HH Com 140

COLD IN THE HEARTLAND is a 68,000 word novel.

In hardscrabble Beckner, Nebraska, summers are harsh and winters relentless.

Hook starts here:
At nineteen, Shelly Stilson was a high school dropout and the married mother of two. By the time she’s twenty-five, her mother is dead of lung cancer, and Billy has become her ex, she can barely stand to talk to the customers she rings up at the grocery store, and she’s sneaking around to sleep with her boss.

In the dead of a nasty Midwest winter, Billy takes a job in Denver, leaving Shelly to manage the boys by herself. Child support, when it comes, barely makes a dent in the boys’ needs. Eight-year-old Mikey gets caught playing with matches at school and the social worker thinks he’s a budding sociopath. Six-year-old Tommy is sucking his thumb. The boys run away, hitchhiking to their father in Denver, and her boss-boyfriend decides that Shelly’s life – with kids and ex-husband – is just too complicated for him.

A deadly house fire gives Shelly a split-second to choose what kind of life is worth living. Can she live without her children? Can they live without her?

Have you read Daniel Woodrell's new novel Winters Bone?

You spend a lot of time what seems like backstory. If the fire is the climax of the novel you'll want to put this all in present tense: Shelly is a high school drop out and the married mother of three.

If the fire is the start, start there.


Dave said...

I like the idea of this story. It's the choice that's the drama, that choice will define the entire story.

BernardL said...

The writing is compelling, but may I point out a glaring reality with the inclusion of your problematic episode of eight and six year old boys hitchhiking to their Dad's? In today's world of nationwide Amber alerts, the chances of the boys even reaching the outskirts of town by themselves would be really tough to imagine. Other than that, the hook for me was there, regardless of the fire.

Anonymous said...

Oh, dear Santa!!!...I finally figured what a hook is. Why did it take me this long? Maybe Miss Snark is willing to go through all this because it's not easy.

Anonymous said...

Um.... you need some serious help with apostrophes. How do you expect to be taken seriously when you have a missing apostrophe in para 1, THREE missing apostrophes in para 2, and the first paragraph has a major run-on sentence problem. Deal with you grammar, THEN begin the querying process for a novel.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. I think you fine up until the fire. Delete the last paragraph and decide what Shelly DOES BECAUSE of all the things that have happened. Does she take a gun to the post office? Kidnap her kids and live off the land in Montana where she falls in love with a female ranch hand? Does she hook up with a sugar daddy who turns out to be fourteen other people's daddy?

Remember, the story is about consequence. Because this happens, that happens. Get rid of the fire.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous. Get help with your grammar. The hook was ok.

skybluepinkrose said...

I agree that I'd be more captivated by the choice, not by Shelly's doing something outrageous because her life has hit the skids. The fire may seem to just happen to her, but I don't find it unmotivated at all, because the older kid's firestarting foreshadows it. In fact, I think the earlier fire episode "promises" a doozy of a fire later. I'd rather read a story where you keep the fire, not one where she runs to Montana or something.

Anonymous said...

This one didn't grab me. The first several paragraphs lacked focus: although Shelley is clearly the main character, a lot of time is spent detailing the actions and reactions of the people around her, not the actions and reactions of Shelley herself. The whole piece lacked tension until the very last paragraph, which was, in my opinion, the single most interesting section.

If you move that last bit to the front, and rewrite, I think this would be much more immediately gripping.


HawkOwl said...

I was interested until the fire. I guess because I don't care the least bit about what happens to Shelly. What's interesting to me is the boys' development. I'm also not easily impressed by weather. So no, but it will probably work for someone else. Good luck with it.

delilah said...

Get thee behind me, Grammarians. I'm sure this writer will fix all that when they fine-tune their query.

Janette Rallison said...

To make this story work you're going to really make the main character someone who is likable but at the same time tormented--which will be a hard, hard balance to pull off. Otherwise the reader will just hate her for even considering leaving her children in a house fire.

Summerbythelakeside said...

Read it again. She didn't consider leaving the boys in the fire; they'd already run off to be with their father. (Granted, that does seem a bit far-fetched, but at least it's better than casting the protagonist as the sort of woman who would let her sons die in order to uncomplicate her life.)

thraesja said...

From my understanding, Shelly's choice is either to let herself be killed, or not, or to let everyone think she'd been killed, or not. A faked death would indeed get her out of her seemingly dead-end life.

As for the apostrophes, the author's software clearly did not get along with Miss Snark's. I can see the little boxes where they should have been. There are some grammatical issues here, but those ain't it.

By the time she's twenty-five, her mother is dead of lung cancer, and Billy has become her ex, she can barely stand to talk to the customers she rings up at the grocery store, and she's sneaking around to sleep with her boss.

This is one seriously run-on sentence. At least put a period after ex.

Best of luck, author. This looks interesting.