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 following are my initial thoughts noted after reading each paragraph.
1. Why the comical simile? Is it a dog of a plane? Interesting detail.
2. Ran? Must be a big plane?
3. Whose gold wings? The Captain’s or the planes? A little confused about the geography of the plane.
4. So it is a big plane.
5. Intrigued by the two men
6. Now I get it, but would have flowed better if previous paragraph had said “two Japanese men” then you could eliminate “who was also Japanese”
7. No comment
8. Confused. The first sentence should be the second to last.
9. Intrigued by satchel.
10. Okay would get me to next chapter.
11. Interesting establishment of geographical setting.
13. Okay – I’m hooked for now.
PS: Now that I think I know what it’s about I’m not sure the dog simile sets the right mood and expectation. Since I don’t know what a Martin Clipper is I’d like a brief overview of the plane near the beginning.
I get the feeling you have a personal interest in this plane – best of luck with your novel.
Probably put my comments in the wrong spot but please look at them. Thanks.
Thanks for the critique. Will change to read:
Viewed from the front, the two story Martin Clipper looked like the face of a huge dog with two long ears sticking straight out from a pair of goggles over a long snout. ( or should I rewrite this completely? It’s what the plane looks like. Guess I should add photos or illustrations to the book.)
He passed by two Japanese men who did notice and stopped their conversation until he’d passed. The older man wore a loose suit with a white starched shirt and a knotted tie with a stickpin. His younger companion had removed his jacket,…
I started writing about the B-314 Clipper a dozen years ago after reading an article in my husband’s flying magazine. The Martin Clipper was the precursor to the Boeing 314. Juan Trippe wanted a plane that could cross oceans. He built stations with hotels on uninhabited islands across the Pacific after 1935 and started passenger service to Hawaii, Wake, Guam, and Manilla, then Aukland.
I am very thankful for your critique. If you want to read more, it’s on the EB Writing group on facebook or I can email you a pdf.
I questioned the dog simile because coming right at the start, before knowing anything about what the story’s about, it made me wonder if it was supposed to be comical. But on second thoughts, readers would have at least some idea of what it was about and if it really looks like that then it’s probably okay.
You have picked an interesting setting, but to make a work of fiction out of it you obviously need a lot more than that. The intrigue of the photos makes a good start but you will need to introduce protagonist characters soon. Best wishes.
Forgot to ask, about #8, which sentences are you referring to?
The paragraph starting: The cruise ship off their right wing was just over two miles away.
That sentence confused me and I had to re read.
Hi there – thanks for posting your work here. I remember reading the first paragraph during the first week, so I definitely wanted to read more than what was initially posted.
For reference, I read through, “The cockpit door opened as the other engineer walked in.”
I like the setting – in a plane, over water, with a newbie in the cockpit – it’s the perfect place for something to happen. However, I feel like there ought to be a few more details as I am progressing. I’m not familiar enough with the check-in with the vessel (maybe describe the vessel with an extra couple phrases or another sentence). The only bits of detail that stuck with me were that of the sunset and the wings on the pilot. Perhaps find ways to add more description of the scene.
I stopped reading where I did because of the sentence structure. I do not necessarily prefer to read a story in the same manner in which people speak, unless it is in the context of dialogue. Using the above sentence as an example, it ends with a preposition. But also in terms of the story, why is there another engineer, especially one that has not been introduced. Again, this would be a place for more description. And have fun with it!
Some things that I found,
1. It sounds like the beginning of a good espionage novel about the photos found after the plane exploded. But it was not clear to me, when I read it first, that the plane exploded. I had to read it a few times. The narrative jumped from the plane to the rescue boats too abruptly.
2. The Japanese spies were speaking in English, which seemed strange since they would not want to be overheard. Maybe there was another way to convey this. Maybe some Japanese writing on the photos.
3. The lead up to finding the photos could be omitted if a passenger on the cruise ship looked up to see the plane flying over head, then it explodes, This would get right to the action in a few lines. Empathy for the victims could be raised by having some family photos as well as the ones of Battleship Row being retrieved from a personal item.
I hope this helps.
I like it. I like the setup to the scene, so I have quite good picture of what’s going on and the particulars of it all. I liked the description of the one prop not being in-sync with the others, and how it irritated the cap’n.
You’ve left me with a big mystery though–how does the Clipper tie to anything revealed about the Japanese and Pearl Harbor?
This paragraph caused me some trouble–
“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.”
I had to read it a couple times to figure out the ball of fire came from the Clipper, and not from the ship.
Oh yes, the description of going aft ward through the cabin needs some clearing up to indicate Harris is still making his way aft. Maybe throw in a “continuing on . . .” to show action. On first reading it, it looked like a list.
I’d like to read your story when you complete it! You hooked me.
Some random thoughts from reading this – the first paragraph is probably superfluous, I had to re-read the bit with the Japanese men, I didn’t, at first, see how this fitted? The dialogue doesn’t feel very 1939 (read Nevil Shute for example), I was a little confused as to what sort of plane it was and the architecture of it. I wondered about the POV, we are with people at the beginning who die, that’s pretty much a no-no, the Pearl Harbour comment confused me as the attack was in 1941, 3 years after. Has the plane been flying over Pearl Harbour? Where the Japanese guys taking photographs from the plane? Surely that’d be suspicious? I didn’t read chapter 2.
I agree with PSUTTON2008: the first paragraph is a bit longwinded description, so I needed a moment to decide wether I´ll read on or stop it.
I´m glad I´ve read on, cause, from the two Japanese men on, I was hooked. Lightly first, but hooked.
I like your voice. But I think, you could tighten a few sentences to speed it up.
What disturbed me most, was the “simple” fireball. At this point I would have loved to see a bit more description, something to create intensity, to make the reader feel the shock…
Other people have talked about this, but that description in the first paragraph needs some work. First of all I question why so much time has been devoted to describing the plane, instead of getting to the area of interest (the cockpit). I read the second sentence three or four times before going to google images to see what a Martin Clipper looks like, and I’m sure that wasn’t what you intended the reader to do. “The big seaplane” in the first sentence tells me so much more than “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.” My advice would be to cut down the first paragraph. Take one sentence to describe the plane from the outside then get to the characters in the cockpit as fast as you can. I think that would make your opening flow better and encourage the reader to continue on.
I appreciate all the comments. To clarify: a Pan Am Clipper vanished and the mystery is if spies were on board. Was the plane hijacked or did it explode, which could happen. Gas fumes from leaky tanks were common then. After this chapter, I describe the larger Pan Am B-314 Clipper that flew around the world, which I based the story on. This is just my hook to get readers into the main story, which does involve espionage. I have posted a link to what I’ve written on facebook on the EB writing group. I have written a complete script and am adapting it. So I’m adding to what I’ve written. The story is about the crew getting the plane back to NY in wartime. Spoiler: they make it!