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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Chapter One: Memory

“Genevieve. Your turn.”
            I take the box and brush off the pine bristles. I rip off the paper, look inside, and pull it out. I try to show a genuine looking smile as my mother says, “Well gosh, honey. At least read the card first.”
            “I know,” I say, opening the white envelope, flipping it open, and reading the scribbled words “Merry Christmas, Grandma and Grandpa.”
            I hold it in my hand, staring at it in unimpressed disappointment.
            “Is that not good enough for you,” Lauren says.
            Of course. My younger sister is always the one to blab her opinion to anyone willing to listen. Most guys let her get away with it because she’s absolutely stunning. I don’t hate her for it. I mean, she only has this shield around her hair that protects it from frizz, split ends, and just all around bad hair days. Guess who got the short end of that gene?
            “Lauren, shut up,” I start to say until my mother and father both chime in.
            “Gosh, honey, don’t be so rude to your sister—they spent their hard-earned money—be grateful for what you get—life isn’t all about stuff—,” and whatever else they said.
            I toss the makeup brushes on my little pile of worthless gifts. There is Dollar Store lip gloss that has glitter and a sticky felt wand inside, nail polish the color of maroon vomit, and a gift card to Molly’s, a store where eleven year old girls go to die. I don’t know why my relatives think I’m still a freshman in high school when they’ve already booked their flights to come to my graduation this spring.
            “Seth, your turn,” Lauren says.
            He fetches a gift from underneath the tree that has his name on it in black sharpie.
            “That one’s from me,” I say.
            Seth takes off the red bow and sticks it on top of his head. He rips open the gold wrapping paper, revealing a thick World War II book. He lets out a gasp of awe and stares at the monstrous book in disbelief. It’s kind of funny hearing his childish voice start to break. I can’t believe my little brother is hitting puberty.
            “Open it!” I say.
            He flips through the pages, hunks at a time, revealing colorful pictures of battle scenes and footnotes and headers and paragraphs and fun facts and everything a twelve year old boy could ever want in a book about his favorite thing in history.
            “Do you love it?”
            Seth looks at me, his eyes wide, and his mouth tries to disguise a genuine, pre-teenage boy smile.
            Nailed it.                                
The monkey bread my mother made sits on the counter, and I go grab another piece.
The smell has turned the house into a Christmas bakery. My mother hums along to “The Christmas Song” and the fireplace sparks and the smell of the candle that’s called “Jingle Bells” wafts through the air and our entire family is still in PJ’s and has bed head. Well, all of us except Lauren, of course.
            “What exactly goes in this stuff?” I ask, taking a bite of the warm, sugary sweet bread.
            “All it takes is some cans of biscuits that you shake in some cinnamon sugar with some melted butter and brown sugar. Pop it in the oven for an hour or so and wah-lah,” she points at her golden brown creation on the kitchen island, “you get monkey bread.”
“Good to know,” I say, taking another bite.
“Are you going to make it next time?” My mom laughs, omitting a warmth from her voice that only the Christmas spirit can create.
“Whose turn is it?” Lauren says.
“Lauren, don’t be in such a rush. It’s Christmas morning!” my mother says.
“You guys are going to make this last forever. Quit talking about the monkey bread and open your presents.”
My father tilts his head down so that his eyes loom over his reading glasses and he stares at Lauren. He doesn’t have to say the words—we all know what message he’s sending. It’s something along the lines of “This is family time. Like it or… well that’s the only option. Like it.”
“I’m just saying there are still presents under the tree, and we’ve been at this for a while.”
Lauren tries to disguise her attitude and picks at her fingernails in boredom.
I sit down next to her on the couch with my little plate of monkey bread and say with my mouth full, “It’s your turn.”
“God, Genevieve, shut your mouth. You always talk with your mouth full. It’s freakin’ disgusting.”
“No I don’t,” I laugh, my mouth still full of food.
“Girls,” my mother says, and I see that my father’s eyes are peering down at us again.
“It’s fine…,” I say, “We’re fine.” Both of us understand that our little bicker is just part of our everyday relationship—as long as it doesn’t involve fingernails and plastic bags.
Okay the plastic bag thing is kind of a long story, but long story short… well, I tried to suffocate Lauren by putting a plastic bag over her head when she was like six and I was eight.
Seth grabs a huge present from under the tree and struggles to lift it to Lauren.
“I wonder who this is from,” she says.
“It’s from us,” my mother quickly blurts out, her excitement almost tipping her off the edge of the couch.
Lauren props up the large box in between her legs and starts to unwrap it.
“We figured since we got Genevieve one for her birthday this year, it was only fair to get you one, too.”
Of course. When there are two sisters that are two years apart, everyone thinks their presents have to be identical. In fact, most of our relatives get us the same stuff in different colors. Red scarf, green scarf. Blue socks, pink socks. It doesn’t work. We usually fight over who gets the cutest pattern.
“Wow, thank you so much!”
The torn wrapping paper reveals the laptop. Not just any laptop, but a glittery one. Who even sells a laptop with silver glitter?
My mother gets all giddy with excitement, and giddy is really the only way to describe how she acts when she’s proud of herself.
“Do you love it?” she asks.
“Yes, it’s amazing! I love it! The glitter! How did you…?”
I tune them out as my mother spends the next few minutes describing all the wonderful things the laptop is capable of and how much easier life will be with this wonderful piece of technology. I finish my plate and take it to the kitchen, forcing myself to put it in the dishwasher as an attempt to make my mother happy.
“I think we should play a little game this Christmas,” my father says from the living room couch, glasses on the tip of his nose as he reads the directions to a remote control helicopter Seth got from Grandma Eden.
“Dear God,” I say, Lauren following me with a, “Here we go,” both knowing my father is about to turn this morning into a sentimental family moment.
            My mother is decked out in her usual Christmas morning attire which consists of a blue robe and beaten-down white slippers. She plops down next to my dad and says, “I happen to think that’s a wonderful idea,” putting her hand on his thigh.
            They almost look like the picture perfect couple—you know, the old parents who sit at the kitchen table at nine in the morning reading the newspaper, working out the crossword puzzle together with extra strength prescription glasses on while making jokes about putting Bailey’s in their coffee.
            “Hear me out, girls,” my dad says, taking his glasses off, which he always does when he has a fantastic idea that he wants everyone to listen to, “we should all go around a circle and say one thing about this family that we love.”
            “Dear God,” Lauren says this time, realizing my father has, in fact, turned this morning into a sentimental family shindig.
            Strangely enough, this—the predictability of my family—this is what I love.


  1. I'll try and comment more later. For now, let me say, I love the line "a gift card to Molly’s, a store where eleven year old girls go to die." It's a great descriptive phrase. If it were me I'd say it as "the store where...". But it's fine the way you wrote it. Not sure how much advice I can give on creative writing. I've always been more of a non-fiction guy myself but I'll try and come up with some more ideas.

  2. My notes on Chapter One
    -- "Of course. My younger sister... Guess who got the short end of that gene?" Great revelation of character description. Killing two birds with one stone by contrasting their looks and also revealing the narrators opinion.
    -- "...a gift card to Molly’s, a store where eleven year old girls go to die." LOL. Good details on the gifts. Effectively revealing her materialism/ungrateful nature.
    -- "I can’t believe my little brother is hitting puberty." Unnecessary. Got it from the voice breaking.
    -- "...'Pop it in the oven for an hour or so and *wah-lah*.'" I'm assuming you intentionally wrote the phonetic spelling of "voila". I'm not sure how I feel about it. It gives the impression that the mom is uncultured and ignorant. But that could extend to the narrator.
    -- "Okay the plastic bag thing is kind of a long story, but long story short…" Oh no you don't. Full story please! Unless you tell it later...
    -- "...forcing myself to put it in the dishwasher as an attempt to make my mother happy." Good detail. Realistic and shows a good side of her, making her likable.
    -- "'Dear God,' I say, Lauren following me with a, 'Here we go,' both knowing..." Edit: "'Dear God,' I say. Lauren follows with a, 'Here we go,' both of us knowing...
    -- " father is about to turn this morning into a sentimental family moment." You say this later after he reveals the game and I think it fits better there. Here it is a little strong. Why is a game sentimental? It could be competitive. Maybe just delete it: "Lauren follows with a 'Here we go.'"
    -- "Strangely enough, this—the predictability of my family—this is what I love." Perfect.
    -- Overall this is a great follow up to the prologue: a vignette of the family celebrating Christmas together. It gives us backstory, setting up the family unit and their relationship with each other. I'm still not convinced that we need it though. Prologues are a bit cliche and I hear that some publishers hate them. The story may be stronger if you continue the story from the moment of the scene in the Prologue and give us the Christmas scene in flashbacks, bit by bit throughout the story as a comforting memory that she keeps coming back to as she struggles on. I'd love to hear other opinions on the argument for a prologue. I may be wrong and I'll keep that in mind as I read on. For your purposes, it totally works. Just trying to give you something to think about and play devils advocate.