Five New Reviews from Future Learn online writing Course for my Short Story
This was my last week of the writing course I was taking online at Future Learn. I enjoyed the eight week free course, submitting assignments and getting other writers thoughts about what I had written. I didn't struggle to hand in a freshly written paragraph and short story. I used from what I already had so it was easier to get the assignments done. Now on to finishing my next Amish book about Nurse Hal. My last post was about the character paragraph I handed in and the critiques I received. That paragraph was part of my first Amazing Gracie Mystery series book titled Neighbor Watchers. So the next assignment was to write a thousand word short story using the character. I took an excerpt out of another Amazing Gracie Mystery book titled The Chance of A Sparrow. The excerpt is from the first chapter, but I tweaked what I submitted to Future Learn by omitting some of the passages and changing the very end to make the complete short story. So here is the short story. Melinda Applegate’s soft voice held concern. "Gracie Evans, what"s wrong with you? Stop rubbing that rocker arm. You’ll wear a groove in the wood." That beautiful, spring morning everything came alive in 1904. On the breeze, Gracie’s nose picked up fresh cut grass and purple hyacinths. She was too melancholy to express her feelings. Instead, she groused, "I’m listening to them unhappy robins." Melinda responded, "That’s the way robins always chirp. Loud like some folks I know." Gracie frowned. "Best I remember, country birds didn"t sound that sharp." Melinda smiled at Gracie tentatively, not sure how to answer without upsetting her. Rocking back and forth for momentum, Gracie propelled herself to her feet. "I"m fixin" to take a walk." Worried about her friend, Melinda asked, "Want me to go with you?" Gracie grumped, "I’m not fit company for myself let alone anyone else." With her hands clasped behind her back, Gracie shuffled beside the Locked Rock, Iowa Victorian mansion and through the backyard. She stopped by the angel statue near the gazebo. The pan in the angel’s hands did double duty. Full of water in warm weather, and in the winter, the pan held corn. She read the sign dangling over the angel’s arms, Bird Bath -- 10 cheeps -- No Refunds. Gracie didn’t like the changes in herself. Living in town after she"d spent her whole life on the farm wasn"t like she thought it would be. Restlessness, loneliness and uselessness welled up in her. Her wish was strong to have the days back when she was fiercely independent. Rubbing an itchy, gnat bite on the back of her hand, she stared at the red bump nestled between the brown spots and blue veins. It reminded her of the worse change of all. She"d grown old and past child bearing age. Now that she lived in the retirement home, she"d convinced herself her future was bleak. She hated feeling this miserable and didn’t have a clue how to make her life better. Sparrows flitted in front of Gracie. Busily moving forward with business, they dipped down, filled their beaks with grass clippings and flew back to build nests. She wondered why it had to be that birds had new families every year to keep the parents company when humans only had one family in a lifetime if they were lucky. Even then when children grew up, they left the nest. People aged alone. It didn’t seem quite fair to folks that nasty sparrows had it better. Sparrows didn"t have to be alone as long as they could build a nest and lay eggs that hatched. By grab, Gracie couldn’t do much about the set up of nature, but she felt like complaining to someone. Across the street was the church. Touched by the morning sun, the bronze bell in the belfry glinted like a beacon beckoning her. As Gracie crossed the street, she patted the gray braids wound around her head and smoothed the wrinkles out of her calico dress. Tightening her grip on the railing, she climbed the church steps. In the reverent stillness, she grimanced when her high topped shoes caused loud, hollow taps. She opened one of the double doors. The hinges groaned. The sound echoing through the building reinforced her despair. She was drowning in a bottomless pit of depression and so helpless she couldn’t stop sinking to the bottom. Easy as she could, Gracie shut the door. Normally, she stayed toward the back during Sunday service, but today, she had the church to herself. Best time to come when she didn’t have to worry about the hand shakers getting in her way. Gracie marched down the aisle and plopped into the front pew. She intended to have a serious talk with God now that she"d made up her mind to complain. Since he hadn’t been paying attention to her concerns lately, she worried that it might be because he"d become hard of hearing. She could sympathized with him. If she felt old, think how old God must feel. Gracie faced the cross behind the pulpit. She clasped her hands together, licked her lips and spoke loudly to make sure God heard her. "God, this is Gracie Evans. I’ve had plenty of time to ponder how things work in life. Don’t mean to complain, mind you.” She hesitated. It occurred to her she should be truthful. After all, this was God she was talking to, and she figured He pretty much knew what she had on her mind before she did. "That’s not exactly right. I do have a bone to pick with you so now that I have my pump primed I"m giving you an ear full. You did a right fine job creating the world and all the creatures, but seems to me, you had too many irons in the fire when you made everything in seven days. Maybe you should have taken more time to think about some way to improve on humans before you quit. Take sparrows. Did you ever stop to think sparrows get a chance to have two families a year? That’s ever year, mind you, but humans only get one chance in their lifetime. Now take me. All my family’s gone, and I"m alone. That’s not your fault. I made the choice to say no when Millard ask me years ago, but now I’m in a retirement home with no family, wasting away the last of my days. I"m smart enough to figure there’s not much you can do about it after you have everything created, but I just wish you’d have thought to give us lonesome human beings the chance of the sparrows. I had to get that off my chest. Much obliged for listening God. Amen." Gracie stood up, her heart lighter and her back straighter than it had been in weeks. She"d made God aware of His mistake. It was His problem to fix if there was a way. Submitted by reviewer number one What were the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayals? This is a lovely story with a strong main character. I do find the writing a little difficult to follow as it seems to me some it meanders on, although that could be your way of showing how the old lady talks. I'd love to see it laid out properly, but it's possible to see through that to a charming old lady who has a chat with God and actually sorts her own problems out. Hallelujah! Were there any very clear, or any confusing, elements of the story which related to approaches taught on Start Writing Fiction? I'm not sure what else to say about this because although the story is brilliant I still feel there is room to make it even better. The idea of sparrows having two families a year and us being so restricted is great ... although I think coping with my one family was quite enough. Did the story have a plot, causality and conflict? How did it engage you? The story has loads of promise and is gently gripping. I could engage with it and although I'm on a different continent understand how she feels. I don't know why Gracie's alone or where her family has gone so there's room for more of course, but perhaps this is part of a greater whole where that is revealed. Submitted by reviewer number two What were the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayals? This portrayal of an aging woman reluctantly living in a retirement home with all her family flown the nest was very well drawn. Her move from town to country was well expressed as was her mild depression. Were there any very clear, or any confusing, elements of the story which related to approaches taught on Start Writing Fiction? The setting was good, as were the characterizations. Did the story have a plot, causality and conflict? How did it engage you? The plot was unclear, focusing on Gracie's depression, and the causality could perhaps have been clearer. The only conflict seemed to be that of age resenting the loss of youth, but these were minor details as the story was engaging and thoughtful. Submitted by reviewer number three What were the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayals? Good start Fay. On the porch with the rocking chair and grumbling sets the scene nicely and great dialogue between Melinda and Gracie. One doesn't need much description for the reader to get a visual image of Gracie. Actually, having read the whole story, there was a bit more description of the Sparrows than of Gracie, but the story didn't need a description. Gracie's words and actions gave a good account of what she was like. Were there any very clear, or any confusing, elements of the story which related to approaches taught on Start Writing Fiction? It was a nice story, and a bit sad, but meant to be so. Did the story have a plot, causality and conflict? How did it engage you? The story was a lifetime of regrets I think. Regretting that she didn't have a family, regretting her loneliness and old age, and frustrated that God hadn't fixed things so that life had been better for her. An interesting story with a touch of humour at the end when Gracie talks to God. I think that Fay should be happy with this piece - well done. Submitted by reviewer number four What were the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayals? Lovely old lady. Feeling her completely. Nicely portrayed through her inner thoughts and some well placed physical descriptions and mannerisms. Were there any very clear, or any confusing, elements of the story which related to approaches taught on Start Writing Fiction? The story is clear, and well told. Did the story have a plot, causality and conflict? How did it engage you? Gracie's is feeling the unfairness of getting old and being alone at an old-peoples' home. I am following the story, and it is well told. Not quite sure if Gracie's inner ramblings are engaging enough. Her talk with God is strong, but could it be more profound? I don't know. I feel you have a good and powerful story here, but I would love more depth and dimension. Good luck! Submitted by reviewer number five What were the strengths and weaknesses of the character portrayals? The character of Gracie was well developed and her voice was very rich, distinctive and clear. I felt the character was a little bit stereotypical and I felt a lack of empathy with Gracie despite the fact her complaint should have aroused sympathy. I wonder if she came across as a little too self-pitying. Were there any very clear, or any confusing, elements of the story which related to approaches taught on Start Writing Fiction? I wasn't too sure about the Millard reference, perhaps that side story could have been expanded and I was a bit confused by the sentence 'By grab, Gracie couldn’t do much about the set up of nature, but she felt like complaining to someone. ' There were a lot of short sentences and the reference to the bird table sign should possibly have been in quotation marks to make it clear it was a sign, although that may have been misreading it. Did the story have a plot, causality and conflict? How did it engage you? The story certainly had a plot, albeit a gentle one and there was a conflict in that the elderly Gracie being unsettled and unhappy about her lack of family and lonely life. It very much felt like a life not lived which is always very sad. The story did engage me although I found the comparison to the birds' lives a little laboured. Actually what the other writers didn't know when they thought there should be more to the story was that this story came from a book with a more involved story line. Simply put, Gracie has spring fever. She is depressed because she is missing her farm and the only home she's known. She wishes she could spend some time at her farm if only for a little while. Her wish comes true when the renter asks Gracie to farm sit for a month while he takes his wife and daughter to visit her ailing mother. Gracie is happy to accept his invatation, but that is when her problems begin. She finds a naked Indian swimming in her farm pond, finds out a neighbor man is missing when she reports the Indian and men's clothing are scattered on the pond dam like a farmer would wear. The sheriff comes to investigate. Gracie is shot at, and her nearest neighbor just happens to be Millard Sokal. Years ago he proposed to Gracie. She turned him down and he married another woman. His wife recently died and he is seeking another wife, perferably Gracie. She can't seem to get rid of the man and his eagerness to court her once he finds she is living at the farm. Now if this sounds like a story you would be interested in paperbacks are on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.com. Ebooks can be found on the same sites plus reviews about my Amazing Gracie Mystery series. Hope you take a look at my books and enjoy reading them, Fay
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