Below you'll find our comments with footnotes for the comments made by Marta Stephens, Kim Smith, Ron Adams, and Aaron Lazar. Remember, if you'd like to have a critique, please send it to Aaron Lazar via his email.
Return of the White Deer by Robert Sells.
The excerpt relates to a character in the book, Mother Hebron who is kind and gentle as well as a fierce leader of a secret army of females dedicated to the White Deer. Chapter Six deals with the loving relationship between the woman and main character Pen, a twelve year old[AL1] boy. Chapter Seven presents her history.
She returned to the kitchen and sat down, thinking about the farm boy. She had helped raise the lad and watched the friendship between Liana and Pen grow. Perhaps her proud girl would marry him. No one knew what the future held[ms2] , she mused. One can only truly know the past. Hands folded, she thought about her own past, before she was Mother Hebron. She closed her eyes in the pleasant cottage and…
- i -
…opened them on a gray afternoon in a city. Her parents succumbed to the plague. Now just five-years old, she stood wordlessly watching a cart bump down the cobblestone street carrying the two people who were the center of her world. Standing beside her was a muttering, short, hawk-nosed man who was her uncle. She had met him only once when her mother had fussed over him at supper one night.
Now her mother was dead, never again to fuss over the uncle or the child. Once the cart turned out of sight at the corner, the thin, gray-haired uncle grabbed her roughly and pulled her through dark winding streets, forcing her to run to keep up with him. All the way to his dingy shoe shop, he complained about the extra mouth to feed. Once inside the shop, he immediately put her to work pounding leather with a wide, flat hammer. So began her new life[AL4] .
She rarely recalled play of any sort while living with her uncle, but she had vivid memories of dozens of different tasks put upon her by the grumpy guardian. To be fair, the uncle provided daily sustenance. But he never fed her affection or praise, perhaps the most important food of all. Indeed communication was limited to the uncle giving gruff orders and instructions. In the time she was with him, he never addressed her with[AL5] her name… Mary. [ms6]
Though a naturally inquisitive child, it took Mary a week to hazard a question. The old man stared at her for a long moment and she feared he might hit her. Then he answered her with a dismissive snort and went to bed. The precedent safely set, Mary asked many questions. Several times the uncle answered her in short sentences as though he was marshaling his words as carefully as he did his coins and food. Much to his frustration, the child kept asking questions, undaunted by his terse responses.
The work day started early for the child: cleaning the shop, sweeping the front, softening the tough leather, going through Bremen to buy and deliver whatever her uncle requested. Only at nightfall did she and the old man sit down together to eat bread and drink soup. After the modest meal, the uncle would then lay down on a worn mat and go to sleep while Mary would put a blanket on the hard wood floor and pull her mother’s shawl over her to keep her warm. Weary from the day’s work, sleep came quickly as did the shivering dawn[AL7] [AL8] .
From Ron Adams: Well written. Smooth writing style with very few things to critique. My only observation is that although this is a history of this character and perhaps you introduce dialogue after this, I think some dialogue between Mary and her uncle would help to show his grumpy disposition and draw the reader to the characters. Other than that, well done! I’d read more.
From Kim Smith: I have been a lover of historical novels and romances all of my life beginning at 16 with Gone with the Wind. I have even written one although it will probably never go anywhere. So I have to say this one took me from line one to the end of the passage without stopping. It drew me in and I was interested in Mary's story. I think for a historical you have to be a good weaver. A little history, a little story, a little history, a little story. This one is very good. I felt like the uncle is about to reveal something to Mary, like, either good or bad, and I wanted more!!
[AL1]Usually when an age is presented in the “X year old” format, the words are linked with hyphens. But if you write “he was twelve years old,” you don’t use the hyphens. ;o)