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Hello everyone. This is the first chapter of my manuscript, women's fiction with speculative elements. This story began life in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. I had to write a 2500 word story with the prompts, ghost story, butler, and paralysis. The characters wouldn't leave me alone, so I turned it into a 4000-word short story that won first place in Writers Digest's Popular Fiction Awards, in the romance category. And they still wouldn't leave me alone, so now I am writing their entire story. lol

Another attempt at a Pitch

Three years after the car crash that killed her husband, 32-year-old photojournalist Emma Hill is floundering. She's lost her passion for her work—for her life. No one knows what really happened the night Danny died, and Emma plans to keep it this way. If Jane, her best friend and late husband's sister, ever found out, it would destroy their friendship, and Emma couldn't survive without Jane's support. But hiding the truth is wearing Emma down.

On the anniversary of Danny's death, a very drunk Jane tells Emma it's time to stop wallowing and orders her to make a wish on the first star of the night. The word Nantucket randomly pops into Emma's mind.

What follows is a string of impossible coincidences involving Nantucket that convince Emma something important is waiting for her there. She travels to the island, unsure of what to expect, and is thrilled when the island's haunted history rekindles her love for photojournalism. An old butler with mysterious ties to her past, and a young widowed author in a wheelchair with secrets of his own, help Emma realize she wants more from life to simply exist. But the only way to escape the ghosts in her past and have a chance for the happiness she longs for is to risk revealing her shameful secret.


Chapter One

Why is it that the best days burn by like the flash of a shooting star, but the ones you want so desperately to forget drag on for an eternity? 

I check my watch, heart sinking when it's only six o’clock. I swear, the more I will time to speed up, the slower it creeps by.

I’m so done with this day, I'm ready to scream like a banshee.

Somehow, espite the excessive amount of alcohol I’ve consumed, I manage to control this primal urge. Instead, I sink into the butter-soft embrace of my best friend Jane’s leather couch and blow out a long breath. Tugging at the edges of my navy-blue cardigan, I close my eyes and imagine being wrapped in Danny’s arms. Three years of almost constant wear have reduced my husband’s sweater to a tattered shell of its former self, and only the vaguest hint of his pine-scented aftershave lingers, but I can’t bring myself to throw it away.

A hiccuping breath escapes as I swallow a sob. I flutter my lashes to halt the tears I've been trying so hard to suppress, but they come anyway. I drag a fingertip under each eye to remove the moisture, hoping Jane doesn't see. I promised her I wouldn't cry today.

Jane walks into the room, catching me. “Oh, no. Don’t you dare. If you start, I will too, and then there’ll be no stopping us.” She places the open bottle of wine she’s carrying beside the box of tissues placed strategically on her sleek glass coffee table. She plucks a tissue out and hands it to me.

“I’m sorry. I really thought this year was going to be different.”

“Did you, though?” She drops to the couch beside me and gives one of my unruly auburn curls a gentle tug. “Come on, Emma. You cry at dog food commercials.”

I huff, indignant. “I do not. I cry at the SPCA commercials. The ones with the sad-eyed puppies and kittens. A completely understandable reaction.” Despite her teasing, I know Jane doesn’t begrudge my tears. Danny was her brother, after all. She introduced us back when we were roommates in university. She misses him too.

Jane’s my life preserver, the one who has kept me afloat these past few years. I don’t know what I’d do without her. Guilt flares, sending an involuntary shudder rippling through my body. If she ever discovers what really happened the night Danny died, she’ll never forgive me. None of her family will.

“Only a few more hours to go.” She slides closer and lays her arm across my shoulders. “You’ve got this.”

“Thank you,” I whisper.

Her eyebrows arch. "For what?"

“For, you know.” I give a helpless shrug. “Everything.”

She squeezes my hand.

I douse the flames of my guilt with another sip of wine.

Jane always takes the day off work on the anniversary of Danny’s death, to make sure I’m never alone. No easy feat, considering she’s an anesthesiologist in high demand. And I’m endlessly grateful for her sacrifice.

The first year she showed up at my place with a case of wine and three boxes of tissues. Not the healthiest coping mechanism, but I craved the oblivion alcohol promised. Since that first year, our wine consumption has dropped off, and we’ve  realized home is not the best place for me to be. Now, we spend the day here, in her apartment, watching sappy chick flicks.

So far, we’ve watched Valentine’s Day, Leap Year, and Sleepless in Seattle. We’ve just finished Crazy Stupid Love, one of our favorites. I defy anyone to not fall in love with that movie.

The scene where Steve Carrel is cutting the lawn in the dark, and Julianne Moore is watching him from the dining room window, talking to him on the phone and pretending to need his help with the furnace. God, that scene guts me every time. It’s such a perfect representation of love. The pure, understated kind of love you know with unwavering certainty will never end.

The kind of love I had for Danny.

After a few more minutes of sniffling and snuffling, Jane jumps to her feet. She wobbles, a little unsteady. Small wonder. At five foot two, she’s a good six inches shorter than me and lighter by at least thirty pounds, but she’s matched my wine consumption glass to glass. Her cheeks are bright pink like they are every time she drinks. She tells me it’s because of her Japanese heritage and a missing enzyme that metabolizes alcohol. Thankfully, she rarely consumes this much, only when the occasion warrants the consequences.

Like today.

She clears her throat and speaks, her words slurring a little. “Okay. Listen up, Emma Hill.” Blinking, she swallows audibly, and I wondered if she’s on the verge of vomiting. I shift away, hopefully out of range. “Give me a minute,” she adds and swallows again.

Danny’s last name was Matakoro, but I didn’t change my name when we married. Lately, I find myself questioning my decision because if I had taken his name, it would be like keeping a little part of him alive.

Jane clears her throat, and, apparently no longer in danger of spewing, announces, “I hereby proclaim today shall henceforth be known as the official End-of-Emma’s-Wallowing Day.” She raises her glass in a toast. “Time to make a fresh start, move on, begin a new chapter…take the first step in the journey of the rest of your life.”

I blink, trying to focus on the two images of my best friend wavering back and forth in front of me. When they finally merge into a single shape, I say, “Going for the world record for the greatest number of clichés in a single sentence?”

She tosses her head. A curtain of silky black hair swings across her face and she flips it away, glaring at me. “Laugh all you want, but I’m serious. I mean, just look at you. You’re a mess.” Her gaze travels up and down my body. “When was the last time you had your hair cut?”

I tuck an errant curl behind my ear. “Long hair doesn’t need the same attention a short bob like yours does.”

“Maybe not, but it needs to be trimmed once in a while. And washed and conditioned. Pretty sure neither of those happens on a regular basis.” She yanks on the sleeve of my cardigan. “And this. You’ve been wearing this piece of crap sweater long enough. Let it go.”

I wrap my arms protectively across my chest. “It’s Danny’s. I can’t just throw it away.”

“Yes, you can, Emma. It’s time. Time to move on.”

Tears slide down my cheeks, because how can I? I close my eyes, trying not to think about the last conversation Danny and I had.

Well, no. Not a conversation, a fight.

Memories strain against the restraints I’ve carefully set into place. My chest contracts with a crushing pain. A band tightens around my lungs, turning the simple act of breathing into a battle. My pulse thumps in my temple. I force myself to take a slow breath in through my nose and out through pursed lips like my counselor taught me. I will my muscles to relax.

Jane misinterprets my reaction as simple grief, and her gaze fills with commiseration. “I’m not telling you to forget Danny. He’ll always be your first love. But you’re only thirty-two. Your life is an open expanse of sparkling blue water, spreading out before you in a sea of endless possibilities.”

I swipe at my eyes and let out a snort of laughter. “Seriously, did you just read a book on clichés for everyday life?”

She drops back to the couch beside me, takes my wine glass and sets it on the table, then reaches for my hands. “I love you, Sissy, and it’s breaking my heart to see you like this. You’re not living, you’re existing. That’s no way for anyone, let alone someone as brilliant and beautiful as you, to spend their life. And you know Danny wouldn’t want this for you.” She leans closer and lowers her voice theatrically as if she’s imparting the secret of eternal life. “I read somewhere chronic sadness wreaks havoc with your immune system, but a healthy serving of nice robust sex has the exact opposite effect.” Her eyebrows wiggle up and down suggestively.

I bite my lip to stop myself from laughing at her maniacal expression. “And what, pray tell, is nice robust sex?”

“You know, vigorous, plentiful … satisfying.” She narrows her eyes. “I’m telling you. You need to get laid.”

I burst out laughing. “Not everyone is as obsessed with sex as you are, Jane. Some of us do just fine without it.”

She blows out a puff of air through compressed lips. “Yeah, right.”

Ignoring her disbelief, I say, “And I’m not just existing. I have a job, and, friends, and I do…things.”

"What friends? As far as I know, I’m it, and lately, you won’t answer my texts or phone calls unless I freak out and yell at you. I’d also like to point out that this is the first time in three months you’ve been over here, and we both know if this wasn’t the day, you wouldn’t be here now.”

I don’t bother to argue, because she’s only speaking the truth.

“And what things do you do?” she continues. “The only time you ever go out is when I drag you kicking and screaming.” She grins. “And considering my size, that is an extraordinary accomplishment.”

“I do not scream, or kick.” I try to sound offended but fail miserably. Jane can always make me laugh. “Not much, anyway.”

“Come on, Emma, help me out here. There must be something that brings you joy. Something you’ve always wanted to do but never found the time, or courage to try.”

I purse my lips, giving her my best contemplative expression. “Well, I’ve always wanted to bake an angel food cake from scratch,” I say, hoping to lighten the mood, which has become far too intense for my liking.

Jane swats my arm. “You are the most infuriating woman I’ve ever met.” She laughs and pulls me to my feet. “Come on. I have an idea.”

She drags me out through a pair of white-trimmed French doors to her balcony. Jane’s apartment is large for the west end of Vancouver where real estate is at a premium, but it’s pretty basic. Tiny kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a monochromatic color scheme in shades of gray. The stone-colored walls, weathered hardwood floors, and smoky gray furniture are not my taste at all. I prefer colorful surroundings. Her balcony, though, that’s what makes her place spectacular. It’s massive, running the entire length of the building, and overlooks English Bay.

When Jane’s elderly aunt was ready to sell two years ago, I had a chance to buy the apartment. I could have afforded it, thanks to Danny’s substantial insurance settlement, but I refuse to touch a penny of that. It feels too much like blood money. Not to mention that selling the house Danny and I scrimped and saved to buy would have felt like a betrayal.

Jane, however, had jumped on the chance. Now, as my house slowly falls to pieces around me, I suspect she might have been the smart one.

The heavy perfume of night-blooming jasmine engulfs us, cloyingly sweet and intense enough to make me sneeze. “Ugh. I can’t fathom how you actually enjoy this smell.” Five terra cotta containers filled with the flowering plants rest against the far railing. I’m surprised the stupid things are still blooming this late into the fall.

Jane arches a single, delicately shaped eyebrow in an effortless movement. “Do not insult my precious babies.”

I feign a gag. “Why did you drag me out here? It’s certainly not for me to enjoy this repulsive stench.” I scan the sky. “Not that I don’t enjoy your view.” The night is clear, the sky deepened to cobalt. A deep, rich color, so saturated you can almost taste it at the back of your tongue. The crisp breeze holds only the vaguest hint of the coming winter. In the distance, I can just make out the lights of container ships waiting in the harbor.

A perfect October evening.

Or at least that’s what Danny would’ve called it. He was all about the atmosphere. Candle-lit dinners, moonlit walks by the ocean, a shared bottle of wine with soft jazz playing in the background.

A pain stabs in the center of my chest, and I force my thoughts back to the present, a much safer place to be. Emotionally, at least.

Jane points a scarlet-tipped finger at the single, white star shining beside the full moon. “There. The first star of the night. There’s magic in that Emma, mark my words. Enough to make your dreams come true.”


“Yes, magic.” Jane turns to me, eyes wide. “Powerful magic.”

“Good lord, Jane. You really need to cut back on the Hallmark movies.”

She slaps my hand. “Repeat after me.”


She ignores me and continues, “Star Light. Star Bright. First star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might. Have the wish I wish tonight.”

I burst out laughing. “A children’s nursery rhyme?”

She frowns. “Humor me, okay?” Her expression is so serious I relent and repeat the words back to her.

“Okay, now make a wish. But you can’t wish for Danny back. That’s not how this works.”

“Oh, do tell,” I say with a chuckle. “How exactly does this work?” She’s being ridiculous, but she’s so adorably earnest my heart fills with love for her.

“Think about something that would bring you joy,” Jane says, “then wish for that.” The excitement in her voice makes me wonder if she believes in this wishing business. Either that or she’s drunker than I thought.

She gives me a little shove with her shoulder. “Just do it.”

God, if only it was that simple. One wish, and poof, all the misery would just disappear forever. What I wouldn’t give for that to happen. Guilt is an exhausting burden.

While I’m probably one of the last people on earth who deserves to have a wish come true, there’s not much I wouldn’t do for Jane. So I say, “Fine,” and blow out a long-suffering breath. Closing my eyes, I empty my mind. Waiting for an idea to drift into my consciousness. The distant cry of a gull drifts up from the water, a boat engine revs as it speeds past, and waves crash as the boat’s wake hits the shore. Time unspools so slowly it’s as if I’m lost inside a dream.

Like maybe a little of that magic Jane believes in has surrounded us.

A tiny flicker of hope warms my heart.

The wrinkled face of my Nana Jo appears behind my closed lids. The corners of her mouth lift in an odd smile and her faded azure eyes sparkle like she’s about to share a secret. The balcony tilts beneath my feet, forcing me to take a step to stop from toppling over. I open my eyes and grab the railing, then I speak the random word which has inexplicably appeared in my mind.




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This is a great situation for a novel: a mystery about the death of an intensely mourned spouse, the implication that Emma feels immense guilt, the friend and relative who is trying to trying to get her to move on. I really like that this is the anniversary of the death so that the explanations of the past come naturally as the scene unfolds. This would be a time for remembering so it makes sense to give some of the background here. I really like the idea that the supernatural will be involved and, in your pitch above, the idea of ghosts are both good motivators for the reader to read on. I also like the opening line of chapter one and the way it connects to the wishing on the star at the end of the chapter. All of these are really positive here, and I think there is enough here for the reader to be motivated to keep reading.

But I do think there are some things that might make this scene more effective. The dialogue could be more somber in some places. Three years after such an important death, the feeling of death could be more intense and darker. Important deaths can cause the person who mourns to feel dead and distracted inside or alternatively even to feel the presence of the dead, particularly if they feel responsible as might be the case here: "Sometimes I close my eyes, and it's as if he's sitting there beside me. I keep some of his old shirts in a closet at home, and it's the smell of them that sometimes make me doubt that it ever really happened. And now suddenly I realize how much I hate coming to her apartment because that smell is suddenly all around me. Brother and sister: the same facial expressions, the same blood, the same corporeal fabric. I always found them to be so different, but perhaps all along they were the same in ways that I could never fathom. And now I wished I had never come here."  Or "Once we were married, I never visited Jane without him, and now it is his absent presence that haunts me in her apartment. I see him now, sitting there before us on the couch, telling us about how Jane crushed their father's glasses and he was the one who took the blame. How long ago did that happen? Perhaps he has just wandered off to the bathroom or to check the car in the street below, and he will be back before I open my eyes."

In other words, she might be more oblivious to what's happening immediately around her in her conversations with Jane, or only notices Jane's antics obliquely, but instead she seems a little too aware of and annoyed by Jane's antics. People are often much more tolerant of the antics of close friends or relatives in the wake of such a disaster, because they now realize what's really important is life itself, no matter how annoying that relative might be at any particular moment. They are just thankful for the company, even if they would never admit it.

The idea of allowing oneself to get drunk on such an anniversary also strikes me as a bit too much. Jane might get drunk, even if she doesn't intend to do so, but Emma might remember too much to allow herself to lose control like that. "I almost envied her in her drunken state, but in the weeks and months after he was gone, I had spent too much time losing myself to drunken oblivion to allow myself once again to lose control on the anniversary itself."

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Hi Leslie,

I love the setup this first chapter puts forward. It should set the table and this definitely achieves that. The quote "If she ever discovers what really happened the night Danny died, she’ll never forgive me. None of her family will." is everything. The greatest promise you can dangle in front of a reader is an unknown truth. Great stuff.

I have one typo; Jane says "I hear by proclaim.....", it should be "I hereby proclaim". Apart from that minor detail I love the choice of words, they are really on point.  

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No problem. I just wanted to add that I really like haunted feeling of the pitch. This is a wonderful general conception for a novel, with several ghost mysteries going at once. What did Emma do to make herself feel responsible for her husband's death? What does Nantucket have to do with their past? The past ties with the butler? The mysterious past of the disabled writer?

As a reader of this, given the way the first chapter ends, I would be primed to receive some information about the significance of Nantucket within her past.

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Beautiful imagery and poetic lines. I like how you pulled the time and place in throughout. I agree with Brian's thoughts about Emma getting drunk. If she's that worried about the true circumstances of Danny's death coming to light, she wouldn't make herself so vulnerable. Perhaps you can tie sobriety into her guilt? She desperately wants to get drunk, to take away the pain, but she deserves the pain?


Though, this is literally award winning. Maybe don't change a thing. :-)

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What a nice start to a novel. I like the mystery as to what happened to Danny and why she feels guilty. I think you could even amp this up more? That hint of suspense and mystery breaks up the somber tone of the beginning. 

I really like your vivid descriptions and characterization. Is her sorrow related mostly to her guilt or the loss itself? 

You mention a speculative component, but I don't know that I get much of that yet. Making a wish on a star doesn't put me in that realm yet. I'd also like to know if "Nantucket" is a novel thought to her or a familiar place? It is the big ending to the scene but I'm not sure what I'm supposed to feel about it.

Is Nantucket where she grew up? Does it have something to do with Danny? Has she ever been there before? Maybe if we see/feel her own reaction to wishing for Nantucket it might help us to know whether she's simply wishing for a vacation or if she is baffled as to why she thought of Nantucket? I hope that makes sense. 

Your writing is beautiful and I love that this story keeps haunting you and driving you to write more! That can only mean that it's meant to be written! Good luck to you and beautiful writing. 



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Thank you, everyone. :) We will find out in the next paragraph (chapter 2) that Nantucket has zero significance for her, and in the next few chapters she will find out things about her family's relationship with the island she had no idea about. This is the first hint of something uncanny. There will be more threaded throughout.

The drinking is her flawed coping mechanism, but she only does it on this particular day, to numb the pain a little. The rest of her life is unravelling, though.

In the third chapter, the backstory regarding her husband's death, and her resultant guilt is shown in a painful memory, the one she has been trying so hard to suppress. 

Also, we get to meet her adorable cat Henry. :)

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Oooh I love this! I love their friendship, and I especially love the mystery of why she feels guilty about Danny's death. I would definitely turn the page.

The dialogue and setting and actions with Emma and Jane seem spot on to me. I do agree with Pat, though, about the wish for Nantucket at the end. I want to know more about how you want the reader to feel in that moment. Just a tiny bit of a hint would be great. How does Emma feel about that word popping into her head?

One other typo at the beginning: How can it only be only six o'clock. I think you only need one only there. :-) 

Great work! And I love the story of how this came to be. I actually have a novel for kids coming out in August that grew in a similar way. It started as one small story, and I kept expanding it and expanding it until it turned itself into a novel! 


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I'm liking the relationship of Emma and Jane. The world building sucked me in. Jane trying to help Emma out of her grief with some humor is working for me. Depending how dark the story becomes when Emma goes to Nantucket might determine if you need to tweak the tone of the story. I loved how the work "Nantucket" is what popped out of her mind after the sensory details of the gulls, a boat, and the waves. I thought this was handled with a deft hand.

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So well written! Very nice descriptive elements and some whimsical interpretations (i.e. “Time unspools so slowly it’s as if I’m lost inside a dream.”) found their place nicely alongside many humerous moments. Overall, I loved the balance of tone.

Also loving the funny/playful, but meaningful relationship these two have going on. A nice solid root to build a story from, or at least incorporate into. And I love how you didn’t shy away from them getting sloshed together. It seemed very plausible to me that that’s how two 30-something women would handle a day like this; drinking wine and watching movies together. It felt relatable and added a realness to the story that I think readers will appreciate.

The line tucked within there, “If she ever discovers what really happened the night Danny died, she’ll never forgive me. None of her family will.” was great…solid hook and foreshadowing which definitely made me want to know more.

Overall, very intriguing and super well written. 

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