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Mammacrit's Corner February 2008


First page by P.Cummings, one writer who dared send work to Mommacrit.

Under the Liberty Oak




I have been waiting almost forty years for Beth Ann to call. 

            When I was eighteen, I contacted Georgia Bell and got our old phone number reactivated.  Any calls went straight to an answering service.  Monthly statements advised me of the best long distance plans, low rate mortgages available and the rare call looking for my father.  When technology progressed, the calls were directed straight to my home here in Illinois.  Further technology allowed the calls to be forwarded to my cell phone no matter where I was on concert tour.  I wanted to make it easy for Beth Ann to find me.

            I was running late for choir practice, almost out the door when the phone rang that Tuesday afternoon.  Hesitating at the threshold, I went back inside to answer the call.  It could be Beth Ann.

            “Hey, baby sister!” 

            My oldest brother sounded cheerful. Nobody calls Marshall Everett Hayworth the Fourth all those names.  Four checks up on me on Tuesdays; when my other brother, Jackson Adams Hayworth calls, it’s usually on Thursdays. Overprotective is a mild term when it comes to my brothers.  They’ve been this way since Daddy left us.  

             “Had a spare minute, so I thought I would call.  Might be busier later on.  Got fifteen minutes til tee-time.”

            “Where are you?” I asked.  I dropped my tote bag filled with sheet music inside the front door of my townhouse and walked back to the couch.

            Florida.  Medical conference, but we’re getting in a little golf, too,” he said.  “Listen, Mama won’t tell you this, but she really wants you to stay longer than just Labor Day weekend. She wants you to stay at least a week or two.”

            I felt the familiar gripping in my chest, the spasm in the middle of my heart that in my childhood I thought was indeed heartbreak, but as an adult discovered was the beginning of a stress panic attack.  Liberty. Labor Day weekend. Two weeks away. “I don’t know, Four.  I’ve got a lot of things going on here.  Classes starting back up.  Research for the new recordings.  I just don’t know.”

             “Honey, it’ll be okay. You’ll be okay.  All the kids are here, have been for most the summer.  You know how much they like to see you.  You are the favorite aunt.”

            “I’m the only aunt,” I said, as I thought about it.  Jack and Four’s ex-wives had sisters and brothers who married, so from a technical standpoint, I wasn’t the only aunt.  My brothers took every possible effort to schedule the children to visit when I was there and to make me feel like a special aunt. Several of my nieces and nephews toured with me.  But it wasn’t the same as watching them grow up. As really being there. 



Reaction from Mommacrit




First off, has P.Cummings followed the guidelines?


“Send Mommacrit the first page of your story or novel. It must be less than 501 words. Label it clearly with its title, your name or a nom-de-plume, and its genre.”


No genre. Some editors would make that an automatic reason to pitch you into the waste bin. Mommacrit’s best guess is that Under the Liberty Oak is not speculative fiction but would be classified as mainstream. Readers like to know what they’re buying; it matters. Following the guidelines matters. Do it!


Did P.Cummings push Mommacrit’s magic button? Did P.Cummings write a damn good beginning and hook the Momma into wanting to read more?


A hook doesn’t have to be action-filled. Not every story needs to begin along the lines of “When the bulbous-eyed alien took an anal probe from the shelf, I knew Louanne had been right…” In P.Cummings story, the hook is one sentence, a poignant “I have been waiting almost forty years for Beth Ann to call.” Almost unconsciously, the reader is hooked, wanting to read more, find out who Beth Ann is, why she hasn’’t called in forty years, why it matters.


The rest of the 500-word beginning fulfills the promise of that first sentence.


From the get-go, the protagonist, (the “I” of the story and Four’s baby sister), intrigues the Momma. Without dumping information on the reader, P.Cummings reveals the protag is a musician, she’s been overprotected by her brothers, she has panic attacks. There’s a hint that something is stopping her from being as involved with her family as they would like. And there’s the mysterious Beth Ann. Already, P Cummings has established the internal and external tensions that will make the reader want to continue.


At first glance, the second paragraph seems too much information about a phone plan. Look more closely. The reader finds out that since she was 18, the protag has been waiting for Beth Ann’s call. Forty years have passed, technology has changed, but the call is so important that strategies have been put into place to take that call. The setting is established as USA (Georgia Bell and Illinois are mentioned). The final sentence again stresses the importance of the call. 


The dialogue sounds natural and there’s a good balance of dialogue and narrative. Each of the two characters involved so far has a distinctive voice. Marshall Everett Hayworth the Fourth sounds like a busy professional, doctor maybe, who loves and reassures his baby sister. His sister’s only dialogue is all short sentences and vagueness: “I don’t know, Four.  I’ve got a lot of things going on here.  Classes starting back up.  Research for the new recordings.  I just don’t know.”


The writing is smooth, tight and error-free. Sentences are varied in structure and length. There are a couple of passive constructions in the second paragraph, but basically, it is written in an active voice, with strong words. In short, this 500 words from P.Cummings is intriguing and a pleasure to read.


Is the Momma mellowing? No, the Momma calls it like she sees it. P.Cummings has done (almost) all the right things to push the Momma’s critting buttons. That means a reader will enjoy P.Cummings’ work enough to buy it.


And that’s the bottom line.


Come back next month, when hopefully the Momma will eschew her recent diet of marshmallow and hot chocolate and get back to dining on thumbtacks and margaritas.








Mommacrit’s Hatemail


No hatemail this month. Sheesh, what is it with you cranks? Cat got your tongues?