Frederick Fuller: “For the Heart’s Treasure” (romantic adult contemporary)

Updated (added Chapter 2) on 10-10-11

AUTHOR:  Frederick Fuller

TITLE:  “For the Heart’s Treasure”

GENRE:  Romantic Adult Contemporary

SYNOPSIS:  What if a damaged woman marries a man who is sweet, kind and a Lothario? Themes: Extreme opposites, love against backdrop of Great Depression. Hook: sex!

For the Heart’s Treasure

a novel (partial) by Frederick Fuller

Chapter 1

Eva Conner took a flipper from her apron pocket, wiped it on a napkin, and placed it in her mouth. She hated the thing, but it was better than the gaping hole revealed when she smiled. She promised herself a permanent bridge as soon as she could afford, but it was it fun to play with at times, especially around children like her 10-year-old sister, Maddy. With her tongue, Eva could make it swing up and down like a tiny door, or lay it on her lower lip with her mouth closed and create a witch’s tooth. She’d cross her eyes and send Maddy into shrieks of eardrum ripping laughter.

It was six in the morning, and she was at work at Gus Stamos’s Coffee Shop. Glancing at the large front window she noticed ice forming on the glass inside from the steam in the kitchen.

Twelve below zero in Chicago is colder than twelve below zero anywhere else on Earth, Eva thought, especially in February.
She came to work at five to help George Chu prep for breakfast, listening to his complaints and tales of woe, in accented English and Chinese. George was a small man, and Eva was always amused at how swallowed up he looked in a chef’s coat and toque. But the kitchen was his domain; even Gus entered cautiously. George liked to laugh and Eva liked that.

The ice patterns on the window created a kaleidoscopic effect and made objects appear broken and misaligned. Turgid black clouds resembled mixed mortar, and cars chugging along Halsted Street were jig jagged like audio equalizers.  Steam hissed from grates in the sidewalk, becoming wavy ghosts.  Engrossed in the scene, she scraped at the ice with a thumbnail without realizing it. She sighed. “Depressing as hell,” she muttered. “Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. Happy, happy, happy.” She blew her nose and stuffed the tissue in her apron pocket. “All right, Eva, stop it. You’re a lot better off than a lot of people.” 

She returned to filling salt and pepper shakers, her last chore of the morning. Her first task as soon as she arrived was to start two 50-cup coffee urns. Next came filling endless creamers, tiny glass jugs in which one ounce of cream was deposited one plop at a time from a stainless steel dispenser. Butter chips followed, little saucers the size of silver dollars on which a pat of butter was placed, endless like the creamers.

Dozens of sweet rolls were plated and placed in the pie case where they remained until pie replaced them at lunch. From blocks of ice delivered earlier that morning she chipped hunks and filled the ice chest, and then rolled over a hundred service sets in paper napkins, storing them on trays under the counter. By the time she got the restaurant ready for business she felt ready for a nap.

Gus’s restaurant was in a blue-collar neighborhood near the Illinois Central Railroad yard, but it was not a greasy spoon. Considered by many an institution on Halsted Street it was a haven for lovers of Greek cuisine. One sniff upon opening the door attested to its ethnicity: odors of oregano, basil, tomatoes, the milky, subtle odor of feta cheese and the muskiness olives, mingled with the anise of ouzo. If anyone doubted they were entering a Greek place, a picture of a line of male dancers in full Foustanella, reminiscent of Gus’s native Thrace, greeted patrons.

For Eva it was a blast working there. The people she worked with were great, and the patrons were fascinating. In Chicago’s Greek town is was hard to get a job if you weren’t Greek, so she was grateful. She got the job because of Gus’s niece, Foula, whom met in a speakeasy on Clark Street one Friday night. They hit it off right away. When Eva mentioned she was looking for a waitress job, Foula told her to show up at Gus’s Monday morning. Eva found that Foula worked breakfast and was hostess for the dinner turn. She’d been there almost a year. It was mindless work, but it numbed her so she didn’t have to think much.

For breakfast prep Foula took care of replenishing sugar and condiments and checking juice—lots of orange and tomato—and wiping down the tables, chairs, stools and counter. They enjoyed each other’s company. Eva never felt like an outsider just because Foula was part of Gus’s family; Gus yelled at them both constantly to get busy, keep busy and stop talking so much.

Eva looked up from filling the salt. “Soko’s here,” she yelled toward the kitchen. She filled a cup with coffee, placed a creamer on the saucer, grabbed a service, and took them to the counter, placing them in front of the last stool from the door, next to the small dining room.

“Kalimera, Soko,” Foula called as he entered.

Soko smiled, nodded his head slightly. “Kalimera sas,” he answered in a soft high-pitched voice, and went to his seat. Eva placed a glass of orange juice beside the coffee. Soko dumped the cream into the coffee, stirred, and sipped. He smiled up at Eva and winked. It was a ritual exactly at 6:15 every morning, and if it didn’t happen, Gus would go look for Soko.

Soko was short for Sokrotes, just like the hemlock-sipping philosopher, and from the way he looked, he might have known the ancient sage: his face looked like a raisin with lines and wrinkles in his olive brown complexion. Under a Cubs baseball cap he crammed a mass of snowy hair, complementing a huge mustache dyed deep yellow by cigarette smoke from his ample nose. On cold days like this one he bundled in a parka that looked like it belonged on the Iditarod trail. Soko spoke very little English, talking mostly to Gus in Greek. Some said Soko had sponsored Gus when he came over from Greece in 1919. His reward for the sponsorship, apparently, was free meals because Soko never paid.

“Up!” George shouted and lobbed a plate on the order counter.
Eva took it to Soko, who smiled again, winked and began eating: two eggs folded over a generous slab of feta cheese, three strips of bacon and two pieces of wheat toast, no butter, a little jelly. When he reached for a piece of toast, Eva watched his hands: small, delicate and perfectly manicured. It fascinated her that a man his age would care for his hands so well.

The door opened and Gus along with a blast of cold air rushed in. Gus flung his coat at the rack and missed.

“Did you hear?” he shouted and ran over to Soko.

“Hear what?”  Foula asked.

“’Bout last night. Big, big murder, on Clark. Bunch of gangsters shot. I think seven guys, maybe eight, shot with machine guns.”  He translated what he’d said for Soko who looked puzzled by Gus’s exuberance. Gus’s brown eyes were large and sparkling like a kid who’d won a prize, and his face was smeared with an immense, yellow-toothed grin. He fired a few more sentences to Soko, and then continued in English. “They say dead guys Bugs Moran boys.  They say Capone did it.”

Gus was tall, broad-shouldered and bald. At sixty-five his long face was smooth and tight except for laugh lines at his mouth.  Busy all the time, he was regularly excited about something and boisterous to a point that Eva often put her fingers in her ears to lower the decibels. But she found him fun to be around, despite his tirades about the restaurant not being clean enough, or about some city politician sticking it to the little guy, or his favorite about why Greeks were superior to any other nationality.

“They’ll find it hard to prove Capone did it,” Eva said, putting Gus’s grey tweed overcoat on a hook. “He owns this town and every crooked official in it. And they’re all crooked. How’d you find out?”

“I run into Frank, the cop. You know, he come for lunch sometime. He say they find these guys this morning in garage on Clark St. owned by some cartridge company.”

“Cartridge company?”  Eva said.

“Ne. Cartridge. What wrong?”

“You might mean cartage. Cartridges are bullets. Did they make bullets there?”

“No, they shoot bullets, not make,” Gus said and laughed, looking around to see if anyone else got the joke. “How the hell I know?  Cartridge or, what you say?”


“Cartage. I don’t know word. Frank say one guy live, a Jew, Gusenberg. But he die at hospital, Frank say.”  Gus paused and looked at everyone, including George who peeked through the kitchen doors. His eyes still sparkling, the grin still spread broad across his face, Gus shouted and clapped his hands,  “So, let’s get ready breakfast.  I think we have lots customers today, maybe.”  He turned to Soko and spoke rapidly in Greek, performing his words with hand gestures, facial expressions, and dancing. Soko bobbed his head to let Gus know he understood, but he continued to eat.

A man and a woman came in mid a gust of cold, damp air, followed by a tall, husky fellow carrying a large leather duffle bag. Eva looked at the two men, both wearing black Kromer hats, earflaps down, heavy denim jumper coats, bib overalls with grey sweatshirts, and red bandanas snuggled around their necks, and knew they were railroaders. Notwithstanding attire, their faces stained black with coal soot pinpointed their occupation.

The woman wore a stocking cap pulled down and a scarf wrapped around her mouth. All Eva could see were the woman’s eyes as she watched the couple sit at a table by the window and shiver enough to sweat. Tall-and-husky mounted a stool at the counter and placed his duffle on the floor next to him.

Eva carried two cups, creamers and a pot of coffee to the table. “Looks like you need this,” she said as she filled their cups and placed a service by each. With a trembling laugh, the woman held the cup close to her chest as if it would keep her from freezing to death. The man grunted and slurped the coffee.
She put menus in front of  them and said, “I’ll give you a few minutes.” 

When she replaced the carafe under the urn, she noticed Foula had already served coffee to the big fellow at the counter, who was smoking and preparing his coffee. She watched as he stirred in two teaspoons of sugar, tested it by sipping a spoonful, added more sugar, tested once more, then took the cup and drank. Persnickety, aren’t we, Eva thought. She glanced at the couple.
Having removed her stocking cap and come out from behind her scarf, Eva saw that her brown hair was bobbed and that she was about twenty-five, and very pretty. Eva studied faces of women who came into the restaurant, particularly young women, because she was self-conscious of the scar on her forehead and of her crooked jaws, both from a car accident. Though only twenty-four, Eva thought she looked forty.

“Can I have some more coffee?” It was Mr. Persnickety, as Eva had dubbed him. She filled his cup and sat a creamer next to it. “Really cold out there,” he said.

“Yeah, twelve below I heard.”  She looked at him closely. Under the coal soot was a strong face with a square dimpled chin. Eva loved dimpled chins. His light blue eyes made him look kind and gentle, and when he smiled, his eyes smiled, too, and she felt warm. She also felt stupid, like a high school girl ogling a cute guy in the hall.

“My name’s Jack,” he said.

“Oh, shit.” Eva heard herself say. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say that. It just came out. I apologize.”

“It’s okay,” Jack responded, but looked puzzled.

“I’m sorry. That’s my ex-husband’s name, and he was, let’s say, a bad person. I just sort of get sick when I hear it.”  Eva frowned and shook her head. “Why am I telling you this?  I don’t know you.”

“That’s all right. I won’t tell. But is Oh Shit your first name or last?’

Eva looked at him and laughed. “You and I are not going to get along, are we?”

Pretending seriousness, he said, “Now, you can never tell. Would you prefer John?  That’s my real name.”

“Yeah, well, his real name was John, too. No help.”  Jack continued to smile and sip coffee, never taking his eyes off hers.

“My name’s Eva.”  Now why did I tell him that?

“Two up.”  George yelled. Eva turned and went to get the orders.

Chapter 2

Eva enjoyed working breakfast. She loved the morning smells: coffee, frying bacon and eggs, pancakes, waffles and toast; the earthy scent of hash brown potatoes blended with the Greek bouquet of Mediterranean herbs, spices, oils and cheeses that George combined to make treasures like dolmades, those wonderful rice-filled grape leaves, luscious tiropites, tissue thin phyllo-wrapped nuggets of feta cheese, eggs, butter and a secret flavoring known only to Greek grandmothers. Eva devoured tiropites; they crunched like fresh crackers.
George made all the Greek delicacies Gus featured: mousaka, pastitsio, avgolemono soup, baklava, karidopita, a special cake made of walnut flour and drenched in butter and rum, and anything else Gus ordered. Sometimes, on a slow night Foula or Gus would make real Greek coffee, so black and strong that inhaling the vapors caused a caffeine high.

“I good Gleek cook,” George would say, and they all agreed that he had become very adept. Gus joked that at first George’s dishes tasted slightly Asian with soy sauce and sesame oil, but it didn’t last long. George called himself Chinese Gleek.

As Gus predicted, the place filled up by seven that morning, and the dominant topic of conversation was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, as dubbed by news jockeys everywhere in the city. Newspapers flew headlines above the fold that bellowed “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” or “Capone Decimates Bugsy Moran’s Gang!”  Capone, of course, was in Florida, sucking a Cuban Presidento, saying he never heard of any Bugsy Moran and he’d been in Florida forever.

“They say a hundred people were killed.”

“Come on,” someone yelled. “The news said seven guys, including some doctor who was in the wrong place and the wrong time.”

“Who the hell cares how many?  Seven gangsters or a hundred, they’re all one big sack a shit,” said a guy with a White Sox symbol on his cap.

“Yeah, well, it’s a matter of the clean-up after, right?” someone commented from down the counter. “Less blood with seven.”  Everyone laughed.

Eva, Foula and Gus ran to keep up with orders while George hurled angry phases in Chinese. Old Soko had left, but Jack was still there. By now he’d shed his coat and Kromer, and had had some eggs and bacon. He was munching a Danish when Eva bent down to get some service.

“Not busy, are you?” he said.

Laughing, she answered, “Oh, no, we do this for fun. Can’t you see how much fun we’re having?  You should see us when we are busy.”  She ran off to a table where three men were sitting.

Jack pulled a watch from the top pocket of his bib overalls and checked it. Seven thirty. If I get up at four this afternoon, he thought, I’d have plenty of time to have a little fun before morning.

Jack glanced at Eva as she wrote orders for the three men. Maybe she’d like to have some fun, too. She wasn’t the prettiest girl he’d ever seen; she was homely in fact. But she was put together nicely. Petit and shapely, and she had pretty eyes. He wondered where she got the scar on her forehead. Finishing his coffee in a gulp and stubbing out his cigarette, he got up and arranged his coat and hat for the three-block walk to the hotel. Eva walked toward him as he started to leave.


“Yeah, uh, . . .I can’t say your name. Sorry.”

“What time is dinner?”


“Yeah, what time do you start dinner around here?  And would you join me?”

“Join you?  Dinner?  Here?”  She squinted her eyes and looked at him closely.

“Eva, if I’m confusing you, or something, I . . .”

She cut him off. “Uh, what’d you say your last name was?”

‘I didn’t, but it’s Stewart.”

“Okay, umm, Mr. Stewart. Dinner here starts at six o’clock. And I’ll be working dinner. I work all the time, every day, and I do not join some . . . strange guy for dinner anywhere.”  She stared up at him with small hazel eyes out of which it seemed to him an inch fire shot. Her scar appeared to pulsate.

“Should I dress for dinner?”  Jack asked.

“You should leave me alone.”  Jack felt ice in her voice.

“Okay, then. I guess I’ll see you later.”  He smiled, touched the bill of his cap, and left.
Although insulted by his boldness and angry that he thought she was just some kind of chippie, Eva felt flattered, too. After the car accident, she was positive no guy would ever glance at her again, and few had. Jack, she pondered. Why couldn’t his name be Joe? 

Anything but Jack.

Jack found his room at the Illinois Hotel, a huge place owned by the Blue Island Railroad. He sat down on the single bed, dropped his duffle bag on the floor, and removed his boots and socks first thing. He caught a whiff of his feet.

“Oh, my god,” He immediately lit a cigarette.

He hung his coat in the small wardrobe, went to the sink, and looked at himself in the mirror.

“Face looks like a jigaboo, and you smell worse than one. You need a shower, Jack. You need a shower bad.”  No wonder Eva didn’t want any part of you, he thought.

He padded across to the bed again, removed all his clothes, and stowed them on the floor of the wardrobe. He hung his Kromer on a hook next to his coat. There were clean towels on the bed, so he wrapped himself in one, grabbed his soap, and headed to the gang shower adjacent to the urinals and commode stalls.

No one was around so took he long time washing and letting the warm water splash over him. Having spent countless nights in hotels, Jack knew it was unusual to have lots of hot water. But the Illinois was owned by a railroad that believed nothing was too good for their men.

He got back to the room and put on a pair of white boxers. He was beat. He’d tired up in Chicago that morning around four o’clock, and although the run from Louisville had been without incident, being a fireman meant he had to work all the way. He’d kept the water tanks full, the fire stoked, awakened the engineer when they were near a stop, and generally made sure the monster ran without incident. He’d been up all night.

When he and the engineer, Stormy Cromer, arrived, the dispatcher told them they were stuck in Chicago for a while. Both were on the extra board, and the run back to Louisville had been cancelled. That meant they’d have to wait for however long it took to be assigned a run back. Could be tomorrow, could be next week.

For Jack it was a holiday. At twenty-eight and single he relished the idea of being on the loose in Chicago. He was in amazing physical shape, having pulled race boats in the Navy after his stint in the army, which he served in Paris in 1918. Wanting to make the Navy his career, Jack worked hard aboard his ship, the U.S.S. Arizona, to make first-class gunner’s mate, and for kicks he joined the ship’s race boat team with its rigorous training and weekly completion against teams from other ships, resulting in his developing the physique of a world-class body builder.

He loved the Navy. It cared for him, giving food, clothes and shelter while taking him all over the world. He spent a year in Hawaii, eating, drinking, and copulating. Best of all he didn’t have to think; the Navy told him what to think, how to think, and when to stop. All he had to do was obey: “Aye, aye, sir.”  And life was sweet.

But a Navy career was not to be for Jack. His father’s unexpected death in 1927, forced the Navy to discharge him as the only surviving son of his family. Added to the heartache of his father’s death was his feeling abandoned by the Navy. Deeply depressed, he confessed to his sisters that he was scared, that he didn’t know where to go, what to do, and, worst of all, he didn’t know how to do anything, except take orders, swim and pull a race boat. Susan, his oldest sister, dated a guy who worked for the L&N Railroad, and told him about her brother. He suggested Jack apply and that he would put in a good word. Jack was hired, and thus began his career as a fireman.
“So I’m was stuck in Chicago for a few days. Gee, what a shame,” he told his engineer, Stormy, with a wide smile.

Somewhat like the Navy, the L&N Railroad would shelter and feed him while there, and no one controlled what he did on his own time.
“Look out Chicago, Jack Stewart’s on the prowl,” he hollered and clapped Stormy on the back.

“Sure as hell glad I’m as old as I am,” Stormy said as he watched Jack hop around like a kid. “I’m goin’ to bed.”
Knowing he had to have energy to prowl, Jack wanted sleep, too. He looked at his clock and saw it was 8:20, and figured by four that afternoon he’d have eight hours.

“More’n enough time to raise hell from one end of the city to another,” he mumbled as he flipped out the lamp and snuggled down into the covers. He’d set the alarm for four that afternoon, and as he drifted off he thought of Eva and smiled. “How I’d love a bite of her, even if I don’t know why.” It was his last thought as sleep swallowed him whole.

25 Responses to Frederick Fuller: “For the Heart’s Treasure” (romantic adult contemporary)

  1. Pingback: 3 New Peer Review Submissions

  2. Your writing is comfortable and very accessible. I don’t have a lot of critique to offer this morning other than I’m uncomfortable with your opening paragraph. I tried all different ways to imagine what she was doing and never managed. I saw a spatula, then a loose tooth, then … oh, I don’t know. It just didn’t work for me no matter what I tried! Good luck with this, though. I can feel the elements you’re pulling together, and you’re doing it well.

  3. Martha

    You have a nice way with words, and you have created some very likable characters. I’d suggest you put the incident of Gus showing up to tell about the murders much closer to the opening. That way you could pull the reader right in. Try to create some opposing agendas for the characters too, for a little push-pull and some tension. I liked the way you have Eva meet Jack/John. If this is to be a romance, I’ll bet it’ll be between these two.

  4. Your writing is very descriptive and creates great visuals. My reading time is limited and I look at the first pages. If I’m not drawn in to the character or by action I generally pass on the book. Your log line says the book is about a damaged woman who marries a sweet, kind lothario. I think this is interesting, but where in the first pages is this mentioned? There are seven people introduced in about three pages. It is confusing as to who is this story will be about. As I said, the descriptions are great but I’d rather get to know the protagonist. Make a connection. Your great visuals can be added in later. I suggest you cut through it all and get to the story and begin sucking the reader in.
    Below is a cut it down example to show you what I mean.
    “Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. Happy, happy, happy.” Eva Conner said to no one in particular. She blew her nose and stuffed the tissue in her apron pocket. The ice patterns on the window of the coffee shop where she worked created a kaleidoscopic effect and made objects appear broken and misaligned. Twelve below zero in Chicago is colder than twelve below zero anywhere else on earth. The restaurant in a blue-collar neighborhood near the railroad yard was a haven for lovers of Greek cuisine.
    The door opened and Gus, the shop owner, rushed in accompanied with a blast of cold air. He flung his coat at the rack and missed.
    “Did you hear?” he shouted.
    “Hear what?” Ava asked.

  5. Sharon

    Hi Frederick. First off, I’d nix the first paragraph and save it for later, maybe when Eva’s older. It’s not a good visual for a love story. Keep in mind that you want to hook the reader in the first few paragraphs with the who, what, where, where, when and why. If this is a love story, perhaps you could set the reader up for that sooner. You’ve loaded your paragraphs with some wonderul imagery and some of it is out of sequence. Trying thinning the descriptions and rearranging them. Your writing has promise, and it is better in the beginning to have too much going on and then keep editing until you’ve got it just right. Keep at it. Good luck.

  6. Frederick Fuller

    Thanks all for your very insightful and helpful suggestions. Incidentally, the title of the book is “For The Heart’s Treasure”, a line from the song “The Voyage” by Johnny Duhan. I released the book in 2009 but re-called it this year because I wasn’t satisfied with the editing or some of the story. I am re-writing a lot of it and will consider your suggestions. Thanks again.

  7. Wow! Well done! Every character is nicely settled into place, the description of the diner couldn’t be any better, the cold Chicago weather the way the incoming customer’s are dressed, right down to the description of the iced inside window. Gus’s mannerisms, dancing, yelling, ordering two waitresses around. . .had to laugh, brought back memories of a Greek family I knew growing up.
    I love the story and would love to read more. You’ve set-up a riveting plot and looking forward to reading your book.
    Jeane Daly

  8. Hello,
    I might suggest that if the period is 30s Depression Era, the use of the phrase “had a blast” is inappropriate. Also the mention of the Iditarod is not likely to be familiar to readers as it’s a more popular present day event.

    I may be incorrect but I thought Sokrates was spelled Socrates.

    I agree with others that the first paragraph, although says a lot about the character, is not appealing, especially if this is to be a love story. There is not question that in the good old days, people’s teeth were not as healthy as today. But this image puts this woman into an unflattering category and I’m not sure that is what you intended.

  9. Catherine

    Liked the characters right away. Also liked the setting. Feel like I would enjoy being drawn into the world of the diner as a reader Having grown up in Chicago I can say that the air would almost certainly not be damp at 12 below. It would be static electricity dry. For some reason the names of the famous gangsters was a little off putting to me, like trying too hard to set the Chicago stage. I think I would prefer those details worked in later and more subtly. I would also consider dropping a few of the adjectives and adjectival phrases throughout. You don’t need them. You create a strong concrete picture without them.

    Hope you post some more. I will look forward to it.

  10. Katherine Jamieson

    I agree with much of what has already been posted. Namely, cut to the story sooner; the opening paras are distracting and not flattering but could be used later to convey more of Eva’s personality; take care to show not tell, eg. ‘They enjoyed each other’s company’; take care with your historical facts e.g. did people use tissues then? What of shortages in The Great Depression? Here, in Australia cream/butter were rationed, for example. A more careful edit to eliminate word duplications in the same sentence eg. ‘liked’ and also to make some of the sentences smoother. Your descriptions were very evocative but could be even more so if used more sparingly – fewer adjectives will give them more punch. The characters were engaging. Overall I enjoyed the story and wanted to keep reading. Thank you for the opportunity to comment. If my comments seem a little weighted on the negative side it is simply a time issue and certainly not your writing which is already accomplished.

  11. Very good visual descriptions, Frederick. Perhaps a bit too much early on, as some of the others have said.
    But I like your writing style. The writing moves quickly, even if the scene doesn’t unfold as quickly.
    I agree on checking the jargon, slang, and other elements of the times. I wouldn’t have picked up on the “tissues” but agree that handkerchiefs were more normal.

  12. Jan

    I don’t really have a lot to add-I noticed the use of tissues where I believe handkerchiefs would have been used & I wondered about wrapping the service in napkins-during the Depression would they have done it that way? I’m not saying they didn’t , I would have to do some research on it. Also I like your descriptive style but feel it would move better if you condensed some of the mundane things and got to the real action quicker. I have trouble with condensing my writing too. I do like your characters and look forward to reading more of them? Thanks for sharing.

  13. First let me say that I know a ton of work went into this as it stands, and I appreciate that, but I know you posted it here for a critique, so here are my thoughts:

    1. You need a stronger hook in the beginning. Drop us right into the action. I’d hack off the beginning of this and start with Soko coming in. There is so much telling in the first half and I am not sure what it has to do with the story. You can work in your details as the story unfolds–Eva stifles a yawn because she’s been there since 5:30am or rolls a stiff should from filling 50 creamers. We just don’t need every detail of her life as a waitress–think about what moves your story forward and include that.

    2. If Eva’s disfigured from a car accident, have her act that way…maybe she wears her hair a certain way to hide the scar on her forehead, or doesn’t look people in the eye when she speaks to them because her jaw moves awkwardly–things like that would show how the accident affects her and then you can milk that incident for all it is worth, slowly revealing the depth of her pain. I’m guessing this might have to do with the ex-husband, and that would be a good tie in if it did. Give Eva interaction with George so we can learn about his character without you having to tell us what he is like. Same with Foula–show don’t tell. Also, what is it about Eva that compels Foula to give her a job if she is not Greek?

    3. I think Eva and Jack/John need a much stronger interaction if they are to be your main characters/love interests. Right now, it’s kind of bland and I am not sure about having her say a curse word. That just seems inappropriate to me given the time period and where she is working I think him having the same name as her ex is an interesting conflict, and having her figure out how to overcome that would be fascinating to see. You mentioned sex as the hook in the synopsis, and good sex comes from a good set up, so give them some solid chemistry.

    4. One of the most valuable things anyone ever told me about writing is “Resist the Urge to Explain” and I think you could benefit from that…some of your descriptions are just overkill. For expample, we know that Eva called him Mr. Persnickety in her head, you don’t have to remind us. Trust your reader.

    5. Really look closely at this and ask yourself what your descriptions are saying–you tell us this isn’t a greasy spoon, but at the same time you have soot covered patrons.

    Those were just my thoughts, so hopefully some of them were helpful. Also, I don’t think I’d call this a contemporary romance since it is not set in the present and it just sets the reader up for one thing when you are really writing in a historical period.

    Good luck with your writing!

  14. Frederick Fuller

    Thanks again, everyone, for your comments. I appreciate the time you spent writing them.

    A few explanations, Kleenex tissues were introduced in 1924 to remove cold cream. So, Eva could have used them. You’re right on “had a blast.” My bad; it came to American slang around 1953. Sokrates is a transliteration from Greek, meaning literally “having safe might.” Regarding weather in Chicago on that date, it may be up for grabs. I, too, come from Chicago and I know weather there is fickle any time of the year. It can snow at below-zero temperatures, not often, maybe, but it can happen; I’ve experienced it. Since I can find no definite weather records, I used by poetic (pathetic?) license to make it snow AND be below zero. If anyone has some verifiable info on the weather then, please let me know.

    Description: Alas, I am confused. My editor and mentor, a multi-published novelist, tells me to describe, describe, describe. Other published writers I know say the same thing. Indeed, I come from a theatrical background, and my editor has accused me often of describing as if I am setting a stage. That’s too much, she says. What is the happy medium? Is Larry Brooks around? If so, what say ye? (Yes, I have your book, but since I write all the time, I have not read it. Guess I should.)

    When I taught writing for almost 30 years, I told my students to make something special. Example: An oak tree tells me little except the species of a tree. The oak tree in my back yard makes it distinct, one-of-a-kind. When I describe the oak tree in my back yard, I can make it pop out in the reader’s imagination. So, am I getting close to “less is more” description? This is probably my biggest fault as a writer, along with too much use of passive voice.

    This is my first novel, my practice. Too many adjectives and adverbs? Yeah, I’m guilty.

    Thank you again for all of your comments. I shall regard them seriously and make changes with them in mind.

  15. How much description is too much description? Great question. Universal challenge. And, in my view, there’s no single correct answer. Much of our craft is just that: precise, defined, very little wiggle room. A good portion, though, remains “art,” and this is one of those issues. The artist/writer gets to decide how much is too much or too little. Think of a painter — who is to say when there is too much color, too little (isn’t black and white photography still a compelling art form?), or which colors work and which don’t?

    Within craft we face artistic decisions. We weigh the advice, we consider the moment, we dive in… we make our art, our way.

    I attended a conference once where Elmore Leonard was the keynote speaker. He bestowed upon us his “10 Rules of Writing,” one of which was “never use an adjective.” Pretty severe. His work pretty much bears that out, and he’s successful with it. So… is he using too little description? His call. And, his readers get to vote. But there is no right or wrong. The further we go to either extreme, the higher the risk of cutting into the aesthetic comfort zone of our reader. But we still get to decide.

  16. Frederick Fuller

    Thank you, Larry. I shy away from most discussions on “how to write,” that is “how to write to get published.” I guess I am in a tiny group of writers that is not obsessed with writing for publication. If I am published, or self-publish my own stuff, I feel good, of course. But, if I am rejected by a publisher, I don’t get my drawers in a wad. That’s not why I write. I write because I have to, because I am compelled by some itch that I have to scratch constantly. If I pass a day without writing, even an e-mail or a reply like this one, I am uncomfortable.

    Of course, I am seeking perfection in my writing, knowing full well I’ll never reach it. And that is what compels me. Knowing perfection is impossible upsets me, so I strive all the time to beat it. It’s fun to do.

    When I was 25, I lost sleep if I was rejected. All the time I worried and got angry that a publisher was pushing me away, and I knew I had a novel that would make him rich, and me, too. Then I almost died. While recuperating I read a biography of Van Gogh. I learned that he sold only one painting, and that for pittance. But he had to paint. From his story I concluded that for art, any art, to be successful it had to first please the artist, which it never does and is why we keep at it . To aim solely for acceptance is to suffer. Now, I approach my writing in Zen fashion, knowing I’ll fail myself and be delighted with that failure because I have something to work on. My failure is endless, thank goodness. I expect nothing, desire nothing; I just want to write words.

  17. As one who suffered through Chicago weather I have no issues. It’s cold. It snows. It gets colder… As for description, while we can’t say how much description is enough or not enough we can say that the right description says it all. But the piece is overall engaging and fun and sets the stage for the story to come. Lake

  18. RJ

    I’m just wondering what a flipper is. Everyone had great feedback – I’m late getting to this, so ditto on getting straight into the action from the outset. Rita spun it well.

    ps) I’m just beginning to build my website so nothing to see yet, but you can see a picture of my dog.

  19. Sharon B

    Would like to read more, Larry — but the first few paragraphs did not grab me around the neck and insist I keep reading.

  20. Evonne M. Biggins

    Hi, Frederick. I like the flipper, wasn’t too sure for a bit what it was but figured it was something used in that era. I do think that some of the first paragraph info could be weaved in later. Your characters seem realistic, but maybe too many right at first. At: Engrossed in the scene, she scraped at the ice with a thumbnail without realizing it, seemed like author intrusion that she did something and then it was mentioned that she did it without realizing it….
    Also, when she met Jack and said, “Oh, shit,” she heard herself say…. the–she heard herself say–doesn’t ring right. And, I’m not sure, but isn’t a dimpled chin on a man called a cleft? At: because she was self-conscious of the scar on her forehead and of her crooked jaws, both from a car accident.–this sounded like telling that could easily be showing. She would have the habit of touching her scar or turning her head so people couldn’t see it, or running her fiinger along the ridge running along her cheek, whenever studying a pretty woman. She might blush and the scar area would stay white…. and her scar tissue would be dead to the touch, maybe like how she feels…..stuff like that.
    Overall, this is interesting and I’m interested to know what happens.

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  22. brian

    I think it’s very important to get moving into a story as quickly as possible (which is why you need a strong, solid hook to yank potential readers in). I found myself cursorily scanning the paragraphs, looking for the start of the story–and didn’t find it. At least define right away what Eva wants (or thinks she doesn’t want)–for example, “The last thing Eva Conner needed right now was a man in her life”. Then immediately the reader thinks, “Aha! This is going to be a story about a woman who thinks she doesn’t need love who finds love.” Or Jack hits on her right away and she’s all miffed–but interested. So we know what’s going on. Then start with all the descriptions (and I think there’s a little too much about the food prep for the diner). If the Capone angle is a vital part of the story, jump on that right away–I want to be interested!

  23. Catherine

    I’m glad you posted a second chapter. I was interested enough in the first chapter to hope for a second one so that says something good. I liked the dialogue between Jack and Eva. I found that very believable and demonstrated her to be a hurting woman who really doesn’t want to let a man in (showed rather than told as other reviewers said). Maybe it is because I am a woman and too old-fashioned, but I have to say that I am finding the character of Jack somewhat unlikeable so far. Since many romance readers are women I am going to offer the comment anyway–even if it is just a matter of personal preference. When I read a romance I want to fall in love with the hero a little myself. I don’t want to know that his feet smell–or at least I don’t want to know it til much later in the story when I have already fallen for him. And I don’t want to see him on the prowl with such relish and enjoyment– on the prowl might be OK if he is trying to cover some deep hurt or loneliness that hints that Eva will be the one and only woman to cure it. Again, that may be pure personal preference. I hope there are some other comments from women who say they see him as a challenge or are attracted to a man’s man, but I have to say that, based on the second chapter, I don’t really want Eva to fall for him. She might be better off alone. I think you need to hint at a more romantic, sympathetic side to the man. You might be able to do it through the death or his father and now he is supporting his mother and sending money home to his sisters…something like that…wishes he could be back in his hometown with all of them but he has to earn a living for all of them and so, while, doing that, he will try to pass the time. Liked the part about sleep devoring him whole but didn’t like the use of the word snuggle. Does a fit, 28-year-old Navy railroad man snuggle down into his covers? I hope not.

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  25. Hugh

    Audio equalizers in the thirties? (Paragraph 5). I doubt they’d been invented yet, and if they had, a waitress in a diner wouldn’t know what they were. The image was so misplaced in time it jarred me out of the story and made it harder for me to get back in.

    Once back in, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    There’s a bit of head hopping in chapter two. Everything up to that point was from Eva’s POV, then suddenly we’re in Jack’s head looking at his watch. When he leaves, we jump back to Eva and then we’re with Jack again. I found the transitions abrupt and disconcerting. I don’t read much that would be labeled Romantic, so maybe fans of the genre have different expectations.

    There’s a lot of background info about Jack’s life in the navy that seem irrelevant to the story thus far. I’m sure that it will be significant later, but for me, the big lump of it just sat there, blocking the progress of the story. Perhaps it would be better to meter it out in bits and pieces as we get to know Jack better. Most of us don’t review our personal histories as we’re getting ready for bed, particularly when we’re angling for that hot waitress we just met. Unless it’s a fresh wound, most of us don’t review our painful experiences at all, unless something drags them up for us or unless we’re chronically depressed.

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