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Madeline's Writing > Part of the First Chapter: Tommy

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message 1: by Madeline (new)

Madeline Reynolds | 7 comments I would appreciate any feedback on the following part of a chapter of my new novel:

Just think, I lulled to myself. Soon, we will be off of this airplane and resting on the white-sand beaches of Hawaii. Relax, stay calm, and relax.
Flying. Some may feel that flying is but a minor part of going on vacation. All people picture are shimmering oceans and tall mountains, their peaks iced with snow. However, if the plane crashes into a fiery inferno, your vacation, not to mention your life, has come to a permanent stop.
With these thoughts racing through my mind, flying is hard enough without the additional stress of traveling with my family. I have heard complaints about relatives before and realize how moms can be controlling, and siblings are annoying. Well guess what, I have a ten year old brother with severe autism. I win.
If I recall correctly, my parents told me that Tommy was diagnosed when he was two years old. I don't remember much, for I was only three at the time. We had originally lived in St. Louis, Missouri but found a highly regarded clinic for Tommy in California, so we moved there shortly after.
Though the clinic always expressed concerns and explained things to us, sometimes, we needed to explain things about Tommy’s behavior at home to them. This is why each member of the family was given a small notebook where we could write down observations such as if we noticed that he became more irritable closer to bedtime or if we observed places in the house which he found comforting or relaxing. After a while, everyone stopped writing in their notebooks. I stopped writing observations about Tommy, but I went on to use the notebook I was given as my personal journal which I often mention Tommy.
Being able to vent and express my own feelings is important for me, being very strongly opinionated. I wouldn't dare bother my parents with my Tommy drama and such, for Father has enough to worry about, being the general counsel at work, and Mother has been forever a slave to Tommy and his shenanigans and wouldn't hear of my silly complaints. My journal is my haven, and I would just curl up and die if anyone else were to read it. I don’t know what I would do if I lost it.
Tommy had found a wonderful aid at the clinic named Steve. Steve was amazing with Tommy, and Tommy loved him dearly. However, a few years later, Steve was let go from the program due to budget cuts. That's how we found Noah.
The year we lost Steve was the same year that we finally succeeded in getting Tommy to eat solid food. For every lunch and dinner, Mother would take Tommy to This One Pizza, a pizzeria only a few blocks away from the clinic because he flatly refused to eat any solid food that was not the pizzeria's cheese pizza. He would have Mother scrape the cheese off and would only eat the bread and sauce, but if she ordered the pizza without cheese to begin with, he would, for some reason, throw a fit.
Tommy is also very particular about routines and schedules, so Tommy and Mother ate at This One Pizza's bar at the same times every day. Working those hours was Noah the bartender. Noah served Tommy every day and developed a strong bond with him over the years.
Coincidently, Noah was Steve’s roommate. At first, we hired him as a babysitter, so we could have a break from Tommy every once in a while. We had never been able to leave him with a normal sitter, for he was too much trouble for most of them. Then, when Noah was looking for more work besides bartending and coaching a children's baseball team, we had him trained, and Noah became Tommy's new aid.
For years now, Noah has escorted Tommy to private school and out to lunch at This One Pizza. Tommy has branched out to many other types of food, but Noah still enjoys sitting up at the bar with him like old times. Then, Noah tires Tommy out at the community park and brings him home every day.
We hadn't first approached a private school for Tommy. I had been enrolled in public school for about two years when we tried to get Tommy into Parkway Elementary. They were willing to enroll him, but being a public school, they had to use their own aids. We rejected the offer immediately and found Valley Rise Private School. They have been great to him for many years now and have helped us more than most can imagine.
Tommy spends most of his time with Noah, but when he comes home, things can start to get difficult. That’s why my parents booked this trip. Tommy was supposed to stay with Noah for a week while my parents and I went on vacation, but Steve got Noah sick, so he wasn’t able to care for Tommy. Now, we are prepared to attempt a fun vacation with him.
"E.E.E.E.E.E.E.E.E.E.E," chanted Tommy, twirling his blue pipe cleaner between his beefy fingers.
This had been the first time I had heard my brother the entire flight. The family knew that it would be a nightmare to take Tommy on a plane, but we had been looking forward to this trip for a while. We figured that drugging his hundred pounds self with a sleeping medication would be very helpful to ensure a peaceful flight. His medications seemed to be wearing off, and this would have usually troubled me. However, we were in the middle of our descent, so I let myself figure that nothing could go wrong with only a few minutes left. Even in this tight window of time, the king of mischief still made an appoint to fulfill his duties.
The trouble began when a glass of water slipped from a man's hand and shattered across the aisle as he fell unconscious. Stewardesses rushed to his aid with first aid kits and medical instruments. Finally, they could no longer do more for the man and inquired if any doctors were aboard over the intercom. The unconscious man was experiencing a cardiac episode. Thankfully, many doctors and nurses were in attendance and crammed into the aisle to assist. Not so thankfully, Tommy was already nervous as it was without so many people crowded around him.
"Just go back to seat!" he cried, flailing his arms all about. "Just go back to seat! Go back seat!"
"Remember," consoled Cassidy, my mother, handing him a lollipop. "Stay calm and relax. Stay calm and relax." She always knew what to do to calm him down. However, there is a point of anger which he can reach that is best not to be tampered with. We hadn’t reached that stage. Yet.
"Stay calm and relax," Tommy repeated softly.
The methodical lulling was definitely of help for a long time. Alas, we all knew that it would only delay the inevitable.
We had begun to taxi down the runway when the stewardess began over the intercom saying, "I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but our fellow passenger is still enduring a cardiac episode and will be needing medical attention. Please remain seated while the paramedics tend to the passenger, and we will give notice when you may exit the aircraft. Thank you."
Looking across the aisle, I watched alongside Mother as Peter, my father, arose from his seat, making his way towards the stewardess.
"I am very sorry, ma'am," he apologized. "But, my son, Thomas has very severe autism and will not stay on the plane once the doors open. He doesn't like to fly and will run right out."
"I'm sorry, sir," she retorted in that peppy voice that stewardesses always use. "Your son will have to remain seated."
I really do believe that the plane could be a ball of flames rapidly falling to the ground, the passengers wailing in terror, and the stewardesses would still be smiling through the smoke saying, “Everyone, please calm down and create an orderly fashion line at the edge of the aircraft where we will be jumping off in order to prevent ourselves from dying in this oven. Thank you, and I hope you will continue to choose Northeast airlines when traveling by airway!”
"I do not have much control over him. He is too large to carry, and I cannot block him from leaving."
The woman repeated what she had said before, and Father eventually made his way back to his seat. Just before he sat down, he whispered into my ear, "Grace, when this plane stops, Tommy is going to rush out. I want you to get up and follow him, and wait by the gate together until your mother and I can get off.”
I nodded in reply as we taxied towards the airport. Just as we had predicted, Tommy fought through the door and tore through the gate. I jumped up, ready to follow but had my plan foiled when the stewardess's hand thrusted me back into my seat. Mother took this diversion as an opportunity and bounded after Tommy in her stilettos.
They flew by the paramedics, Tommy screeching and wailing. Two of the three medical staff boarded the aircraft, prepared and ready. The last man, however, stopped in his tracks and turned to face Tommy. Believing that Tommy, in this hysterical state, was the person in need of medical attention, he raced after the child, causing Tommy to become even more distressed.
Tommy, screaming in hysteria, kept a steady pace down the terminal.
The paramedic chased after him bellowing, "Stop! I can help you!"
Hot on the tail of the paramedic, Mother sprinted after him crying, "Wait! My son is not the one you need to assist! There is a man still in the plane needing your help!"
After much shouting and hollering, Mother finally got the paramedic to listen to her, and he went on his way, back to the original gate. Tommy, still traumatized, did not realize that the paramedic had stopped his chase and decided to harbor himself in the men's bathroom. This left Mother no choice but to wait outside.
Consoling himself by the sinks, Tommy sobbed, "He doesn't want to hurt you. He is not going to get you. He is not going to get you."
Suddenly, all of the other men in the restroom turned around to face him.
One man came up to Tommy and asked, "Oh my gosh! Is someone trying to get you?"
Another man chimed in saying, "Should we get the police?"
The first man came closer to Tommy, reaching out to console the quivering child with the blotchy and tear-stained face.
"Don't touch him," scolded the other, grasping the first man by the shoulder. "We don't know what conditions he might have been held in. They say not to touch kids after traumatic experiences."
"We need to get some form of identification," the first man reasoned.
Hearing all of this discussion, Mother peeked into the room saying, "He is my child! He has autism and ran out of the plane in hysteria."
The second man came closer to her and suspiciously inquired, "Why did he say that a man was trying to get him?"
She explained to him about the previous events leading up to the moment, and soon the man was relaxed and ready to give Tommy to her. However, the other man, still unsure about Cassidy, asked for her ID before handing her the child.
Tommy, who had begun to calm down, was once again in hysterics due to Mother speaking to the men. Tommy was not fond of any of us talking to others, for he likes to keep routine and finds that it causes delay.
"Just stop talking!" he shrieked as the men viewed her identification. "Just shush! Just shush!"
Mother, knowing that he was only seconds away from an aggressive meltdown suggested, "Tommy, how about white ice cream?"
Suddenly, the devil in him mysteriously faded into an angel. He was glowing with jubilance as he said, "Oh, yes!" Tommy loved vanilla ice cream which he often referred to as “white ice cream”.
Back on the airplane, I had gone into a fit of claustrophobia and disgust. The paramedics decided to load the ill man onto the stretcher but did not remove him from the aircraft and performed their procedures in the aisle right next to myself. I began sobbing into Father, and he with his own anxiety began to sob into me. This only made me sob harder because of knowing that my adult had crumbled as well. We were finally able to leave the airplane and found Mother and Tommy sitting at a table and eating a vanilla sundae.


message 2: by Madeline (new)

Madeline Reynolds | 7 comments I would really appreciate any feedback that you think would help


message 3: by Michael (new)

Michael (madseventwo) The first part seemed a bit disjointed to me, at least if it's going to be the beginning--I didn't understand where I was or what was happening. The first line that hooked me was "Well guess what, I have a ten year old brother with severe autism. I win."

I have a brother with Down Syndrome, so it had some personal relevance to me, but I think lots of people would find that line funny. That's also the first moment when reading this that I wanted to know more. I didn't care about this random person and the vacation he or she was about to go on, but when I realized that he/she had a rough family life, I suddenly saw his/her need to vacation. It made the first part more significant to know why she wanted to escape.

I didn't get what the point of bringing up Steve was. It says that Tommy started eating solids around the same time Steve left, but it doesn't say whether those two events were related. Did everyone have an emotional breakdown when Steve left because he was so good with Tommy? or did everyone let out a sigh of relief? or did it make no difference at all (in which case I would just forget even mentioning Steve)?

I also really like the part about the stewardess and the way she talks. You fit in a good amount of comedy in this piece very naturally.

I think the key line in this piece is "This only made me sob harder because of knowing that my adult had crumbled as well." That's a really powerful statement and a really interesting idea you could explore--what do you do when you're a child and you realize that the people you look to for strength are vulnerable too?

Interesting start. I'm curious if you're writing this just for fun or if you're trying to illustrate some deeper truth like the one I pulled out.


message 4: by Madeline (new)

Madeline Reynolds | 7 comments Michael wrote: "The first part seemed a bit disjointed to me, at least if it's going to be the beginning--I didn't understand where I was or what was happening. The first line that hooked me was "Well guess what, ..."

Thank you so much for the feedback!
The point of bringing in Steve is that if he hadn't left, we wouldn't have been looking for a new aid such as Noah. If you think it would help the story, I'm definitely open to not developing Steve's character as much.

I will also take out the piece about the flight attendant.


Overall, do you think I am ready to query and send this out or is there anything I should clean up?


message 5: by Michael (new)

Michael (madseventwo) I just don't think Steve is a needed character, and reading about him distracted me from the important characters and the rest of the story.

Don't take out the flight attendant! I liked that part!
I learned in high school art class that with art, there's always more that could be improved. If you feel good about sending it out, go for it. If it ends up not going anywhere, get more feedback. :)


message 6: by Madeline (new)

Madeline Reynolds | 7 comments Michael wrote: "I just don't think Steve is a needed character, and reading about him distracted me from the important characters and the rest of the story.

Don't take out the flight attendant! I liked that part!..."


Thanks Michael! I think I will make those edits, keep the flight attendant part, and send it out :)


message 7: by Ruby, I write. (new)

Ruby (rubyyy) | 174 comments Mod
I just read it, and honestly, I don't think I can say anything Michael didn't already say! But I agree with him, if you like it, you decide to send it!


message 8: by Madeline (new)

Madeline Reynolds | 7 comments ☘RubyRedWriter☘ {ʷᵃʳʳᶤᵒʳ˒ᵈᵉᵐᶤᵍᵒᵈ˒ʷᶤᵗᶜʰ˒ᵐᵉᵐᵇᵉʳ ᵒᶠ ᵗʰᵉ ᵇˡᵃᶜᵏ ˢʷᵃᶰ} wrote: "I just read it, and honestly, I don't think I can say anything Michael didn't already say! But I agree with him, if you like it, you decide to send it!"

Thanks! Do you also agree that I should minimize Steve's character?


message 9: by Robert (new)

Robert (goodreadscomroregan2911) | 18 comments You definitely have a good story here. Steve's presence doesn't really advance the narrative.


message 10: by Ruby, I write. (new)

Ruby (rubyyy) | 174 comments Mod
Madeline wrote: "☘RubyRedWriter☘ {ʷᵃʳʳᶤᵒʳ˒ᵈᵉᵐᶤᵍᵒᵈ˒ʷᶤᵗᶜʰ˒ᵐᵉᵐᵇᵉʳ ᵒᶠ ᵗʰᵉ ᵇˡᵃᶜᵏ ˢʷᵃᶰ} wrote: "I just read it, and honestly, I don't think I can say anything Michael didn't already say! But I agree with him, if you like..."

Hmm it does seem kind of unnecessary right now...


message 11: by Mj (new)

Mj James (bookrecluse) I agree that Steve or Noah seem especially important to be introduced - except maybe to say Noah was sick and that is why there was no therapist with him. Although, even this doesn't need to be mentioned as most children with autism do not take therapists with them on vacation.

The family in this book must be especially well off if they can afford a private school as well as their own therapist without resorting to making the insurance and school district pay for any part of it - which would never have happend so easily. However, all of that is back story.

I have Asperger's and I have two children who are on the spectrum, as well as having worked as an ABA therapist. I would suggest polishing up both the sibling and the child with Autism. They are both great characters - but both could be a bit more real. Also, you have the sibling telling the story while she isn't anywhere near it. At that point you may want to switch perspectives. Why not actually switch to the perspective of her brother. It would be interesting to see one child feeling overshadowed while the other child is a bit more literal. There are tons of books written by non verbal individuals on the spectrum which would give you an idea of what he may be thinking.


message 12: by Elsabet (last edited Sep 15, 2016 08:16AM) (new)

Elsabet I enjoyed this excerpt. I don't think I could handle a stressful situation like that on an airplane. I've only been on a plane once, without having to worry about siblings, and it was bad enough. I do not like flying.

I have a cousin with Aspergers, and he shares the pizza habbit with Tommy. They found out that he's lactose intolerant, but he says the cheese leaves a slight flavor even after it's taken off and he likes that.

I have two small quibbles. The first is purely grammatical. You say: Just think, I lulled to myself. "lulled to myself" is incorrect use of the word lulled. You could say "said to myself" or "lulled myself" but lulling to oneself is impossible. I think the word "soothed" would probably work a little better, simply because it is better known, but if lull is your word of choice I won't argue with that.

My second quibble is that the head hopping was very abrupt. I was catapulted away from the main character to the mother to Tommy and it disoriented me. I don't, as a rule, mind head hopping, but I do like some indicator that we are switching people and scenes before it happens.

If you could flesh out each of the different viewpoints a little and make them a bit longer, then you could use dingbats to separate them and avoid confusion. However, if dingbats are inconvenient, there are plenty of other techniques.


message 13: by [deleted user] (new)

This is good keep writing


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