ON WRITING

“It’s very easy to quit during the first ten years of writing. Nobody cares whether you write or not, and it’s very hard to write when nobody cares one way or the other. You can’t get fired if you don’t write, and most of the time you don’t get rewarded if you do. But don’t quit.” Andre Dubus

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Spectacular Settings: WEP challenge - Part A - Pat Conroy. Part B - My flash fiction, The Child. #wepff

Hello all!

Write...Edit...Publish (WEP) restarts today under a new format. Yolanda Renee and I have teamed up to present this challenge which will generally run every second month. This first challenge is in two parts. Participants can complete one or both parts.

Part A is where you share a found setting that you love: in a novel, poem, photo, artwork...Then you explain why you love it.

Part B is optional, where you share your own setting piece, either written expressly for the challenge or one previously written or compiled--whether flash fiction, non fiction, a photo montage or essay, an artwork you created, a playscript you wrote...the choice is open!

If you like the idea, please sign up in my sidebar and post to the guidelines above, or check out this post at WEP for full guidelines. You have until August 26th to post.

My entry:

Part A - An excerpt from the Prologue of Beach Music by Pat Conroy, my favourite novel.

If I’d just opened a random page, I could have found some amazing setting to share with you. Chapter 1 begins with such a sensuous description of the Piazza Farnese in Rome you have to blink to make sure you’re not actually there, so strong is the smell of freshly-brewed coffee and so vivid the descriptions of the morning activity in the Piazza. And I’m sure South Carolina never had prettier words written to describe it. But the descriptions that never leave me are found in the Prologue. I have taken excerpts from pp. 19-23, where the teenage Jack is sky larking with a group of his graduate high-school classmates who have gathered in a condemned house on St Michael’s Island, South Carolina, on the night it was predicted the house would break up and fall into the sea. This section is reminiscent of the whole novel, where Conroy, a master of setting as character, parallels the coming together of himself and his great love, Shyla, against the backdrop of the raging Atlantic Ocean. 

This of course, foreshadows one of many tragedies which is to come...

"THE sea rose invisibly beneath us and the moon shone smooth and bright. A glossy flute of light, like velvet down a bridal aisle, lit the marlin scales and the backs of whales migrating a hundred miles at sea. The tides surged through the marsh and each wave that hit the beach came light-struck and broad-shouldered, with all the raw power the moon could bestow. Magically, an hour passed and we, ocean dancers and tide challengers, found ourselves listening to the sea directly beneath us as the waves began to crash in earnest against the house...
I looked around to see Shyla Fox in the moonlight. She looked as though she had dressed for this moment with the help of the moon…
We danced toward the central motion of our lives. The winds roared and a strange love rose like a tide between us and rested in the crown of waves that was loosening the frame of the house. Alone we danced beneath the full moon…
I heard the house shudder and push off as it took its first primal step towards the sea. The house tilted, then fell forward as though it were prostrating itself before the power of this tidal surge.
We went out to the newly imbalanced balcony, holding hands. The moon lit the sea in a freeway of papery light and we watched the boiling white caps feeding on the broken cement scattered beneath the house. We continued to dance while the house kept its appointment with the long tide and I blazed with the love of this young girl. 
Our love began and ended with seawater."
270 words

Part B

This is a reworked flash fiction which I wrote for #FridayFlash, my first online foray into flash fiction. It seems fitting to use one of my war stories seeing it's the 70th year anniversary of WW2. 

I write in Australian English which uses the 'u' and 's' and double 'l' and 're' not 'er', where you might use no 'u' and 'z' instead of 's' and a single 'l'. Just so you don't correct my spelling, lol! As I've waxed eloquent on Conroy, I've edited my story down, well under 1,000 words.


The Child

The desert was pitch-black, the only sound the Muslim call to prayer that rang out across the Baluchi Valley, punctuating the silence with staccato bursts.  

We marched single file into mayhem.

I slipped and slid behind the soldier in front of me, his form a shadow in the darkness. I’d had no sleep the night before, so terrified was I at the spectre of the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan, the caves seething with displaced insurgents. I struggled through oceans of sand, so thick around my ankles it dragged at my regulation boots. My knees screamed, my thighs burned, my lungs caught fire as I fought the grainy enemy.

I was in hell, a place where nothing was as it appeared.

Who was friend?

Who was foe?

I was on covert foot patrol with Australian and Afghan soldiers.  We were outside the wire, tramping through deserts, skirting a meandering river, scaling rocky hills under the pressing weight of body armour and supplies. I hadn’t yet acclimatised to the blistering temperatures or the altitude.

No one stopped when I tripped and fell. On patrol, to stop would jeopardise the mission. I dragged my feet from their burial place in the sand. No princesses here. In uniform everyone is treated the same.

How I prayed for sunrise.

***

The line paused.

The lead soldier signalled with his crooked finger, pointing to our surroundings, then held a finger to his lips. Word reached me that the desert was revealing Kuchi camps, Bedouins’ homes.

We crept silently as mountain cats into the night.

“Police checkpoint ahead”, someone whispered. In briefing I’d been told that these checkpoints were best avoided.

No one even breathed as we crouched and duck-walked along the ground, swinging our weapons side to side, holding tight.

An almighty screech, then a huge spotlight shone down on us, bathing us in blinding light.
­­

Someone screamed ‘Darawem!’ ('Stop!')and we froze like sphinxes in the desert, clutching weapons to our chests. 

Two policemen yelled at us in a language I didn’t understand, while their fingers stabbed the air.

We stood.

Statue still.

I struggled to control my bladder, knowing I could be shot right where I stood.

Someone down the line yelled ‘Australians!’ The police muttered to each other, nodded their heads, then motioned us on.

Further into the desert.

‘They were skittish because just yesterday they confronted insurgents in Kakarak across the river. Shots were exchanged,’ whispered the soldier behind me.

‘Thanks,’ I whispered back. My eyes were seeing insurgents behind the rocks, across the snaking river, in the shadowy menace of the mountains.

***

Sunrise.

A glorious orange orb broke over the mountains into the valley, skittering across the water till it reached the shock of green land at our feet.

In the near distance a small boy, not four years old, shepherded his family’s goats through the spiky fields. He could be my son, but my son slept in cosy comfort, surrounded by stuffed toys and his father’s love. More children hid shyly in doorways as we filed past their simple rammed-earth homes. 

Children. 

Everywhere.

Watching. 

First regulation stop. An exchange with tribal elders. They constantly looked to see who was watching them. They risked death for talking to Australian soldiers.

We moved on. Further into the desert. Away from the river.

Over broken bricked walls and through crumbling aqueducts we waded towards the hostile village of Sorkh Morghab where coalition forces had built a school, market and medical centre. 

We wandered through the market area, apparently casually, weapons held across our chests. Men and young boys showed us their wares and tried to sell me a burqa. I was just a woman, one who needed to cover herself.

One little boy approached me, hand outstretched. He was about six years old. Tears sprung to my eyes at his rough brown tunic draping his wasted body. I thought of my son, but this little boy’s eyes reflected a man, an angry man. I shivered with an unnamed emotion. 

A soldier pulled me roughly, backwards against his chest. 

'Don't,' he said.

'Let me,' I said, pushing him away. 

I reached into my pocket. 

I pulled out two soggy chocolate bars for the poor little boy. He was only a child.

The child smiled a gap-toothed smile but it didn’t reach his old man eyes.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a large apple. We smiled at each other in a very easy but powerful gesture.

I stepped closer so we could exchange our bounty. It was then I saw the apple had blackened with age. Oh. It looked like a--no--it couldn’t be--

‘Nooooooooooo…’ someone yelled, a voice full of pain and regret.

I felt the fire on my lips. 

I tasted the fire as it burned in my throat.

I crumpled as the fire hit my belly.

I heard voices and staccato bursts of gunfire.

I heard the wailing call to prayer begin.

I heard the cry of a child.


THE END

 ©DeniseCovey2015


POST THIS BADGE UNDER YOUR ENTRY
I'd appreciate your reaction to my story. I know it won't appeal to everyone.

So my critique request:

WORD COUNT: 832

FCA


Thank you so much for coming by and reading my entry for WEP. Please click on blogger's names in my sidebar to read more, especially those with 'Direct Link' after their name.



81 comments:

  1. Hi Denise, great post. Really highlights the impact and interaction of people upon place. Some great lines, 'no princesses here' and 'froze like sphinxes' hit the spot. Sad. Poignant and moving. And I must check out Pat Conroy's works too! Fab to be back with WEP!

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    1. I'm glad you like my story and the imagery. I love every one of Conroy's books. To me he's totally awesome.

      Fab to have you back at WEP!

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  2. Wow.
    Powerful.
    Poignant.
    And a line which I loved early 'We marched single file into mayhem.' was so very true.
    Thank you.

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    1. Thanks EC. Glad you liked that. I only recently changed it and sometimes late additions don't work. I'm glad you commented on it.

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  3. Denise, wow, that was well, really powerful! Both entries were, but the last one especially. I felt as though I were on the march with her. Such a sad ending for both of your stories, but gosh, both were excellent! Just excellent!

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    1. Thanks Yolanda. That's exactly how I wanted you to feel. Sad seems to work in stories doesn't it? Reading or writing.

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  4. In Viet Nam we learned there were no "safe" children. War kills innocence first. We both did desert tales. Yours was gripping and evocative. Great writing as always.

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    1. To our minds it is atrocious how children are used in wartime. Child soldiers. What an oxymoron. Thanks for your kind comment on my story, Roland.

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  5. Stunning. Every detail placed just so, like careful footprints. It's a wicked thing to consider; so many children all over the world, filled with fear and hate, when they were all born so innocent and unknowing. Very moving, Denise.

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    1. I'm glad you like it Li. Yes. Innocence lost all too soon.

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  6. Denise! Spellbinding and ultra riveting. Did you say might not like it??? I love this. I read it through several times. It was like my eyes couldn't leave it.

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    1. Oooh, lovely Robyn! I'm glad you were hooked. I can even make myself cry reading it and I wrote it! So sad but the everyday just got darker. :-)

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  7. That is a brutally chilling and wonderfully written story. Wow. Well done!

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  8. Hi Denise. Wow. I loved the Conroy excerpt. Powerful stuff.
    Your own story is great too, of course. Lovely sense of place and can see it all.
    Thanks for persevering with WEP.

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    1. Hi Rae! Thanks for liking both Conroy and my bit!

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  9. Hi there. Wonderful selections here. They more than descriptive, they are fluid, allowing the reader to experience the moment. The Conroy is good and nice, no doubt, but I like yours. It feels more relatable on an individual level. My favorite line "we froze like sphinxes in the desert, clutching weapons to our chests". Thanks for sharing this and putting all this together.

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    1. I got the idea after reading a magazine article about a female Aussie soldier on the front lines in Afghanistan. I found it horrendous and couldn't stop thinking about it...thus a story was born. Thanks for telling me what you especially liked. The 'sphinxes' was last minute as I grappled for a simile.

      It's been an exhausting pleasure kick starting WEP. The quality of the entries is amazing. So enjoying reading each and every one as they go live.

      Thank you for being so supportive!

      Denise :-)

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  10. Hi Denise - I've been across to look at the Conroy novels and saw the excellent reviews for his books - I like that the couple continued to be pulled along with the house into the grasping sea ... the dark wall of blank crashing waves ahead ...

    While the Afghanistan excerpt is frightening ... too frightening - I'd certainly not like to be a part of the warring faction - either way ...

    Cheers Hilary

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    1. You'd love Conroy I'm sure. I eat him up, taken away on a sea of delightful prose. Beach Music remains my favourite. I'm with you on war. What the hell are we doing??

      Thanks for being such a support Hilary!

      Denise :-)

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  11. I haven't read any novels by Conroy but I will certainly look out for him based on your recommendation. Your flash is powerful with such imagery with her son at home and the children she encounters there. You made my heart jump!! P.S. so glad WEP is back thank you, Denise and Yolanda, for the wonderful work you do behind the scenes. P.P.S. it is interesting that you mention the spellings - perhaps I should put that proviso on my flashes in future - as written in UK English.

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    1. I'm so glad WEP is back Sally and we're all able to get creating again and sharing, seeing what works and what doesn't. Thanks for coming back! I've certainly missed the challenge!
      Glad you liked my heart-thumping story. I've had too many people correcting my Australian English so I got in first. A lot of people don't know there's a difference between UK (which we use) and US (which we don't but Amazon demands, lol!)

      As always, thanks for your friendship Sally.

      Denise :-)

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  12. Loved both entries; so full of emotion. So powerful, I was placed in the scene and held against my will, not wanting to go on, needing to discover more. Awesome.

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    1. Hi Feather Stone! I love/hate that feeling of wanting to know what happens, but not wanting to finish. I'm glad I created a bit of that!

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  13. This is a story that touches the heart; children and war just don't mix. I was wondering at the beginning whether the narrator was male, but little things you mentioned gradually made me see female attributes coming out. A very nice way of drawing the reader in to the story. When you said the eyes of a man in the face of a child, I could imagine that things would not be simple. I hope the character survived. . . I enjoyed reading how you wove in the heat and clinging nature of sand. Not familiar with Conroy, so thanks for introducing her prose to us. I'm so glad WEP has been revived, Denise!

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    1. Thanks DG. Nah, she was blown up. Sorry. I could just imagine the bloodbath aftermath. War is hideous. And trudging through the desert lugging all that equipment would be my idea of hell so i tried to get that feeling across.

      Thanks for your love of WEP DG. I hope you're not disappointed!

      Denise :-)

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  14. I loved Beach Music and you've chosen a beautiful passage of description to include here. It does set the tone for the entire book.

    You've also created a powerful setting. The images are so vivid that I felt the sand burying her feet, her heaviness from being worn down by the trek and the danger, the dawning horror of what the boy held in his hands.

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    1. Lee,I'm so glad to meet someone who's read BM. I'm glad you felt my story too!

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  15. Such a powerful story, and the setting is almost a character in itself.

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    1. Thanks Olga. That's exactly what I wanted!

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  16. Loved it. Powerful writing.

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  17. "I felt the fire on my lips." - wonderful line

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  18. A story that reflects with power the world we are living in

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  19. Thanks for the introduction to Pat Conroy; makes me want to read the book. That is a great last line.

    Your story had me completely engrossed! I could almost feel the heat and the sand and the pain at the end. War is a special kind of hell and you conveyed that so well. Thanks again for hosting this interesting challenge.

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    1. Debbie, you love to travel. In Beach Music we have as settings Rome, Venice and the beaches of South Carolina. All beautifully wrought.

      I'm glad you liked my story too.

      Thanks for participating. :-)

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  20. I love Pat Conroy, and the piece you shared is brilliant. But, when I read your flash fiction, I almost forgot the first one. It was that intense. I could feel his every emotions. Beautifully penned.
    It is said that everything is fair in love, and war. But, I think using kids is not fair, and a lot worse than any other atrocity. :(

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    1. I'm pleased to meet another Conroy fan. I'm glad you found mine intense. It certainly was meant to be. Never fair to use kids in a bad way!

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  21. Hi,
    Thanks for introducing me to Beach Music. I haven't read it and I have put it on my TBR list. Any book that has scenes with Italy in it draws me because I love Italy.

    Now to your own work, The Child.
    This is a very strong piece of flash fiction showing the effects of war and how it is destroying humanity. Each section built upon the other, so the flow was there. The tension carried me from one paragraph to the other, as I waited on the big bang. And you didn't disappoint me eitherl. The ending is perfect. A trustful woman soldier that is more mother than knowledgeable about guerrilla war tactics and the use of children as time ticking bombs.

    The saddest thíng is that she will never be the same, if she lives. Her own perception of children will never be the same.

    To say I enjoyed this piece is not enough. I too venture out and look at the world with my writer's eye. I see what is happening and comment every now and then in poetry or by expressing my point of view in my Viewpoint: A Commentary blog articles.

    Your piece of flash fiction screams out loud and clear that the childhood from our young is being destroyed. Children in war-ridden countries are becoming old before their time. They are being robbed of their innocence.

    Thank you. Your submission was truly inspiring yet sad and it made me think.
    Shalom,
    Patricia

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    1. What a thoughtful comment Pat! Thank you. It means a lot to me.

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  22. Ouch - I hope I never have to taste fire! What a way to go :( Very tragic story, but so well written. Great job Denise!

    Beach Music sounds like a wonderful read. I haven't read any Conroy.

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  23. Using kids in any way is never good. Great story indeed.

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  24. Gripping writing. I loved your description of marching through the sand, the sense of danger and the need to be quiet. The horror of the apple and the sense of betrayal was very strong. Superb.
    Beach Music sounds like something I would love to read.

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    1. Thanks Kalpanaa. This was encouraging to me. :-)

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  25. Thanks for introducing me to Pat Conroy's work. It's beautiful.

    I loved your FF entry.
    Scary... realistic...
    I love the voice and diction.

    Great pacing and tension throughout the piece.
    I love what you did with the final lines:
    I felt...I tasted...I crumpled...
    I heard...I heard...I heard...
    It carries the reader along, trapped in the momentum... senses alive...
    Really powerful!

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    1. Glad you liked my flash, Michelle, as I did yours. :-)

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  26. Loved this, Denise! The Conroy excerpt is brilliant ("each wave that hit the beach came light-struck and broad-shouldered" -- and "we, ocean dancers and tide challengers" -- gorgeous!), and your own piece is gorgeous. Heartwrenching and tragic, but all the more beautiful because of the depth of emotion it carries. The use of a memory of the narrator's child before the denouement really serves the story, I think; when she approaches the child at the market, when the soldier pushes her back, we -- readers -- also protest: poor kid, we think. We're with her as she pulls out the chocolate; whyever not? All of us, at least those of us with the compassion gene, would do exactly the same. And the grenade is perfectly brought into the scene. The confusion is real, the realization comes naturally... if too late. We die with her, there in this place of sand and heat, where nothing is what it seems. Great, great piece. Thanks for sharing!
    Guilie @ Quiet Laughter

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    1. Glad you got right into the Conroy excerpt. The whole book is an adoration of setting as in Rome, Venice and South Carolina. And his characters---wow, unforgettable. Glad you liked my flash. Okay, I easily relate to the 'motherhood' POV. Her having a child was a recent thought which I added for the emotional impact. Afghanistan was the first war where Australian women could choose to be on the front line. Urk!
      Thanks Guilie.:-)

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  27. Wow, I love this piece. So intense and poignant. I've never been in any sort of situation like that, but I could feel how that might be true. So sad :(

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    1. Thankfully neither have I Madilyn, but I have a morbid fascination for the Afghanistan war. They've really never known peace. How sad is that!

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  28. From Tom Benson:
    Two great pieces here Denise. I'm one of those folk who abhors large expanses of water and I'd rather drive 500 miles than take a car ferry for 50. For that reason the waves, the storm and all that came with it made me feel uncomfortable, but that's because it was well written.
    The Child is excellent. I served in Northern Ireland in the mid-70's, and in the first Gulf War ('90 - '91). This short tale is the stuff of nightmares - and extremely well composed.

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    1. As you say Tom, it was well written and therefore made you uncomfortable. Most of Conroy's books have the water looming large. I adore water so it speaks to me.

      Good to have a soldier's perspective on serving. I'm sure soldiers have plenty of ongoing nightmares.

      Thanks. :-)

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  29. That was chilling! Very powerful and moving. I marched right along into the mayhem too.

    Must track down and read Conroy, the excerpt has got me intrigued.

    Thanks for the awesomeness that is WEP :-)

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    1. Thanks for the awesomeness that is you Nila. Thanks for finding a way to post from the wilds...:-)

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  30. I thought your account was brilliantly written, not only prose-wise, but the pacing and final emotional impact. Actually, I enjoyed your writing far more than the excerpt you picked! This was my fave line: "I dragged my feet from their burial place in the sand." Very well done! :)

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  31. HI, Denise,


    WOW... That was amazing emotion, atmosphere and intensity... I was totally feeling it all! Just incredible writing here!

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  32. This was awesome. A wonderful and emotional journey.

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    1. Thank you Rasma. I appreciate your comments. :-)

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  33. Pat Conroy’s descriptions always read like poetry to me, lyrical and melodic. As a fan of less is more, there are only a couple writers with the talent to draw me in with such lush writing. Conroy never fails.

    Your story is marvelous, beautifully written, graphic, haunting. While not always comfortable to read, there is nothing more powerful than truth on the page. Well-done, Denise.

    VR Barkowski

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    1. Glad to meet another Conroy fan. Glad you liked my child too VR. :-)

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  34. At last time was made to read your post. What a splendid surprise that you are so rich in detail and atmosphere. Interesting to see your creative choices, thank you!

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  35. Very nice Conroy selection. The imagery was magnificent. And so was yours. I'm not sure I believe that a soldier, male or female, would be quite so trusting in these circumstances, but maybe a sentence or two would change my mind.

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    1. She was obviously a rookie which I explained early in the story. I totally think she would do exactly what she did. :-)

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  36. An amazingly haunting story.

    From the title and opening lines, I was expecting something poignant. Soldiers helping or sheltering orphaned children in a time of war. Or perhaps someone looking for a lost child in the middle of a war zone.

    Toward the end, I figured that the child would become a casualty of war. It just didn't happen the way I'd expected. And ending it with the explosion, along with the prayer call and the 'cry of a child' was brilliant. It made me re-read the ending to fully process it all.

    The Conroy piece was similar in that respect, with an ending that needed time to sink in (no pun intended).

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    1. Arpan, thank you. I appreciate your reading/commenting. I'm glad you had to figure out The Child.

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  37. The excerpt is evocative, and full of movement.

    Your work, Denise, evokes the unfortunate war-torn world of the story in precise, surgical strokes. The tension rises throughout, and this is not a little due to the surroundings (as well as the situation, of course-- the frontline is one of the most stressful human situations).

    This is powerful because of unsaid, withheld, violent emotion, almost like the grenade that explodes in the end.

    It seems criminal to give feedback on such a sterling piece, but I'll add the nitpicks that struck me to follow the spirit of this event:

    We crept silently as mountain cats into the night = We crept as mountain cats into the night.

    Repeating the word 'one' in quick succession:

    one who needed to cover herself.

    One little boy approached me, hand outstretched.

    I like that you leave the ending unresolved-- whether she lived or died-- a tricky thing with a first-person narrator coming to a bad end.

    And in light of that, a suggestion for experimentation: second person-- to make it more visceral, so that the reader is put into the sodier's shoes. The challenge then becomes: handling the "We" parts. Could those become "You" too?

    And also, an experimentation with third person, close single-- She. This will give away the gender of the narrator at the outset, but that could give a different sort of power to the piece, and also solve the bit about the dying/ dead first person narrator. The challenge then becomes: How to retain urgency, while moving to a more distant POV.

    My suggestions for experimentation are just that, very light suggestions, humbly made. Feel free to set them aside, as you see fit.

    Thankyou for all the work you've put into this Denise-- truly appreciate it. Sorry I haven't been by sooner, but as I told you, life has hit panic mode the last few days.

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    1. Lovely that you made it at last Damyanti. Thank you for your suggestions. i have experimented with third person and it was nowhere near as evocative as the first for this piece. I'd stay away from 'you', I like it but most don't. Thanks for pointing out the reps--I always try to eliminate them but 'one' (LOL) got past me. Yes and 'silently' doesn't need saying.

      Thanks Damyanti. I will make some of these changes. Thanks for taking the time to suggest them.

      Denise :-)

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  38. I love the "marched into mayhem" line. You really made the whole scene seem real.

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    1. Thanks Laura. That's just what I wanted!

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  39. Whoa! Incredible tension and imagery anchored me in this foreign, hostile world. Your perspective of a woman & mother at war was visceral The ending was expertly delivered-a powerful blow with words.

    "Our love began and ended with seawater." Oh, how I love that line!!

    The Weight of Wonder

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  40. Visual and emotive. A tough place to be, the setting felt hostile. I liked how your metaphors related to the setting also.

    Well written Denise.

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