CHAPTER ONE: July 1938
The big seaplane droned on towards the bright orange setting sun. Viewed from the front, the long wing of the Martin Clipper looked like two long dog ears sticking straight out, covering a pair of goggles and a long snout. The upper wing was joined to two shorter lower wing-like areas by four diagonal bars. Four Pratt and Whitney propellers turned in unison, making a single sound. Every once in a while, number two slipped out of sync, slightly slower, producing an annoying change in rhythm.
Flight Engineer Johnson, two weeks out of engineer’s school, ran to his panel and adjusted the controls to stop the noise. His two main tasks were to keep the engines running and in sync.
The Captain turned and scowled. The light from the setting sun glinted off his gold wings as he sat with his arms crossed, staring back at the flustered man until the engines returned to their normal sound.
“Probably woke him up.” Johnson kept his thoughts to himself. The Captain was still annoyed. He glared at his Radio Officer, seated behind him at the navigators table. “Harris, did you make a position report to that vessel back there?”
“Yes, sir. I just finished. She’s on her way to Auckland, too.”
The cockpit door opened as the other engineer walked in.
“Cap, there’s a funny smell coming from the rear cargo hold and I can’t find it. It’s not a burning smell, just funny. How about sending somebody to investigate?”
Johnson quickly stood up, hoping to check out the red head in the sheer white dress he spotted boarding in Honolulu. She was a real looker.
“No, you sit down and do your job. From the sounds I heard, you need the practice. Harris, you go.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
Harris stood and smiled at Johnson then made his way down the steps and past the galley. The two stewards were busy with preparations for the evening meal. It was always hard to prepare a six course gourmet dinner every night, but they did a superb job. His stomach growled. He’d stop on the way back for some nuts off the appetizer tray.
As he passed through the main cabin, some passengers looked up, but most didn’t. They were engrossed in reading or doing crosswords or just enjoying the cocktail hour. He passed by two men who did notice and stopped their conversation until he’d passed.
The older Japanese man wore a loose suit with a white starched shirt and a knotted tie with a stickpin. His younger companion, also Japanese, had removed his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and loosened his tie. The older man put down his newspaper and leaned closer towards his seatmate. They whispered in Japanese.
“The pictures are clear.”
“The entire Pacific fleet is in.”
“It is what the admirals wanted.”
“We accomplished our mission.”
“We serve the Emperor.”
Eyes closed, both men bowed slightly in their seats. None of the other three dozen passengers looked in their direction.
Harris walked down the main corridor, past the galley, forward passenger compartment, lounge/dining room, two rear passenger compartments and into a bathroom. He opened the cargo compartment hatch to the right of the sink cabinet, stepped through, and shut it behind him. Wooden crates, full of everything from ears of corn to light bulbs, rows of suitcases, and dozens of clothing trunks filled the area.
“Where do I start?”
Harris pushed aside a four foot tall mailbag, climbed over a rectangular metal locker, then sat on it. He sniffed the air.
“I don’t smell anything.”
The cruise ship off their right wing was just over two miles away.
An orange ball of fire erupted from the cabin windows, then a huge boom as the plane exploded. Burning pieces fell to the sea. The fuselage broke apart as it hit the ocean. The passengers on the port rail, out to watch the sunset, stood in silence, mouths and eyes agape in astonishment and disbelief.
Rescue boats launched from the cruise-ship found very little, just a few cushions and shoes floating amid an oil slick. The sailors collected as much as they could before dark and returned to their ship. On board, a young sailor opened a satchel, pulled out a paper, looked at it, then gasped and ran to the bridge.
Shoving the bag into the arms of the ship’s captain, he exclaimed, “Captain, you won’t believe this!”
Inside the satchel were several photos, some already blurred by exposure to the sea. Yet they were unmistakable. A harbor with ships and buildings were clearly noted in Japanese.
“Isn’t that Pearl Harbor?”
CHAPTER TWO: December 1, 1941
Mount Shasta towers over the Cascade Mountains of northern California at over fourteen thousand feet high. It is called the White Mountain by Native Americans because of the snow that covers it most of the year. Underground channels carry the liquid snow melt away, forming a spring which bubbles up from the ground. Hidden in the middle of a forest, the clear waters flow over rock covered gullies and cascade over rapids where they turn into frothy waterfalls, thus creating the upper Sacramento River. The waterway meanders south for over four hundred miles, until it meets the San Joaquin River, traveling from the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. Around forty miles northeast of San Francisco, the waters join and flow west into Suisun Bay, through the Carquinez Strait into San Pablo Bay, then into San Francisco Bay, one of the world’s great natural harbors.
Five bridges span the bay. The two red steel towers of the Golden Gate Bridge are a famous landmark, connecting the city with the Marin hills to the north. Many commuters cross another busy bridge and tunnel that connects San Francisco to Oakland, a bedroom community to the east.
In an older Oakland neighborhood, a brown lawn bordered by tall trees fronts a Craftsman style ranch home. A young couple talk on the front porch.
16 thoughts on “Clipper”
The first paragraph begins with a long description of a plane, and I feel like that could be put to better use later on in the section instead of right off the bat. Tell us who and what is going on first. I felt a little disconnected as the main character walked to check on the smile. It’s like every single thing was being pointed out, everyone’s clothes and what the room looked like and even what the passengers were doing. What the passengers were doing is again mentioned a few paragraphs down. (something like they didn’t look up, kept reading the magazines or such) Why was the passenger reactions so important, I wondered? I feel like a lot of the descriptions can be shown instead of told. As a blind reader to the back matter, blurb of the book. The first chapter being about them finding Pearl Harbor- which is iconic to American History (I don’t know if you are from America or not) It’s drilled in our heads from grade school, the events, the history, the devastation. It just didn’t feel like anything new to me. Just another point of view- if there was something different or spectacular it might have captivated me. Such as a historical difference, a life-saving event…
Gonna read chapter 2 now!
Hmmm…it all seems to be landscape scenery details which lost my attention.
How I feel:
Make the first chapter a bit more eventful. People on the boat are hurt by the shock, glass shatters someone’s face, people are blown off the ship, they have to hurry over to save someone. Just something for action instead of a simple retelling. Work more on progressing the story instead of focusing on giving us detailed pretty imagery. All in all I think the topic is a good one and can captivate the reader. That time frame is such a glamorous one filled with war, industrial changes, and beautiful fashion.
I would normally have stopped reading after the first paragraph as it lacks any kind of hook to keep me interested. However, because we are a critique group, I ploughed on.
I finally stopped reading at the point where the photographs of Pearl Harbour were found.
My feeling is that all of what we’ve read so far is set up. There doesn’t appear to be a main character for us to care about. I know the bombing of Pearl Harbour is a huge event in world history, but that hasn’t happened in your novel yet, so putting history aside for a moment, all we’ve seen so far is an aircraft blown up, rescue ships deployed and some photographs found with Japanese writing on them.
Have you started your story too early?
Ms. P, I have some negative comments, and then some good news. Before I tell you the negative comments, let me just say that I have written my first chapter 3 times so far, and was happy with it the 3rd time. When I submitted the opening here, I gave people the impression that they were getting hit over the head with a bat. And they were being honest and fair.
I think that there are a few things wrong with what you’ve given us here. First, the book is indirectly about Pearl Harbor, and the degree of indirectness is going to trouble some people who might pick up your book, hoping its a story about Pearl Harbor. That can be solved without changing your plot, so don’t fear.
The writing is logical, but mechanical. Even the descriptions that you might have thought were nuanced upon first writing them sound run-of-the-mill.
The good news: Nothing I just said really matters. There are two things that matter, in my opinion. The voice, and the characters. Sure, some stories are engineered better than others, but anyone can point out flaws in anything, even if it’s something great.
From your writing, i can tell that you’re a very logical thinker. Use that. If you’re having trouble finding a voice, emulate your favorite author in a shameless way. Write each sentence exactly how they would, and you’ll find that you’re better at it than you expected and don’t need them at all. Because you’re clever.
I hope you’ll forgive me for posting what you put in our private group. If not, let me know and I’ll delete it.
“An hour from Auckland, they got the message that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Two weeks later, the crew was ordered to fly the Clipper back to the US, traveling westward. There was fear of the Japs attacking the US west coast or Hawaii again. The plane was a valuable war resource since it was the only heavy cargo plane that could cross the Atlantic.”
Alison was correct. Your story needs to start on the day of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Maybe you think this is gimmicky–but it isn’t. It’s naturally where the conflict begins, and people love history!
Keep it down to 1 or 2 main characters, and let us into their minds. Have Pearl Harbor happen in the first chapter, and have them get their marching orders about a fifth of the way through the novel. Set the stakes as high as your can. They are the ONLY plane that can get cargo across the ocean. Make the cargo be the most important cargo you can imagine. Give them obstacles, but not just other planes firing at them. Not saying that you can’t go that route too, but if so, make it about the people inside the planes.
And remember, the story isn’t about the Clipper, or the attack, or even the journey. It’s about the characters. Always. Their reactions. Their hopes, dreams, anger. Their racism, their justified fears, their understandable shortcomings. Bring us to a very dark place that we didn’t read about in our middle school history textbooks.
You can do it!