Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Write Group

JJ saw them in reflection before he heard the words. About to say "Howdy" he caught the drift of a conversation that would change his life.

"Ruby Barlow sure ain't no Sunday School teacher. Sam Lester had her working as an upstairs girl over at The Fat Chance ten years back, even after she had that kid 'a hers. Passed him off as Leo's boy, but he came a mite too early for that."

JJ recognized the Sullivans as the rumor-mongers. "Pa, they're talkin' about Ma. Aren't you going to say something—set 'em straight?" Leo didn't look away from the store window, staring in at the glossy black boots with their two-inch heels, digging his own into the soft dirt. He couldn't meet the dare in his son's eyes. "Pa, didn't you hear . . ."

"Quit dawdling, Jage!" His father could bark harsher than Turk ever did. "Get the buckboard, and load that sack of grain."

It was typical of Pa to ignore gossip. He stepped around contention as nimbly as he did cow-pies. But why wouldn't he defend his own wife's honor? It reminded JJ of a time he trailed a fox to a nest of Texas bobwhites. The hen let out a shrill whistle and spread her feathers to protect her young, while the male scuttled soundlessly into the brush. Disgusted, JJ let the fox go and took "daddy quail" home for dinner. Ma had agreed the coward deserved roasting.

As usual, the ride back to the ranch was silent. If Josey were here, he and Pa would be talking about books. Pa was obsessed with anything to do with letters—why else would he insist his two sons both be called by their initials? It was humiliating. Miss Milner announced to the whole school that the Barlow boys were there mainly to teach them their alphabet. His older brother was named after Uncle Josey, as well as Grandpa Manchester Josiah Barlow, and called MJ to avoid confusion, although it hardly seemed necessary since both his namesakes were dead. JJ had taken to calling him Josey just to spite Pa.

"What does JJ stand for?" This question never failed to rile his father. "I hate not having a real name."

Leo gave his stock answer. "Son, you have to make your name for yourself."

Son of a Gun, by Marty Halverson

If you've read this far, you're an honorary member of The Write Group. You are my connection to the outside world. I've become a hermit, making up imaginary friends because I'm neglecting all my real ones—writing a book is solitary work. I read somewhere that the most important writer's tool is "bum glue." (It keeps you stuck to your seat.) Another crucial tool is feedback.

Without referring to the excerpt above, can you answer these questions?
  1. Who is this book about?
  2. Where and when is it taking place?
  3. What is the problem this character is trying to solve?
I need to know if I'm communicating!


~Write an introductory scene. Without intruding, have the character introduce himself, tell us where we are and what his problem is.


Jennifer said...

After reading the excerpt, the impression I got was that the book is about JJ, taking place in the western US in the late 1800s and it's about JJ discovering who he is regardless of other people's labels.

Diane said...

Without referring back to the excerpt:
1. This excerpt is about JJ (previous reading has included Ruby, and Leo)
2. Takes place in the west, in 1800's.
3. In this excerpt JJ is beginning to get a hint of his own history, but doesn't know it yet.

(Nice character building going on--I liked the school reference to add more meat to the character).

Val and Eric said...

J.J. Barlow, Mid to Western US 1800s, AS a boy of 10, J.J. is beginning to recognize himself as an individual and wants to understand who he is

I don't think of myself as enjoying "Westerns," but am looking forward to reading more. Thanks. Hang in there Partner.

Allison said...

My thoughts...
1. It's about JJ as he deals with his (and his mother's) past and tries to figure out who he is. Sounds a little like a cowboy-coming-of-age type of story.
2. Old West, mid-1800's. From this excerpt, I can't figure out if it's before or after the Civil War or the exact state/region.
3. Sounds like in this scene, he's gotten his first glimpse about the truth of his mother's life...and he wants a real name.

And a couple extra thoughts, if you don't mind...
The first bit of dialogue seems a little forced. It's usually awkward to have a character give exposition like that. Maybe structure it more as a couple lines between two characters? Make JJ have to read between the lines a bit--JJ's reaction would clue us (the readers) in.
And I'm not sure if the last bit a dialogue actually happens on the ride home or is just something that JJ often asks and Leo often answers. It seems like on this particular ride, JJ would be more likely to press Leo about what the gossipers said about his mother.

Love the back story about the fox and the birds--nice insight into JJ's and his ma's character.

Heffalump said...

Not looking back, just from the one read-through...
It's about a boy and his family who are living sometime before cars and such were a usual thing and farming was.
The boy overhears some gossip, figures out it is about his Mom, and wants his Dad to defend her honor. He is upset that his Dad only ignores the gossip and has resentful feelings about his Dad, thinking him a coward for not defending the boy's Mother.
The boy is being raised to be self sufficient (as most children were back then) and can hunt for food. I also got the impression that he wasn't too fond of school but that schooling was important to his Father.