Book Jacket


rank 990
word count 13031
date submitted 17.02.2011
date updated 13.06.2013
genres: Fiction, Literary Fiction
classification: moderate

Fortress for One

Mary Vensel White

Gina H. lives alone. She has her comforts, her routines. What happens one rainy weekend when the outside world intrudes, forcing Gina out?


Gina H. is middle-aged, orderly, living an unremarkable life. She rides the train from her suburb to downtown Chicago, where she works in an office building. On the weekends, she watches movies and follows her routines. A simple life, until one rainy weekend in March, when various forces invade. Her nosy neighbor won’t leave her alone, a coworker has planned a dinner to introduce Gina to an eligible suitor, and a mysterious manila envelope arrives. When her brother leaves a halting voicemail, it’s the final impetus driving Gina out of her rut and into a brave new world, where life isn’t really much like movies at all.

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Fontaine wrote 39 days ago

I've only read chapter 1 so far but I was as captivated by this book as I was by your first one. I love your writing style which is so smooth and flows along and is also, in places, poetic. You draw your characters with just a few deft strokes but I felt I knew Gina and her boss already. I will enjoy savouring the next few chapters and hope to hear that this is being published soon.

Annabel Watkinson wrote 58 days ago

I was absolutely taken with your opening paragraphs in the first chapter, and then when I saw you'd echoed this through the opening of the second chapter, I loved it even more. What a wonderful way to create imagery for the reader. I suppose this level of authorial intrusion is risky, in that it's not commonly used in modern literature, and some readers may not like it, but I felt you used it to great effect. It's also refreshing to encounter something so different in the writing on this site. Well done.

Some favourite sentences in Chapter 1: “Of that particular night at the drive-in, her father said the rain was so relentless they could barely see the screen, while her mother hardly noticed the weather.” This sort of detail is so telling, highlighting the differences between the husband and wife.

Also, “She used to count the steps... recently, she fought the urge.” Again, this tells the reader so much about Gina, without “telling” at all.

I thought the dialogue was skilfully written – so very natural, and again, it revealed so much about the characters and their relationships. The argument in Chapter 2 was very realistic – tense without being overdone.

Another authorial intrusion in Chapter 3, and again, I loved the way you used it – to draw attention to Gina's addiction to routine and order.

Mary, this was a pleasure to read, and I'd love to read more.


Nigel Fields wrote 169 days ago

I've commented on this fine work previously, but I just noticed Billie Storm's reaction and wanted to echo her sentiments. I think it takes brilliance to accomplish the 'slightly detached' view of life in narrative. I recall the opening scenes of Fortress for One vividly still. Please keep us posted, Mary, on its publishing progress.

Billie Storm wrote 169 days ago

The narrative seems filmic, slightly detached from the world and looking at a life disconnected and through a series of events. It's as if Gina cannot get into 'being', or enter the present in any meaningful way, and remains distant.
The writing is very precise and clear, the environment well drawn with an air of sad regret. I think the sadness pervades the writing here. Perhaps a sort of ennui.
Curious to know more.

maretha wrote 251 days ago

Fortress for One by Mary Vensel White
The poem quoted at the start, sets the scene for a very intriguing story. I can't quite fathom out what Gina wants out of life and where she's going, but I couldn't put the story down and read to the end of chapter two and will continue reading everything you've posted as I have opportunity to do so.
I love your smooth, easy writing style, making an occasion from a seemingly insignificant life. Many times, these little adventures, for want of a better word, make for interesting and thoughtful reading. I like your specific scene settings and descriptions too. Thanks for sharing. This is a book worth promoting. :-) High stars from me for now.
African Advetures of Flame, Family, Furry and Feathered Friends

RobRow wrote 419 days ago


I don’t know how much you’ve written of this, but it’s off to an excellent start. I thoroughly enjoyed all of what you’ve uploaded here, and already I feel as if I know Gina, and, in turn, Ian. at a significantly deep level. You’re writing skill is superb, and your characterizations are outstanding. I love the pace of the story, too, the way you dole out necessary information for propelling the story forward at just the right instant.

I made some notes while reading, and I’m including them here.

As soon as I began reading your work it was clear to me that you’re an excellent writer; and I gave due respect to your masterful crafting of the imaginary movie scenes. By the time I reached Gina, however (and I don’t think the transition from the imaginary to the real is made clearly enough), I wasn’t sufficiently interested in what came before to believe it necessarily belonged there. And although the recollection of her parents’ perspective about Elvis Presley is intriguing, I don’t really become interested in Gina until I learn that her friend has arranged another “date” for her. What follows immediately afterward—her position in the office, her relationship with her superiors—seems substantially more important because of its immediacy.

I admire this line: “Deborah was the beauty of the family, the leader, although she always seemed to be walking away.”

After finishing the first chapter (section) I understood how you were employing the movie motif at the start to exemplify Gina’s cinematic insights—gleaned, perhaps, from her mother’s perspectives—and I wondered if there wasn’t some way you could put the opening scene into Gina’s point of view. I know you make mention of the exterior/interior dichotomy, but until we get into Gina’s interior the opening seems rather remote.


I grew concerned with the movie-imagery opening here, but it didn’t persist for long.

Really nice touch: “ . . . Gina realized the shared commuter path was the only thing they really had in common.”

I also like the way you describe her brief relationship with the broker: “ . . . Gina was unbalanced in his presence, not knowing what to do or how to do it. An actor playing a part.”

I liked the way you set up Gina’s relationship with Ian, and then her relationship with Ian and Carrie when the young couple was trying to adopt. Well written and well crafted.


Two black wise men! Funny.

The way you describe Gina’s meals works effectively in conveying her lonely life, down to the number of different frozen dinners she can have in a week.

The scene where Helen, Ian and Gina are having dinner, and then Gina’s reflecting on the way she and Ian always remembered their mother’s joke and her laughter about the witticism works well at deepening the reader’s understanding of the relationship between the three.

The papers Sandra Pierce wants to leave for Gina is an intriguing detail in this section.

Gina’s daughter! Oh, do add more. It’s gotten really interesting now.


Raymond Nickford wrote 419 days ago

Fortress for One by Mary Vensel White

The "single painted mood", so well painted by the author, is broken by the introduction of Gina and, suddenly, the weight of that "gray gray world" is transferred to the gray gray world within Gina - at this stage in her life. The grayness is deftly nuanced as Gina thinks of her "lost parents".
Though other women may praise the virtues of marriage or partnership, Gina, perhaps ironically, and perhaps because she is still a spinster in middle age, knows the true "comforts of living alone" and we wonder if she is destined to remain a spinster or, indeed, whether marriage might in any case fail to remove the grayness that seems to weigh on her. It is not even that she perceives the world as gray but more that she lives in a fortress of her own consciousness which is conditioned to remain within the safety of what is routine.
The dialogue exchanges between Nehra and Gina, on the one hand, and Sharneen and Gina on the other, reveal the individuation of Nehra and Sharneen but, more significantly, again expose the solid, ponderous, meticulous, routine perspective of Gina which affords her the safety and comfort of her fortress, no matter who is her interlocutor. It is this clinging to safety; the intense claustrophobia - even when Gina is outside her office, walking along the rain-swept streets - that is so painstakingly built until the title, "Fortress for One", has to be either a visitation of genius or else arrived at after a hundred alternatives have been cast aside.
That Gina should feel no more than "an actor playing a part" throughout her relatively brief relationship with the broker was, for me, to get to the core of her personality and reinforced that she was locked inside her own world which, remaining locked, precluded her from some of the qualities of life which always lay on the brink of her accessibility and which were yet too hot for Gina to want to handle.
The parents' reaction to the extrovert "fifth grade boy", as he makes his way to school in his outfit as an "African for Halloween" injected a glimpse of the simple - perhaps even foolish - enjoyment, but enjoyment nevertheless, which Gina might have found more endearing - no, I should say more possible to 'share', for I believe she did find the boy endearing. Yet this glimpse of the innocent pleasure; one not ensnared with the need to please or serve, as she might think she needs to do for her employer, brings into relief the almost tragic circle that bounds Gina's life as we first meet her, when there is another world she might enjoy if only she could reach out to it.
Will she? This is the question that made me want to read on.

LCF Quartet wrote 435 days ago

Hi Mary,
Thanks for sharing such an intriguing story and congratulations for the gold-medal you received for your other book. The dialogue parts in Fortress for One is very powerful and they certainly move the plot in a clever way. I admire your personal style and the way you play with words. Plus, your descriptions of circumstances are great.

I've read all you've posted on the site and watch-listed your book for further feedback, assuming that you'll upload the rest of it soon.
Best wishes,
Lucette- Ten Deep Footprints

Sly80 wrote 442 days ago

Starts out as a lyrical character study interlaced with the magic, language and metaphors of the movies, something that interests Gina, along with her family, and her brother in particular. She's a strange woman, seemingly ordinary on the outside but hiding fears, some obsessive compulsive disorder, and a little bigotry that she seems to have inherited from her father.

We learn so much about her simply by observing through the three opening chapters, or think we do. Then POW, POW, POW. We're hit with three major developments: something is wrong in Korea; something is wrong with her medical records? And there is another close family member who up until now she has not even thought of.

Your writing, as ever, is exquisite:

'She always seemed to be walking away'
'the impressions she had left, like grooves on a record'
'the broken-in feel of the streets'
'The next opportunity to fill another chair' – ouch, that cuts
'crackling with energy'

A few suggestions:

But it's not a movie, is it, not just a series of moving impressions – needs a ? at the end

One frozen portrait … arranging and pacing – these two seem to contradict each other. I think the fix is as simple as removing the word 'frozen'

But the later it became … But Mr Seutter…

She tried not to look over her shoulder – an idea to mention 'car park/parking lot' somewhere around here as I did not realise at first she was heading for her car rather than home

Gina's routine is important to note – this is the one place where the narrator really stood out as a separate voice, and I wonder how much the reader needs Gina's behaviour pointing out. I'd already noted the signs of OCD

Cathy Hardy wrote 470 days ago

Fabulous story with a powerful opening. Top stars!!!

Seringapatam wrote 472 days ago

A good start to this book. The opening few lines were horrible, but brilliant and need to be there. I liked this once I got into the story. Some one has already mentioned that we need a bigger hook for chapter one, but this doesnt hide the fact that you have come up with a fantastic story line here with some good characters already. There is a nice flow to the book and I can see good things happening here. I will be interested to see what occurs from here. So well done with this.
Sean Connolly. British Army on the Rampage. (B.A.O.R). Please consider me for a read or Watch List wont you? Happy New Year. Sean

Nigel Fields wrote 474 days ago

How nice to take this trip back to Chicago (again). We know the North Shore better than Berwyn but I felt like I was there--and downtown! Michigan Avenue. A drenched world scrubbed clean. But it's not a movie, not just a series of moving impressions. It's the interior as well, deep, deep within the offices of industry and especially those of human inertia. Gina H. Such excellent writing.
I read and enjoyed this some time ago. Loved it even more so today. And, uh, when will you upload more for us??
All the best,

JennyWren wrote 475 days ago

Mary - PLEASE upload some more of this. What a cliffhanger you end with. This is a great story, beautiful, slow unfolding of the characters - I enjoyed reading this and honestly would like to be able to go on. Please let me know if you add more chapters.
Best always

robert j harrison wrote 490 days ago

Hi Mary
Have read chapter one so far. Loved the "blurred pixels". And once I got to Gina at work and friend Nehra I began to be drawn into the easy pace of the writing. But I have concerns about the style of the opening. I'm not much of a film buff but have vague memories of a film (or films) like this: a voiceover - narrator, if you like - "talking us" into the scene. I find it slightly clumsy and a bit cliched - something to do with the memory of those old films, maybe. But, as I say, the pace from the office onward "hooked". Another vague memory: quite Peyton Place like. Hope that's not an insult; 'twas always well paced. And the pace and overall control of your writing (possibly the backstory sections too "constructed" or they come too thick and fast) pushes me on to reading more - soon! Certainly, there's real professionalism here. And interest created. On watchlist for now.
Best wishes. Robert

Janet/Helen wrote 491 days ago

Fortress for One. Chapters 1 to 3 inc.

I thoroughly enjoyed the three chapters downloaded so far. I think the writing is of a very high standard and I am unable to offer any literary critique. All I can say is that by the time I was halfway through chapter 1 I was not only drawn into the story, I felt as if I knew all the characters personally (I have certainly met some of them in the past), which is why I think this has the makings of a very good book. The sudden introduction of Michelle at the end of chapter 3 leaves me wanting to know more. I will be returning to read more chapters when downloaded.
6 stars for these opening chapters and onto my watchlist. Janet

The Stranger In My Life

Shelby Z. wrote 561 days ago

Fortress for One by Mary Vensel White
The opening quot or myth story is very different and adds a interesting piece to your work.
The first chapter is slower paced with an easy feel to it.
You unfold the characters very well. Each one stands out as their own personality. Your MC out of all is very uniuqe. She seems really orderly and smart. She stands out in her strong but not overbearing personality.
The story plot is good.
Nice work.

Shelby Z./Driving Winds

P.S. Please read my pirate adventure Driving Winds.

JMF wrote 638 days ago

A return read for your very kind support of Shadow Jumper.
What can I say? This is excellent and I don't often say that! It is the kind of book I would pick up in the shop and buy. I like your mc. You convey her orderly, predictable life brilliantly. It surprised me to learn that she is only in her forties - she strikes me as a lot older, but I'm sure that is your intention. I like the way you drop the back story into the chapters, interspersing the everyday events and rituals with her memories of her family. I usually don't like chunks of back story in a first chapter but because you handle it so well, it works. And I am intrigued by the nurse, the adoption issues and the sudden mention of her daughter at the end of Chapter Three. This has the makings of a brilliant story and I would definitely read on.
Six stars and I wish you loads of luck with it. I would like to place on my shelf, but alas a queue has formed, so it'll take a while. In the meantime, watchlisted.
All the best
Shadow Jumper

Doctor178 wrote 657 days ago

Very good, I like the quotation at the start and how you describe the setting re:film noir or 'twilight zone' style. I'd suggest a stronger hook at the end of chapter one, but other than that it's a good read and hopefully consider you other book is on the desk, this should go higher.

Fontaine wrote 665 days ago

I've read all of your uploaded chapters and thoroughly enjoyed them, as I expected to. Your style is so fluent and clear, you just carry the reader along with you. I was absolutely there in Gina's world and a good hook at the end of chpter 3.

A few quibbles.
Chapter 1
I was startled by the use of the word 'allotment' in the office. To a British reader an allotment is a small piece of ground used to grow vegetables. (LOL).
I was very confused by the exchange between Gina and her fellow worker; Gina puts hand lotion on. Her friend says 'Don't try anything on.' She then mentions Tom marinading the brisket. I thought maybe this was an expression I hadn't come across before and it sounded vaguely sexual so what with 'don't try anything on' and 'marinading the brisket' I thought Gina was being warned off trying to attract Tom with her sweet smelling hand lotion. Then I got to the next bit and realised what they were talking about. Maybe I'm going senile!

Chapter 2
I'm not sure about his 'cheeks split into two long dimples'. - 'two long dimples dented his cheeks?' or 'his cheeks dimpled when he smiled.'?

I liked 'with a sigh and a wheeze like an old man rising from a recliner'

Chapter 3
Tells us so much about her in an effortless way and then the hook at the end.

I was a fan of your last book and this one is shaping up to be just as good. Thanks for a good read. I burnt the boiled eggs dry as I got so engrossed!

fledglingowl wrote 684 days ago

Lovely writing, l like the unusual, cinematic opening after the beautiful poem. Gina is a marvelous character and her friends are all clearly delineated. There is a great deal of backstory in your first three chapters (a flaw I share), but I like the indolent way of stepping into a story and into your character's life. I love all the added dimension of the story that makes it seem real and important to the reader.
Like the promise of your cover blurb, especially the short one. Both have good hooks to propel the reader.
Grammar/punctuation - seemed flawless to me.

A few quibles:
Cover murky, not sure what the image is or how the title connects after reading the first three chapers.
Dialogue was good, pacing weak. Expected the big date in chapter two and Gina to become all sixes and sevens.
The opening, though stylish and poetic, needed to have something to pull us from the wide-angle into the character's view. Just something to smooth that out would help.
When you were telling how the mother waited for Night of the Iquana and Deborah Kerr was weak, then you jumped to the name Helen (I guess Mom) and your character is named Gina. Took several beats to reach Deborah in California. I don't know, felt lost in there.
Things I love:
Her cleaning the bosses glasses, waiting for just a word of thanks and connection to validate her existence. An exquisite moment.
High stars, a little shelf time.
Good luck on your writing,
The Milche Bride
Clarissa's Kitchen

Lucy Heath wrote 692 days ago

Hi Mary,
Thanks for a highly enjoyable read of the chapters here. The film references were interesting, containing very effective scene-setting but also a distancing effect through reminding us that this is a story. I particularly liked the description of the new employee Amanda which gives a great picture of her ambition and Gina’s misgivings about her. Chapter 2 contains a lot of background and the only time I felt my attention waver was towards the end of this, at the paragraph beginning ‘Gina was ten years older…’ but the end of chapter 3 raises questions which would certainly lure me to continue!
Best wishes,

rikasworld wrote 697 days ago

This is a great read. I've finished all the chapters you have uploaded. I was hoping to find out how the party went - I do so sympathise with her over parties! I loved the imagery in the first paragraphs, the chinked armour of the river and the blurred pixels, very original. There was so much that was recognisable for me and rang true; the swirling flotsam of the lifetime and the panic before finding your glasses and the nice enough people on a different wavelenth, poor Mrs Spark and the sudden moment when her mother says something accidentally funny then lights up sharing the joke. Interesting developments on the adoption front. My only quibbles are how anyone can not like asparagus and the VHS tapes - time she moved to DVDs. Lots of stars!

Kenneth Edward Lim wrote 697 days ago

Your protagonist Gina seems to have life well under control, carrying herself with cool detachment through situations threatening to turn frenetic. Your ability to introduce various topics of interest such as Nigerian customary wear, adoption conundrums and political correctness while maintaining the flow of your narrative as a cohesive whole, is as delightful as watching a juggler handle balls, hoops and even flaming torches. Your overall prose is smooth, flowing, like a river, your dialogue to the point with an economy of words. Thank you so much for the captivating read.

Kenneth Edward Lim
The North Korean

Karamak wrote 712 days ago

This is so excellently written and truly wonderful read, I love your first book too. You are in no doubt a vet talented writer. All the best Karen, Faking it in France.

Andrew Hughes wrote 740 days ago

Hi Mary,

I really like the cinematic start. I used to shotlist tv programmes for Ireland’s national broadcaster, so I appreciate the little cut scenes one after the other. It builds the setting and atmosphere very well. It’s a cool narrative voice that can mull the appropriate music for the credits. Though with the upbeat music choice – the scenes described were a bit more melancholic.

I thought it might be interesting if the narrator made more direct reference to the limitations of telling Gina’s story through a lens before delving into her head. So the camera zooms to her face and the narrator makes a few guesses to interpret a crease of her brow, before deciding we’ll have to abandon the camera and look closer (just a thought!)

You capture the atmosphere of office life on a rainy day. And the exchange with Nehra is rendered really well: great details, very credible dialogue and well-paced. Also during the phone conversation with Shareen, Gina’s reflections and idiosyncratic work methods suggest a complex, well-rounded character.

I thought Amanda’s introduction was a bit abrupt here. Perhaps you can leave it until we meet her.

The flashbacks for Gina’s memories are deftly handled, and introduce her family well, especially Helen.

The fact she cleans Me Seutter’s glasses is a great detail, it says so much. And her observations are always astute, such as Deborah’s life in California.

Overall the writing is excellent, and a pleasure to read. I think your narrator begins so boldly that we should hear more of that voice throughout the chapter, just the odd comment here and there. I hope to read more soon. Six stars.

The Morning Drop

Sharda D wrote 742 days ago

Hi Mary.
I thought this was absolutely phenomenal from the epigraph,even before Chapter 1!! Beautiful language and imagery. Very modern, written for a generation brought up on the language of film. Brave and unique, snappy and complex.
I have cleared space for it on my shelf. Can't find fault with it at all. Only wish I could write as beautifully.
The only thing, is your pitch doesn't do the novel justice. Better not to describe what happens so much, you just need a few hooks to intrigue. I'm no expert, but it's worth having another go.
P.S. I think we were doing a reading swap... but not sure mine bears comparison!!

Juliet Ann wrote 746 days ago

That's a bombshell at the end of chapter three and you have set up some great hooks! Let me know when this is published and I buy a copy. Juliet

Juliet Ann wrote 752 days ago

Wonderful first chapter - reminding me why I bought Qualities of Wood - on my kindle to read - soon. You convey tone so deftly and the film references, give us insight in Gina's personality, with no telling. Will return to read the further two chapters and if I like them as much, on my shelf. Juliet

Paul Beattie wrote 765 days ago

Lovely stuff, Mary. Highly starred and a spot on my shelf when I get a chance to shuffle things around.

The prose is just so smooth with a clever blend of simple, direct storytelling and more involved, often quirkily original imagery and phrasing. In terms of the ‘feel’ of the novel, it reminded me very much of Suzanne Berne’s ‘A Crime in the Neighborhood’ – subtly disturbing goings on lurking beneath a mantle of mundane normality – which, in my book, is no bad thing!! I really like the forthright, unequivocally filmic way you establish scenes – an unusual and very effective way to root the reader in the moment.

The dialogue feels real and purposeful and helps both to energise scenes and subtly flesh out the novel’s various characters. Nicely done. Gina comes across as a complex, appealingly flawed main character, someone the reader can immediately identify with and care about. The novel feels very much character rather than plot led. As a reader, therefore, I have to care about Gina and her apparently ‘small’ life. Three chapters in and, though a combination of deft characterisation and occasional nuggets of back story artfully dropped into the narrative, I’m still sufficiently intrigued by this seemingly unremarkable woman to read on. Clever stuff.

The plot sounds well thought out and subtle and, with its blend of intrigue, drama, pathos etc, should appeal to a broad cross section of readers. I’m a big fan of novels where the timeframe is limited as it allows for a very detailed, focussed examination of a character’s psychological make-up, motivation, emotional state etc, although I suppose some readers may find the format a little frustrating. (I’m assuming, though, that there will be more flashback scenes as the novel progresses which will, no doubt, imbue the storyline with a more expansive feel??) In terms of pacing, apart from the revelation at the end of ch3, not an awful lot ‘happens’. Again, I’m not complaining. I like a novel that takes its time, concentrating on establishing character before rushing headlong into plot development, although the leisurely pace of the opening chapters may well deter some readers.

In short, a very stylish, subtle, intriguing opening. Thanks and best of luck. P

I made some notes on the opening chapter as I went along. Feel free to ignore!!

As a general point, I’m not a big fan of any sort of quotation as a preface to a novel. I know lots of authors use them so many readers must like them but, for me, I always feel as if the author is trying to ride on the literary (or philosophical, political etc) coattails of the writer of the original quotation. Not that I’m saying your writing is lacking literary merit. It has a lyrical beauty all of its own and, for me, doesn’t need the help of what is admittedly an extremely vivid, thought provoking piece of poetry. As a secondary point, although his name did ring a bell after I Googled him (‘Red Badge of Courage’ etc) I’m afraid, initially at least, I didn’t know who Stephen Crane was, although I’m sure his name will mean a lot more to American readers??

I love the fragmented, declarative sentences you use in the opening paras. Very visual, sensory. The reader is immediately immersed in the scene.

I like the ref to Gina as Gina H. Lends an Orwellian bleakness to the piece.

I’m afraid I couldn’t place the italicised lyrics??

The ref to Mr Suetter’s office threw me. I assumed we were watching Gina in her home. Maybe I missed something??

‘glistening sheets of absolution’ – not sure about this?? feels a bit overwritten, clunky??

co-workers not coworkers??

‘the more likely she wouldn’t find a seat’ – feels a bit awkward?? maybe ‘the less likely she’d find a seat’??

‘still be dark early’ – not sure what this means??

‘She had an area…etc’ – doesn’t seem to scan??

‘Her desk sat…etc’ – reads like the desk (not the cubicle) is lined with shelves etc??

Re dialogue - once or twice, it’s a little unclear who’s talking. (eg. ‘I’m packing up’ - I’m assuming it’s Nehra talking here although, following on from ‘Gina shrugged’, it reads like it should be Gina??)

I’m not sure I understand why N thinks of Bowie’s China Girl?? Is Nehra Chinese?? Maybe I missed something??

I really like the way you drip feed details of N’s life (‘everything going on,’ ‘important day,’ ‘It’s Ian,’ etc) Clever way to keep the reader interested without giving too much away.

‘felt like a piece of furniture…etc’ – lovely line.

‘Shareen exhaled into her ear.’ – reads like she’s breathing in her own ear. Maybe ‘…into Gina’s ear.’??

I can understand your reluctance to over use Gina’s name but simply relying on she/her etc can become a little confusing??

Again, I really like the way you preserve a degree of opaqueness re what Mr Seutter’s company actually does. Clever way to intrigue the reader.

Given how her sister ended up being called ‘Deborah’, I’m curious how Gina ended up with her own name??

‘It was enough’ – love this line. Says so much about G and her expectations of life.

Repetition of ‘looked’ in sentence beginning ‘He looked up…’

‘Gina forgot the doctor’s statements…etc’ – not sure I understand the relevance of this??

I don’t think shins have ‘backs’?? Maybe ‘her calves/the backs of her legs were damp’??

‘Gina couldn’t remember much interaction…etc’ – this feels a bit cold, impersonal?? Maybe ‘G couldn’t remember D and her father talking much…etc’??

I don’t think you can dive feet-first?? Maybe just ‘jumped’??

Bill Carrigan wrote 800 days ago

FORTRESS FOR ONE. I've just read your three posted chapters, Mary, and I'm impressed with several aspects. First, the characterizations are superb--the telling details, the seamless integration of description and action, the tension slipped in without drama, such as locking the car and bolting the door. I liked the device of showing scenes as viewed by a camera (though an overhead pan could hardly discern a "roundish figure" through an umbrella). In doing this, you somehow avoid the sense of "author intrusion." And you skillfully stay in Gina's head while using the third person throughout.

One doubtful impression. The three introductory chapters are fascinating, but generate little tension. Are you getting the story off the ground? Only the unknown woman's missed visit in Chapter 3 introduces a sense of menace, a possible antithesis. Perhaps you could suspend the portrait of Deborah and end Chapter 1 with Gina's anxiety about her date, or something else more relevant to the plot. But don't misunderstand. While I may have grown impatient as you tease us with vignettes of characterization and back-story, I'm still eager to read on. This is fine writing. --Bill

ClaireLyman wrote 801 days ago

Sometimes you know within a few words that someone can really write, and this is one of those times. I love your opening couple of sentences. It's just perfect. I love all your similes and metaphors in that paragraph, too, but I wonder if there might be a few too many - because they are all crowded together it sort of lessens their impact, I'm not sure where to look, which detail to focus on. If you cut out just a few phrases I think it would help - though they're all lovely so I know that's going to be hard... but maybe you can use them elsewhere. And then the second paragraph is just lovely too. The rhythm of it...
Your prose is dense and beautiful - sometimes I'm not quite sure what you are saying - the part about industry and inertia - but I am carried along by your words. This is exactly the kind of thing I love to read. I know we aren't meant to start with description but if I picked this up in a shop, I'd be sold on it.
I just love how you start with a film-like view, and the music, and how this ties into Gina who is also thinking about images on screen. Who knew that advertising could be so poetic?
Six stars (which I hardly ever give) and in the queue to be backed. This makes me want to read the Qualities of Wood (which I've bought, but am putting off, because I'm not a fan of ebooks!)

cooee wrote 866 days ago

Firstly, I’m no expert. Feel free to use what you can and ignore what you don’t find useful.

I love the way this opens, as if through a camera or the images are on a television. I think the start of this imaginative and well done.

I don’t mind the slow start with this so much, but by the end of the first section, we really have no idea of what Gina wants - what her goal is. We are introduced to her boss, parents, sister, and brother all in this first section, but it is unclear what the purpose of it all is, except to set the scene.

Chapter two is all backstory really regarding her brother, family, and still by the end of that chapter, we again have no clear understanding of what Gina wants, nor do we really have any truly interesting information, until we get to the last line of chapter 3

This of course is just my opinion. The writing is good, but I’m not sure about the pace, it is basically 3 chapters, and not short chapters, of narrative with little bits of dialogue sprinkled throughout. It is all telling, very little showing and there doesn’t appear by the end of 11000 words, an enticing incident. We do learn a great deal about Ian and that thread of the story sounded interesting about the adoptive child ect

That said, without a entire book to read, it is impossible to tell if there is a purpose for all that is currently uploaded. To me, every word and sentence really needs to have a purpose, add to setting, character, and story – all of which are impossible to determine fully without an entire story. I did think that this read very much like a first draft, that draft, where we’ve wrote the end, but still have a lot of things now to consider in future edits regarding story and what is an isn’t needed to engage a reader, and you have said on your profile it is still a work in progress, so I would not expect the story to be fully formed at this stage and as such my main thought after reading the end of chapter three was just get it all down on paper, then go back and fix change and polish what you have.

Your blurb as such seems to have what is your story and what you are probably working towards, although I’m not sure that up until the very end of Chapter 3, did that part of the story appear to become the focus.

Some thoughts below as I read, which might help a little when you reedit this.

But it’s not a movie, is it, not a series of moving impressions and words spoken. ----should probably have a question mark…the ‘is it’ I think makes the sentence a question.

All because of a Gap commercial. ---- I don’t understand what a Gap commercial is

These were influential people, Chicago businessmen and women ----- comma here

She had an area that was much bigger ----- need ‘that was A much bigger’

“I’m packing up,” she announced, ---- it isn’t clear who said that

Nehra had vivid eyebrows that she helped with coal black pencil and a mouth highlighted usually in red. ------ I don’t think ‘that she helped with’ is right. Should that be eg had vivid eyebrows, (accentuated or emphasis with coal black pencil)

Every Friday she changed out the socks for a clean pair, ----- don’t need that ‘out’ or you need ‘changed out OF the socks ect )

Tom has that brisket and ---- need a comma before the ‘and’

The phone rang and Nehra stood up.--- can’t remember Nehra sitting down…but I might have missed it

Gina lifted the phone and it slipped until she recovered with her other hand. ---- this sentence doesn’t really make sense. I think you mean, ‘until she recovered the phone in her other hand --- also – you need a comma after ‘phone’

Gina turned in her chair. Above the rooftops, streaks of light pushed through the clouds. But the water blurred things. ---- it isn’t clear what the rain is blurring – things in her mind or things outside the window.

“Yes,” he said. “We’ll look at those on Monday.” He took off his glasses and handed them to her. ---- I’m not sure that dialogue follows. It isn’t clear if he is saying ‘yes’ he wants the message or ‘yes’ he’ll wait till
Monday to look at the messages, and also the dialogue directly after isn’t clear as to what he is handing (them) to her

“No.” Gina opened a drawer and found the cream-colored cloth. Carefully, she cleaned his spectacles, dotted with rainwater. ---- how does she have the ‘rainwater’? – I thought it was raining outside?

The world was a foreign and noisy place once Gina was outside, dwarfed by the buildings and hurrying along LaSalle Street. ---- not getting how it would be foreign when she has done this for the past almost 20 years

Gina couldn’t remember much interaction between her father and Deborah, although in many ways they were
so alike. ----- it isn’t clear if Deborah is so alike Gina or the father

Both dove into their chosen worlds, ---- again it isn’t clear who that ‘both’ refer to

And when the rows of bungalows arrived, uniform ---- should be ‘uniformed’

“Thank you, Mrs. Spark,” she said, stepping up. ----stepping onto the porch?

With the red scarf and her longish nose, she looked like a gypsy. ----just something little, I’d consider having this description when you first describe Mrs Spark

Mrs. Spark disappeared around the corner and quickly scaled the steps to her own porch, still miffed about the baby. ---- I didn’t get this. What baby?

Next to those, a small stack of spiral notebooks. She was on her third. ---- it isn’t clear what is her third? A drink or reading the third notepad

Overall a great start, and I’m sure it will be whipped into shape. I’d greatly like you to let me know, if and when, you upload any edits of your opening chapters.

Hope something helps. Good luck with this.

earthlover wrote 867 days ago

Read the first 2 chapters. Your MC, Gina, is liiving a very ordinary uneventful life so far. I wonder what's going to happen to bring that life to an abrupt end. I wonder if she'll ever open herself up to find love.
Highly starred and watchlisted.
I like the way you start the first two chapters with a movie themed panorama. I could picture it in my mind's eye. I wonder about the relationship between Gina and her boss.
Good Luck! It's a very good read filled with introverted emotional themes.
the Woman From E.A.R.L.

MIRO1K wrote 867 days ago

Kia ora Mary,

Just time to read through two chapters before work and loved them both. You have some breathtaking small moments in descriptive detail that I just stopped and admired -"the rain fell clumsily" just one of so many gems. You also truly have the 'show don't tell' adage mastered - you create so many small, memorable, intimate moments that tell so much about a character or a situation. I loved Gina's boss' 20 year old habit of pausing and really looking at her before he left - it is small, human moments like that which inspire deep friendship and loyalty. I also loved the settling down dishes to have an argument in chapter 2 - what a great image and symbol.
The unique 'filming' of the scenes is intriguing -I'm not sure how it will play out in the rest of the book but it's a very interesting curiousity at the moment. This is a beautiful slow cooker - like a divine French stew (lol) -it may test the patience of a few impatient souls out there but for me, it's a wonderful reading experience.

On my shelf very soon.
Very highly recommended and rated -and reading on:)

Kaal Kaczmarek

KGleeson wrote 901 days ago

There is no doubt that HC acquired a talented writer when they selected your previous novel, if this writing is anything to go by. I've read all that you posted and was taken in by the wonderful nuanced detail that said so much with seemlingly few words. Like Gina the prose is careful and well observed with phrases that seem to sigh onto the page. The opening in chapter 1 (after the very potent Crane quote) puts us cinematically into the frame as the reader's focus is slowly brought in on Gina. Gina, with her frustrated longing and years of fortitude perhaps modelled on the roles of her mother's favourite actress Deborah Kerr, shows the reader her careful life, absent of risks, clinging to her familiar roles, never standing out. Her brother, in contrast, is also well drawn from his unstoppable curiousity and intellect that made him dress as a Nigerian dictator for Halloween at age 11 to his inability to lose weight in his later years, despite constant trying. He is person that goes after life, tries different things, through to his current pursuit of a child. He certainly sticks out. But does his determination to achieve his goals blind him to the best approach to succeed? His continued snacking on chocolate and his wife's seeming emotional exhaustion over the adoption process don't seem to penetrate his singleminded view of each goal.

We also see the sister, Deborah, who has her own sense of tight control of life, though, we understand that she "dove into life feet first," like her father. Both of Gina's siblings are strong and we wonder what the package of medical information will provide to shake her out of her low risk unadventurous life. And perhaps what might have prompted such a path.

Besides such well drawn characters the prose is flawless and is full of wonderful phrases that make the reader pause. The details, for example of Mrs. Spark's home, the Halloween costume and others, are just wonderfully observed and provoked many smiles from me. In chapter 2 you approach the first flashback in an unusual cinematic manner in mid narrative yet worked well. Within that flashback we flashback again to her memory of her grandmother and you handle that successfully. There is almost too much flashback to establish backstory, but the quality of the writing I think overcomes that. Highly starred. A most enjoyable read and on my to shelve. Kristin

Smeg wrote 907 days ago

I enjoyed this book.

Brittanee Zaitsoff wrote 915 days ago

Hi Mary,

First congrats on your HC deal for, "The Qualities of Wood." It was such a fabulous read and I thought I would give this one a go as well. Added to my WL and will offer comments when I can :)

All the best,

- Sinful

Miss Wells wrote 924 days ago

Gosh, this is fabulous. The prose thrillingly and effortlessly beautiful. It’s clever and witty and brilliantly put together. I love the cinematic shifts to odd camera angles, how you dwarf and fluster Gina out in the world which conversely and cleverly makes her grow in stature as a character. Your images of the world Gina is trying to find herself in are masterful in their eloquence and pictorial insights. It’s writing that is both gorgeously visual and compellingly introspective. Gina, we sense immediately, is a fully realised character. She quickly becomes like a friend. Gives the book traction and flow from the off. The observation that from above they would like “colourful beetles on a piece of foil” is wonderful. And I loved the tricycle drawing rust into the grass too. This is six star writing. I’d be more than happy to buy this.

a.morrison712 wrote 926 days ago

So that opening is very admirable. Readers love to visualize(In my opinion, at least I know I do!) and you walk us through a scene masterfully. There is an ease to your narrative voice that makes me feel like you are sitting down with me and just reading me your story while I listen and take notes, instead of reading off a computer or book page. This is something that hasn't happened with any book on Autho. I loved your descriptions of Gina, I can tell you have spent time developing and making her come alive for the reader. It is paying off! Keep up the good work. Best of luck with this one reaching the ED too and congrats on your other book!


xavant wrote 931 days ago

Fortress for One: intense poetical writing, with a wonderful facility for conjuring up atmosphere - just one example, rain, dusk and lights of a city seen from an office. I detect a slight influence of Updike in your prose? (though you don't list his among your favourite books). I have one tentative cavil - I think the very beginning may be a bit too densely lyrical in its language, but only from a commercial point of view, and only if you have any concerns about that.
The workplace doesn't figure a great deal in fiction. In fact, one of many stupid pieces of publishing advice was: don't set a novel in an office. I'm glad to see it's been successfully flouted a few times, and in your case admirably so: there will be a great deal of reader identification with Gina.
I find your characters well observed at this early stage, particularly Amanda.
To return to the writing: this has to be among the very best I've found on the site so far - exceptionally accomplished and controlled. I'm backing the book and starring it highly, in the belief you have something special in the making here.
That Certain Feeling

jlbwye wrote 932 days ago

Fortress for One. I cant quite make out your cover. Your pitches prepare me for your very well-written story, but you could safely delete the word much from the long pitch.
I take notes as I read, but dontpretend to be an expert.

Ch.1. That poem is one which makes you think...
'The aortic river ... stitched by steel bridges...' what language. I dont picture it as the start of a movie, but vividly, as the real thing.
And that rain falling in glistening sheets of absolution. What a scene you set.
You could delete that word just. You'll find it improves the flow even better.
A subtle way of intimating at Gina's age, and her fear of failing eyesight.
Oh - I assumed she was older than forty.

Ch.2. Gina letting her back spread - and then the split leather seatback lightening... great detail. And an interesting introduction to her family and background. Another day.

Ch.3. You bring out the little things, like checking twice that the car door is locked, and the routine when she enters her house. Gina is alive in the minds of your readers.
After that message - you certainly know how to keep a reader on tenterhooks.

You are an experienced, masterful writer, and I have no doubt this book will reach the heights it deserves.

Jane. (Breath of Africa)

Nicole Ellis wrote 939 days ago

Welcome to the perfectly predictable life of forty something year old Gina! She’s been working the same job for twenty years and obviously can do no wrong workwise. She enjoys living alone and changes her socks every Friday like clockwork. The absolute neatness of her character sets us up for the drama in-store. I enjoy how you show us Gina from different perspectves . First, through a camera/movie lens, then through her own perspective, later on, through a rooftop security lense. Great beginning. Paints the picture and draws the reader in. “The aortic river moves along, all chinked armor and foamy peaks, stitched by steel bridges of various shapes and colors.” I’m envious of this kind of writing!

We see your love of music and art and I feel this will be a rich and rewarding read. Superb writing in the next few paragraphs.

Paragraph five beginning with “the song is simple and mesmerizing” was a bit dense for me, I felt myself having to concentrate a bit more than I wanted to, and I found my eyes wandering a bit. I am happy to say that the next paragraphs after this were engaging and beautifully written, so it was only paragraph five that I might have enjoyed a bit more if it was simplified.

Another great line “ Dark clouds filled the spaces between buildings, like giant black splotches of paint.” I thought the first chapter was beautifully written and you are certainly extremely talented. The only thing I thought was lacking was a cliffhanger at the end of the chapter, which might be helping in prodding readers along.

Congratulations on this beautiful work! An absolute pleasure to read.

RossClark1981 wrote 942 days ago

- Fortress for One -

(chapters one to three)

I enjoyed this from the very start. The opening is extremely engaging and the writing feels polished and assured throughout. As the reader, you have complete confidence the author knows where she wants to take you and how to get you there.

The opening chapter is extremely atmospheric, the rain-drenched city seeming to mirror something in Gina, and all the characters, Gina, her boss, her friend, the other secretary, even Ian who doesn't appear fully fledged, all walk fully formed into the story. There are enough kernels of plotlines to come to keep the reader going and to let you know this will be a work of some depth.

This is certainly the case with chapter two, as we hear of the rift in the seemingly perfect marriage of Gina's parents and when we have a hint at a perhaps strained relationsip between Gina and her older sister. Chapter three begins to really flesh things out in terms of plot, with the mysterious visitor who comes looking for Gina and Ian and his wife's adoption going into full swing.

This deinitely feels like an acoomplished, published piece of writing already and I was extremely impressed by it. The author obviously has the confidence and the talent not to rush into her storylines and to let things build organically. The writing is lyrical in places and the characterisation is excellent throughout. I also enjoyed the lacing through of humour at various stages, particularly the various awkward and un-PC moments relating to race, e.g., the young Ian wanting to black up, Gina's neighour's discomfort at having two black wise men in her Hristmas decorations and, my own favourite, Gina's drunken railing against her imaginary critics who would have her not know the difference between Russia and Poland. These were all executed perfectly and were almost Ricky Gervaise-like in content and effect.

My nitpicks are extremely minor.

- In the first chapter, I wonder whether there is any legal issue with using the lyrics of the two songs.

- Also in the first chapter, I wondered whether the following was a typo as it felt like it should have another one or two words in it somewhere: "She had an area that was much bigger allotment than the other secretaries."

- In the third chapter, I think there needs to be an apostrophe between the 'g' and 's' in 'First things first.'

As I say, all very minor. This really is an excellent work all round and it was a pleasure to read.

All the best with it,


Melissa Koehler wrote 943 days ago

i think your title and cover are interesting- i dont really know what to make of them. i like your short pitch a lot- it draws me in and makes me want to read more for sure. i really do like your long pitch too- normally, im not a fan of super long pitches. i think theres a fine line between giving too much away and not giving enough away and i think you figured out the right amount to mention here. i like your story telling for the most part. sometimes i feel its almost a little too much description though.
good luck with this,
melissa :)
Gut Instincts

Jake Barton wrote 954 days ago

Mary, I adored your previous book and have been looking forward to reading this new one. I like the title very much, my only concern being the font on the cover which I find difficult to read at the size limitations imposed on covers by the site. As with everything else, a personal view to be discarded at will.
Your pitches are sublime. Tightly efficient, their brevity alone demanding the reader's attention. You introduce Gina, tell us a little about her and suggest so much more. beautifully crafted and an object lesson in the vital skill of pitching.
The opening provides evidence of a real writer at work, mastery of word choice and sentence construction, but you also have given a great deal of thought to plot construction to judge from the evidence of the limited chapters available here.
There are elements of the book I'd suggest may need a second glance and I see from reading your previous comments these aspects have already been touched upon. This makes two occasions since I've been on the site, over two years, that I've read previous comments before adding my own, both in the past two days. I must break myself of the habit!
I'm not making any suggestions as they'd be impertinent. You're a fine writer and see the book through your own eyes; exactly as it should be. Take praise where it's due, and the odd suggestion which may or may not resonate with how you view the book, but always remember, it's your book and yours alone. I trust you to produce a notable work and am sure you will. On my shelf with admiration.

Sandie Zand wrote 957 days ago

I agree with Rena - that first paragraph is as good an opening as I've read anywhere. I also love the way this cinematic view echoes again later - the security camera view too - it's a wonderful way of drawing scene and inducing atmosphere in one move... and the echo pulls the work together and creates a delicious rhythm.

Atmosphere is the key word for what I read of this work. You've captured perfectly that heaviness of late afternoon/early evening, rain, office life versus "the other world"... that period of the working day where a person switches from one to the other. The only sticking point for me was the image of "cold outside gripping me" with "boiling clouds". A nit pick, I know, but the two opposing images of cold and boiling jarred me out of the rhythm.

The rhythm overall is lovely. The observations rich and well-made. The dips into the past - Gina's family life - flow seamlessly with the current narrative and this, I find, really skilled.

I read this late last night. Woke this morning and the atmosphere of your book returned. Quite a feat that, as my head is usually filled with other stuff first thing. I sat outside with a coffee and pictured again that office window, the rain, the darkening outside, the end of the working day... and I thought, wow, that was a great piece of writing to have stayed in my head all night.

I'll read more when I have time - I'm aware I've said nothing about characters or plot... but for me, this initial read of the first couple of chapters, was atmosphere, atmosphere, atmosphere. Good stuff.

bunderful wrote 959 days ago

If it wasn't your pitch that drew me in - the quotes alone at the beginning of your novel would have been enough to draw me in, and if that wasn't enough, your first paragraph was enough to make me say "OMG YES! I am backing this now!"

So I read on. And I didn't change my mind at all. Wow. I pick the books for my shelf very carefully and it is rare that I read one and say - okay - this is bumping something off my shelf right now. I am only amazed that your book is not ranked higher and has no received more attention.

Your prose is lyrical. Your writing elegant. Your storytelling measured and precise - carefully crafted.

This is really that good. It's no wonder that you made the desk with a different work.

6 starred and backed.

- Rena (Bunderful) author of Master of the Miracles and Blown to Smithereens

stoatsnest wrote 961 days ago

There is some beautiful writing in here, but after a while it gets a little stifled by too much detail.

J.Adams wrote 995 days ago

Your writing is deliberate -- searching for the best possible way to create the scene, the mood, the questions. It says, "I have spent real time on this, and therefore, I've spent real time on you, the reader. And what I have spent such time and consideration on is deserving of your time and consideration."

Kahlil Gibran, one of my favorite authors and artists, held onto his book, "The Prophet" for four years after he finished it because, he told his publisher, he had to be absolutely certain that each and every word was the exact best possible word, each sentence the best it could possibly be, before he could let that particular book go to print.

It's this passion for connecting the reader to the story that comes through in your writing. It's an act of love, on your part, and I have to tell you, I love to read what you write. I love the way you write, and I wish you all the very best with this, and every project!

Very sincerely,

Red2u wrote 1029 days ago

Like your first book, I really enjoyed reding Fortress of One. Middle aged, Gina draws you in and you want to find out what is about to happen in her life. My only qualm would be the cover. I can't distinguish the writing or the picture. Best of luck with your book.