Fresh FIction Box Not To Miss

Janet Chester Bly | The Right Start: Fans Weigh In On First Pages

December 15, 2014

Janet Chester BlyWIND IN THE WIRESIn the early stages of a doing a first draft for my first solo novel, WIND IN THE WIRES, I gave a shout-out on social media for volunteers to do critique. I was so used to my writing partner husband’s coming alongside throughout the process of each project. I missed that vital interchange. So, I sought out readers who would dare peek at rough beginnings. Some were given three to five pages. Others had a full first chapter.

As the comments rolled in, my excitement grew. The story evolved. Perspective emerged on where the characters and plot needed to develop. Invaluable!

They truly helped me recognize changes needed. And as he or she invested in the story, I received inspiration and encouragement. Later, they inquired about my progress and even prayed for me.

Here are the original first lines they observed:

Rebalene Mereddith Campbell searched for the cow again though she’d rather be riding the wind or meditating on a hill somewhere. She slowed down to study the terrain.

First of all, Rebalene Mereddith Campbell seemed like a tongue twister or at least a bit awkward. Eventually I shortened it to Reba, then Reba Mae, and switched her last name to Cahill, a subjective choice.

Several notes were made of the need of the opening paragraph to cinch it so they wouldn’t stop reading. After many re-writings, the final first lines:

She must find the runaway heifer. And get to Maidie’s funeral on time.
Reba Mae Cahill urged her black quarter horse to trudge through the
spring green, muddy terrain.

Some of the comments made by first readers concerned phrases I used. Relationships between the characters: why they acted like they did. Confusion about actions. Possible discrepancy details for the year 1991. What a certain character would know or not know. They tried to guess Reba’s age and wanted to know sooner in the story.

One questioned whether small town cowgirl Reba would recognize her California girlfriend’s clothes as “Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus” brand rather than just presume her closet contained a very expensive wardrobe. Point well taken.

I entertained opinions about the early title choice: A Wailing Wind in the Wires. Some provided alternates, such as Song of the Barbed Wire. Others preferred a shortened version. That’s what I finally settled on.

In the first draft, Reba’s friend Ginny arrives in the first scene:

Reba heard the squeal of well-used brakes, the vroom of an engine. She stopped, her eyes searching the cliffs. Then a female in long, dark raincoat appeared at the top of the hill like she’d been handpicked, gift wrapped and delivered by the angel Gabriel himself. “Hey, Redd, your horse is running away.”

Ginny Gregor! What is she doing here?

“Catch Johnny Poe!” Reba lunged for the calf as he bawled and attempted another wobble on three legs.

After a few remarks and much thought, Ginny got booted to a later scene and potential love interest Don Runcie got prime time instead.

The Encouragements

Reba’s character traits already emerged. Knowledgeable, stubborn, and determined. Tough mentally and emotionally able to handle challenges. A down-earth, practical gal not afraid to make decisions. She also hinted at secrets that enticed them to want to read on.

One reader compared Reba to a couple of my husband’s protagonists. “She makes me think of Develyn Worrell in MEMORIES OF A DIRT ROAD TOWN or like Little Frank roping a stump in THE NEXT ROUNDUP.” That made me feel so confirmed.

Another reader observed, “I like the way your story starts with an event, and especially the self-dialogue that gives readers a glimpse into the life of the character.”

I smiled. The same had often been said of my husband’s stories too.

Excerpt from Chapter One of WIND IN THE WIRES

May 1991, Road’s End, Idaho

She must find the runaway heifer. And get to Maidie’s funeral on time.

Reba Mae Cahill urged her black quarter horse to trudge through the spring green, muddy terrain. Recent rains and snowmelt gummed the pine-dotted, wild flower sprayed high mountain prairie. Puddles and small ponds, tall grass and shadows made search tedious.

Johnny Poe stalled.

“Come on, boy. Don said he saw her near here. Got to find that cow before Champ Runcie does. And return home quick.”

They rode the moss-covered wood post and barbed wire fence line as she checked the steel stays. A strong whoosh of wind made a ringing sound in the wires. She scanned the long length of Runcie Ranch fencing. Her glance caught at a break in the fence next to stacked tires filled with large rocks supposed to hold the fence in place. Certainly enough space for a moon-eyed, red bovine stray to escape. She peered closer and spied a cut at all five lines, now splayed on the ground. Why would anyone do that?

She slid down from Johnny Poe, pulled on leather gloves from her saddlebag, and eased the wire out of the way. A long strand was missing.

A quick image of a testy Champ flashed before her. Not the first time, she wished the Runcie and Cahill Ranches didn’t butt against each other, with so many borders in common. Especially when one side determined not to be too neighborly. “Women, especially Cahill women, don’t have what it takes to manage a ranch like theirs on their own,” she could hear Champ say.

Reba backed the horse up to get him prepped to ease through the opening. He balked, as she knew he would. She flicked the reins. His ears flayed back. He reared and pawed the air. Reba hit the muddy pasture ground hard on her rear. Pain shot through as she scrambled to her feet and reached for the saddle. She glided on the old leather before he could bolt and cooed at him. “Come on, Johnny Poe, it’s going to be alright. Please try. A step at a time.”

She imagined what must loom in his mind. Memories of his mother dying, gashed and twisted from withers to poll in a barbed wire fence. Found as a colt by her side. His fear had a firm basis. She patted his neck. “We’ve got to cross over. We can do this. We have to do this. And now.”

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