Open Pen

Sunshine and Fog: An Open Pen Critique

To everyone who has submitted an Open Pen piece: thank you for being patient. I know I have been distracted and gotten behind. Today, we have another piece from Gabby who has a really cool website and a couple published books.

Sunshine and Fog is a historical fiction short story, and Gabby would like to know how the perspective of the writing effected the readers and if the character, Anna, seemed believable, complex, and interesting throughout. I love the idea of Gabby short story, and I hope you guys enjoy reading it, too.

Thank you for taking the time to make a few comments on her piece. Both short, one-point comments and long critiques are appreciated!

I am sorry that I have gotten behind on Open Pen critiques, but here is the current queue:

  1. Readloveexpress22
  2. Elizabeth Dearman
  3. Red652
  4. Rachel Kimzey

If you would like to submit a piece of writing to be critique (and are willing to wait), you can read the rules and submit on the Open Pen page.

God bless,

Gabrielle

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Sunshine and Fog: The Diary of Anna Roosevelt by Gabby

July 25, 1921

Sunshine. Outside it is all sunshine. Perhaps a few absentminded clouds are floating overhead and perhaps a gentle breeze is pulling at the boughs on the trees. Perhaps.

Yet I cannot be sure what it is like outside because Mother has forced us all to stay inside. “To learn,” she says. But we are on vacation from school. It is summer.

She says I must write everyday so she gave me this notebook. She did not tell me exactly what I should write. She did not even hint at one subject or another. What an abnormality to be given a choice.

August 1, 1921

I loathe writing when I know that another will read it, especially Mother. However, I do find pleasure in writing. Please understand that I am not directly contradicting what I just stated. Allow me to explain.

To write without being critiqued. To write without the feeling that someone is looking over your shoulder. To write without fear of what others think. That is to fly on the wings of an eagle. That is to truly be free.

If only you knew Mother, you would realize how this cannot be. Well, I thought that ideal could not be made, but I found another notebook — one in which I shall scribble a meaningless nonsense of words each and every day so Mother will be satisfied. Do you understand, dear diary? You are now my own to write in without fear. You are my freedom.

I suppose I shall write about our time on the island this summer. Not much will happen until Pa comes. However, I have made my choice. You are the bird I can now fly on. I will soar high above the fog into the sunshine. When I write I will be free.

August 5, 1921

How can one write when there are empty pages staring up at you with blank eyes? Why must you be so pale and silent, dear diary? I thought you and I could become friends, as foolish a fantasy that is.

But, you see, I need a companion. Though I am seldom alone with four brothers, Mother, Pa, Grandmother, and the many staff, business partners, and visitors, I often feel outcast. It is a strange paradox to be unfailingly surrounded by people yet still be lonely.

Are you lonely, diary? How does it feel to watch through fog as your life is inscribed before you while having no influence over what occurs? I dare to write that, if this be the case, I understand your emotions, for I have faced this many times before.

But enough of these distressing feelings. We must move on to things of significance. You must be questioning who is filling your pages. To start, you ought to at least be informed of my name. I am Anna Roosevelt, the only daughter of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. As of this May, I am fifteen years old, and the oldest of my siblings. A slobbery lick just reminded me to write about my German Shepherd, Chief, who —

My governess is calling. Mother wishes for us to continue with a few hours more of schooling before the day turns dark.

I must remember to introduce the rest of my family soon.

August 9, 1921

Pa arrived from New York yesterday. He appeared quite logy yet still insisted on joining a fishing expedition today. He left at dawn. Though he has merely brushed the ground of our cottage for a few hours, the entire atmosphere has changed. Oh diary, the strain is difficult to bear.

Mother and Pa — occupying the same house while living worlds apart. Everyone knows why this is. Even so, all pretend to be blind to the mountain settling between them. “It is everybody’s fault and it is nobody’s fault,” I have heard it put. However, those who believe this are greatly mislead, for the offense lies squarely upon Pa. And what a hateful humiliation. Oh, dear diary, just considering the betrayal has caused my heart to pound with shame. Will you understand what even I cannot? How can two cultured, civilized people from a distinguished social class fall into such an immoral transgression? What a wicked act against Mother! What a wicked act against us all!

Many still hold Pa in high regard for his creditable status as a lawyer and politician, and his commendable years as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. But I, I can no longer hold his hand in admiration or swing on his leg in childlike glee. I can take pleasure in the wild, whooping, romping, running, sailing, and picnicking time we will all have with him during our vacation on the island, but trust has been shattered like the shells on the seashore. I can no longer be proud of my Pa. He broke my heart long before any boy had the chance to.

August 10, 1921

I can just barely hold my pencil. I am utterly exhausted. We all went on quite an adventurous family outing. There is so much to write and it is already rather late. If it grows much darker, I may need to light a candle, for along with no telephone, this cottage also lacks electricity. You know little about this treasured second home of ours, though.

You and I, my little friend, are lying in my private bedchamber, one of eighteen in this spacious cottage. It is a lovely, yet simple, room. Pale yellow wallpaper lines the walls while the same peaceful color graces the bedspread. Slightly ajar, the window permits a cool breeze to waltz in, fluttering the curtains and drying my hair, which is still damp from our swim. On the outside, the house appears almost like a barn. Years of salty wind from the Canadian Atlantic coast have turned the once vibrant red of the cottage to a more dignified, rusted shade.

Oh, how I do adore our summers on the Campobello Island. I believe we all prefer life on the island over our busyness in the city.

Without further delay, and before the sun whispers goodbye, I must tell you of my day. As was planned, James, Elliott, Mother, Pa, and I spend the morning sailing on the Vireo. Oh, even artistically, there is no way to justly describe the magnificent beauty of the scenery. It was captivating in every sense. The salty wind gossiped with the boat’s sails, the shadows of birds reflected off of the purple water, and the brilliant rays of light glistened all around. As it became afternoon, though, James sighted smoke curling upward from Cobscook Bay. Pa steered the great twenty-foot, single-masted sailboat near the forested island and we all went ashore to help extinguish the fire. Our time in the hazy smoke was both tiring and rather frightening. A large spruce caught on fire beside me and I can still hear that awful roar of the flames as they quickly enveloped the whole tree. James and Elliott insisted on a swim at the pond once we returned home. Mother declined the invitation and instead sent along Frankie and John. Though wearying, it was the most amusing day I have yet to enjoy this summer. Hopefully we will be favored with more days like this in the coming weeks.

I should include in my writing that I am a bit concerned about Pa. There was very little fuss, yet I wonder if he could be ill. He skipped dinner in order to get thoroughly warm and quietly mentioned that his back ached. Perhaps he has caught a cold from falling into the ocean while on his fishing expedition a few days ago?

August 11, 1921

I must write quickly. We older children shall soon be leaving for our annual camping trip — a canoe ride up the St. Croix River for fishing and a couple nights stay in cabins. We have anticipated this all year.

Alas, Pa cannot join us. He is ill, as I had suspected. When I brought up his breakfast, he and Mother were speaking about a soreness in his right knee and stabbing pains in his legs. Because he has quite a high temperature, Mother plans to have us stop in the nearby village of Lubec and request a doctor on our way to the camping site.

His symptoms make for a strange, especially nasty, cold. Perhaps he has a light case of the flu. Either way, I know Pa. He will certainly have recovered by the time we return from our camping.

August 14, 1921

Oh, diary, you were at the house during our camping trip. If only you could inform me of what has happened. Pa still lies upstairs in bed. Mother says he must not be disturbed. A man by the name of William Keen, who, according to my governess, is the second doctor to have visited, has now moved into our cottage. What is wrong? What is happening?

August 17, 1921

Now all us children have fever and chills. What is this mysterious sickness?

I questioned Mother about Pa, but she turned away from me. A foggy darkness mists over her eyes. She won’t tell me the truth. No one will.

I am very, very afraid.

August 24, 1921

I have lit a candle. It is late at night and I can’t sleep. Another doctor arrived today, this time with the name Samuel A. Levine. I watched him as he examined Pa. Pa was very distraught. No. He was in complete anguish. I close my eyes and see him again. His sparkling brown eyes are dull, lifeless. His jolly grin is hard stone. His balding spot above his forehead where we always kiss him goodnight — and I am crying. Crying.

I fear to continue writing and tear your pages. Oh, diary, does it hurt you when I take your unmarred pages and fill them up with words, memories, and people? Often times it is hard to live this life. Do you dare to stay with me until this story is told? I know that it is hard enough to listen to a life, but I have handed you a great torture. You must feel my life. Every word presses into your pages like a blade. Can you stand it? Can I stand it?

August 25, 1921

I eavesdropped. I am sorry. It was inappropriate to do. Yet now nothing seems wrong. Nothing is bad. Nothing at all can compare to what I now know.

The doctor spoke a language of medical terms to Mother. I made little sense of it, but I heard enough. Enough for my eyes to mist over once more. I am flailing blindly in a world I cannot control.

My Pa has infantile paralysis. My Pa is a cripple.

Defeat is washing over me. The fog has won. The story is over. Sunshine has been a habit too long. Now suddenly this fog.

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7 thoughts on “Sunshine and Fog: An Open Pen Critique”

  1. Hi Miss Gabby,

    I want to start by saying that I really enjoyed this piece. I find that a lot of writers have a hard time writing in this POV because they forget that their characters don’t know everything and share things that would be unknown to their POV character. But you pull it off beautifully and even use this lack of knowledge to your benefit, creating mystery and suspense over her father’s illness.

    I did think there was going to be more of a payout regarding the illness, though. Something like they were going to be quarantined and it would all go down hill from there. I know it’s a little dark but I really felt like that was what you were foreshadowing. So, as a reader I was left a little unsatisfied by the ending.

    However, the beginning and the middle were really solid. I especially liked the part where she goes to introduce all of her family, but only manages a few before her mom interrupts and then she forgets. Both are things that would happen in real life and it adds a very nice element of realism. It was a really new and interesting way of dealing with the “describe my life” portion of the “diary reading” genre. (If “diary reading genre” is a thing.) Though, I still wanted to get to know the rest of her family a little more and was sorry to see that didn’t really happen except a few names.

    I also thought the way you introduced her father’s infidelity was really good. The way she hinted at it but never outright used the words affair or adultery. It added character depth and gave me a reason to feel for her.

    Really, all in all, a very good piece.

    Best wishes and God Bless,

    Lindsi

    Like

  2. I was really into the story. I am a fan of the diary format and it reminded me of the Dear America series I grew up reading, although geared towards older people. Definitely a pleasant read.

    Unlike Lindsi McIntyre, I thought the build up to the polio was very well done. I also enjoyed the sun and fog metaphor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much for your comment! I love the Dear America books too, so hearing that my story reminded you of that series makes me very happy 🙂

      Blessings,
      Gabby

      Like

  3. Hi Gabby,
    As I was reading Maryann’s comment, I realized that I had inadvertently made it seem as if I thought your reveal of the father’s illness was bad…which was not my intention at all.
    Although, as I re-read the second paragraph of my first comment, I realized why she thought that. 🙂
    So, I wanted to comment again to clarify.
    I thought the way you used your chosen POV was really well done. Especially where she dismisses her father’s illness as a cold. Then she slowly allows herself to think it might be worse than a simple cold, but she still tries to convince herself it’s just a bad flu…it really added to the mystery and suspense.
    My issue was actually with the side plot point of the children becoming sick and how that point didn’t really seem to go anywhere.
    This plot point left me anxious to know what would happen to the children after I had reached the ending.
    Was anyone else in her family crippled? Did anyone die?
    Now, if you meant to leave the reader with those kinds of questions, then you succeeded, and I can’t say (as a writer myself) that it’s a bad thing. Keeping your readers interested in your story, even after they are done reading it, is a huge bonus.
    (As a reader, I always want more when a good story is over, so it’s not really surprising I’d have questions. ☺)
    But, I did want to be specific about what I felt at the end, so that you could decide if that was really what you were after with your story.
    Anyway, I hope this clarifies my first point. 🙂
    God Bless,
    Lindsi

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for all the detail in your comments and the clarity! I do understand what you were pointing out, and I do agree that the side plot of the children getting sick did not really resolve. Perhaps the story can be continued 😉

      I wrote the story for a school assignment, and, in actuality, the ending was rather sudden/unfinished because I ran out of time. Overall, I think that the sudden ending conveys the type of emotions that I was wanting to get from Anna’s character. At the time, however, I wrote the end of the story in a rush because I had to. It started as a bit of a mistake, but I think most of it worked out in my favor.

      Thank you again for your kind and helpful comments! God bless you as well!

      Gabby

      Like

  4. I really liked this piece. I stopped reading letter/diary format books two years ago, but this year I’ve taken them up again, and am beginning to enjoy them once more. I have to say, I really like Anna’s voice.

    One thing that did surprise me was how she went from “I will never be proud of Pa again” to “I hope Pa’s all right.” I think you could maybe say something like “Even though I no longer known how to feel about him, I worry. He is my father.” Or something of the sort. And maybe add similar lines through the entries where he is ill. I like to see a character’s inner struggles. When her father is ill perhaps she could write about this struggle. “I hate what he did, and maybe this is a just punishment, but I do not wish to see him like this.”

    The pacing, while a little choppy (it’s a diary, so that is to be expected) is good. It sticks to the important points and doesn’t meander off to visit things like new handkerchiefs or something equally inconsequential.

    I would like to know a little more about Anna’s mother, but this is a short excerpt, so I understandably won’t see as much of all the characters as I would like.

    I really enjoyed this piece and would be interested in reading more. Keep up the good work.

    Like

  5. Hello,

    Fantastic story! You did a good job of keeping me interested. I feel as though there should be less choppiness. Perhaps I’m just thinking this because I don’t typically read journal type books. It was definitely an interesting take on FDR. I’ve always known him as a great president. I loved the contrast in how she is upset with her father but when she finds out he is crippled it seems as though what he did doesn’t matter anymore.
    Something else I just thought of it when you mentioned her other siblings, maybe you should at least mention their names just so we know.
    I am also getting the feeling that she doesn’t really like either of her parents maybe I’m wrong.
    It was a fantastic story though!

    Like

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