmm, let's think about this for a second. Going to the doctor. That's extra. We don't need that. We certainly don't need to get our daughter's cough checked out. We don't need the extra bills. Isn't that what you said? 'We don't need the extra bills.' Well, I'll tell you what. We don't have them anymore. In fact, we don't have an extra mouth to feed. I bet you like that."

My father's face pulses purple. He twists her arms until the box drops, and finally steps around her.

I grab Joseph's hand hard, so hard that if the hallway weren't shrouded in darkness I'd see our hands purple too.


  1. This is really great! I tried really hard to think about possible criticisms, and I came up with two minor quibbly things.

    "He twists her arm until the box drops, and finally steps around her" - the box dropping seems to be the subject of the sentence, and the father stepping around the mother is a new subject entirely. (There's a more editorial, grammatical way of phrasing this, I'm sure. The point is, this sentence should be rephrased to make it stronger).

    As for the last sentence, the description doesn't seem plausible to me. Part of it is the character's imagination, but grabbing someone's hand until it's purple - you'd have to have a crazy strong wrestler-level kind of grip. Gripping so hard that the hand whitens, on the other hand, is more physically possible.

    Otherwise, the dialogue is sparkling, the anger and emotions in general are present and this is great overall. Good work, and good luck!

  2. This is really great -- so much tension! The dialogue felt very realistic, too. I wish I could keep reading!

    There were just a couple things I found confusing. First, why is Joseph pleading? What is he wanting? (Maybe it's clearer outside of this excerpt, but it threw me off a bit.) Also, is the power still out? And if so, how are the light bulbs useful?

    The only other thing is the first time the mom lists what's extra could maybe be cut a bit -- I think the idea comes across, and the strongest part is later on when she talks about not going to the doctor (which I'm assuming is how the sister died).

  3. This is great! The tension is wonderful and even though I avoid stories where a child dies like the plague (too sad), I wanted to keep reading. My only comment was that I was a little confused about what the father wanted to get rid of. Was it the box the mother was holding?

  4. The anger here is nicely portrayed. The first sentence stopped me, though. I wondered why Mom's back wouldn't be visible, if Sarah could see dad and the wood stove. Maybe add "in the shadows".

    "Joseph stands behind me, his face pleading" left me wondering what he was pleading for.

    "Mom's practically hysterical." Show don't tell.

    I wondered why Mom is holding the box, if Dad's trying to burn it. Did she grab it away from him? Maybe instead of "protecting" you could say something like "gripping to her chest."

    I like the connection you make between Dad's purple face and the kids' purple hands. Maybe you could add "maybe": I grab Joseph's hand--hard. If the hallway wasn't shrouded in darkness, maybe I'd see our hands turning purple too. (Also change "weren't" to "wasn't" since not being in darkness is ordinarily an actual possibility.)

  5. Very nicely done. Would agree that showing ‘hysterical’ effects would be better—change in body position, higher tone of voice, words pouring out at more rapid pace, etc..

    The food ‘dying’ confused me. If all their food died three days ago they are not going to be around long enough to worry about buying seeds.

    Overall, a great piece!

  6. Nicely done! I don't have anything to pick at. Mom's anger is evident and clear and it's written well.

    My only suggestion would be to perhaps place the box in Mom's hands in the parg where she says "This is all we have." If it's already evident that she has the box in what has come before this, maybe just give it a small mention there anyway for effect. Maybe she can hug it closer or give it a squeeze or something.

    But again, nicely done!

  7. I'm really curious on the setting; this is obviously rural, but mom's mention of "fancy" clothes led me to think this was in another time and it says contemporary. Maybe just that word choice is off.

    I like the word choice of the box Mom is "protecting." That tells us a lot.

    Interesting that the anger here feels more centered on Sarah's parents rather than Sarah herself.

    Also, take this as you will: I also write YA and a few scenes in my manuscript I was urged to cut by my agent because it focused too much on the adults. While your MC is clearly in the scene, can she participate a little more rather than watch exposition from Mom and Dad? If it's literally just this page like that, probably not a big deal. But it may be of benefit to get a few more internal reactions from Sarah to break up that middle chunk of mom's dialogue which focuses more on Grown Up Things, stuff between Mom and Dad and their marriage vs Sarah's story. It all obviously relates to Sarah, but some of that rant is Adult Problems that *may* take away from Sarah's story. It's hard to judge on such a small snippet so again, just something to consider in the larger scope.