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The Sinister Umbrella: a black umbrella with bat wings and face


The Sinister Umbrella

by Sandy Reay

An 19-year-old girl, recovering from serious injuries, tries to remake her life in this developing novella/novel.


See posts about inspiration for this story

If you want to read chapters 1-7 and help shape the story, please sign up for my monthly email newsletter and tell me.

I wrote two versions of Chapter 1. The November and December newsletters gave my followers a chance to vote on which version of Chapter 1 they liked better. It was almost unanimous.

After writing in both voices for five chapters, I abandoned third person. First person snarky is fun to write.


Feedback on chapters 1 - 11.

You are so awesome!! I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed this! I am now reading it for a second time. I can't wait to read more! I didn't really see anything I would change. The only little thing I would say is that I forgot who Rita was when she was mentioned again. Thanks for sharing this with me!

Feedback on chapters 6 & 7.

This is good stuff. It's like you upped your game overnight.

I am enjoying the ongoing adventure of Zee and her friends. I especially like that she is facing a new and unexpected challenges with how to deal with her parents. Now we have a thrilling motive and I can't wait to see what happens next!

Feedback on the first 7 chapters

I liked it and wanted to read more—that's a good sign. I like how you are slowly showing some melting of Z's armor. I kinda like the suspense and wonder how it's going to play out. Hopefully seeing some of my thoughts help you know what suspense you are building with your readers.

Feedback on the first 5 chapters using the new voice

Work? Having read three chapters, so far definitely does work as YA humor. Horror not so much.
Chapter 3. This is when I remember it's supposed to be a horror story.

Wow! Very cool.
I am loving this new point of view! The overall story was fluid and kept my interest. Excellent structure. I love the new snarky voice of Zizanie and how you’ve created a new level of tension with this accident and trip to the hospital.
I am enjoying the story and appreciate the chance to read it! Looking forward to the next installment.
Keep on writing!

This piece has real heart.

Looks good so far

Dang.......A real page turner ... and you patiently fleshed it out with lots of details to make it seem real. Good work. Still waiting on why it's called "The Sinister Umbrella' and wondering if you yourself the author know how it's going to pan out.
—Tom C

Chapter 1 Version 1 vs. Version 2

You do a good job starting with the little girl’s dream world this little girl doesn’t want. I like the way you handled the tragedy better this time around. Enough to totally change her life and the tone of the story, but it doesn’t drag on this time, rolling right in to interaction with Terrence.

Pretty fine writing......I'm hooked so hopefully you'll send the series in attachments. Gotta see how this turns out.  Some of the subtle humor throughout cracks me up. I prefer the V2. The first person narrative (I think you call it) seems to be more intimate and compelling.  Keep up the good work
—Tom C

[Version 2] works for me. We can debate what pigeon-hole this goes in. Thus far, I don't think of it as horror "story type" as discussed in a recent webinar I attended. It looks to me more like black comedy for young adults. But it's fun. Go with it.

I liked different parts of both versions but I thought Sinister Umbrella V1 flowed better. 3rd person is easier and more interesting to me to read and I like the omnipotence of being able to fill in and intersperse action between dialogue. I can get the picture better. ... Anyway, I enjoyed reading both drafts. Thanks for including me.


May 7 2023

I got complements and helpful suggestions for Sinister Umbrella at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference critique session last week. I learned that not all critique givers agree. And not all have legible handwriting. Recording the critique wasn't allowed, but, I handwrote notes, and those helped me decipher their notes. I'm looking forward to rewriting Chapter 1.

This week's critique group was postponed to next week due to illness. So, I'm going to wait until I get feedback from that to start rewriting.

And, I found 2 different solutions to the plot hole I found 10 days ago. I need to decide which to use. 1 requires minor changes to most preceding chapters and is plausible. 1 requires fewer changes, but is not as plausible, even though I know that it was actually done.

My critique group missed the plot hole. I might tell them and ask them which way they think I should go.

Yesterday, I went to a book signing at a library about 15 miles from my house. I wanted to get books signed by 3 authors, and talk with two: a former critique partner, and the woman who conducted the horror/humor writing workshop last fall—the workshop that inspired me to try writing in the first-person snarky point of view that my critique partners and alpha readers like.

I used to teach computer classes at a college in Denver. I didn't have to guess if my students understood the material. Tests told me who got it and who didn't.

When someone volunteers to teach a technique in a single workshop, that volunteer doesn't get feedback. I wanted to thank her, let her know that her workshop made a major positive difference in my writing.

Sometimes, I take things for granted. But, feedback (positive and helpful) might make all the difference in a struggling writer's (or any artist's) work. One critique partner said, "You have to find 3 positive things to say." I try to do that in every critique I give. When I get critiques back from my alpha readers, I highlight the lines they liked. I want to keep those lines.

If you're not part of a critique group, and want to say nice things about a book, you can go on Amazon, or other book sources, and leave a book review. It only takes a few minutes, and it might mean the world to a writer.

Apr 27 2023

I probably spent more time rethinking, editing, rewriting, and polishing the first 16 lines of Sinister Umbrella than the other 13 chapters combined. And I did a lot of work on the other chapters.

Late at night, my inner critic woke me up to tell me I have a plot hole. I grabbed my phone, sent myself an email, and went back to sleep. Sigh.

Finding them is the easy part. Fixing them? Not so much.

Plot Holes memes crossed fingers

I get to spend the next three days at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference. My critique session is tomorrow afternoon. Wish me luck.

I decided to get all the to-do items done before tomorrow. Yesterday I cleaned out my backlog of emails and found my note about the plot hole.

It will have to wait. I'll probably have a lot more to fix after my critique session tomorrow.

Apr 3 2023

I have an opportunity to have the first sixteen lines of a work read and critiqued by agents and published writers. I planned to use my memoir, but I doubt I can get it done in time. So, I reworked the first sixteen lines of Sinister Umbrella.

And I liked what I wrote. Really liked what I wrote.

Now I get to rewrite the first chapter. No good deed goes unpublished. I meant to write "unpunished," but my subconscious mind (the one that yells random words at 3 AM) took over my fingers. I'm gonna call it a Freudian slipper and go to bed now. Would that make it a Freudian bedroom slipper?

Thanks to Nadia for the latest comment on all 11 chapters. I'm sorry it took so long to put it up here. It's comments like yours that keep me going when it would be so easy to quit.

Mar 20 2023

My alpha readers and critique partners gave me great helpful feedback and some complements, too. They found out about the Sinister Umbrella experiment from my monthly newsletter and signed up.

After writing the first draft of Chapter 11, I made a chapter/scene spreadsheet which listed the purpose of each scene, it's setting and characters, with backstory and foreshadowing. I also made a comprehensive name (people and places) list on another spreadsheet, just to have a quick reference.

Status report: I have 7 chapters critiqued and edited and 5 more written/to be critiqued. At 8 pages per critique, it's going to take another year to finish the edited first draft.

Last month, I cheated and sent 9.3 pages. It's good that the group is small and didn't mind. I spent a week going through all my not-yet-filed critiques and notes, making sure I'd considered everything. That caused me to edit all the previous chapters and inspired me to write another chapter. As I write new chapters, I draw on the critiques I've gotten—not so much "Let's don't make that mistake again!" as "I need to do this."

My revised chapters are 10-11 manuscript pages. I managed to get chapters 8 and 9 down to 8 pages each for the critique by sliding 3-ish pages into the start of the next chapter. Now I have Chapter 9a with 7 pages of overflow. Chapter 10 has to start where it is, but I can renumber it.

The deadline for the next month's critique submission is this coming Friday. I'm looking forward to hearing their suggestions for Chapters 8 (next week) and 9 (in May). After that, I hope I'll figure out what to do with Chapter 9a. I'd keep my fingers crossed, but it's hard to type that way.

Jan 23 2023

Apparently a date with 3 in it triggers my urge to write. At first I thought I had nothing to say about the progress of this book, but I do. I had to cut 5 pages out of Chapter 5 for my critique group. When I prepped the next 8 pages (note: 8-5=+3), I fixed what I thought were plot holes and before I knew it, I had a new Chapter 6, and I just kept writing.

The events in Chapter 6 led to a new character, a necessary character. But, not a throwaway character. No, someone who would help and complicate the Main Character's life. So, I kept writing. Two more chapters. And found minor ways to complicate her life, while the new complicator appears to be the best ally she ever had.

And, maybe the minor character is a great ally. But she's not perfect. Every character has to have their own wants and needs. And backstory. This one's backstory is a doozy.

I feel like an evil character in a cartoon. I know what's going to go wrong, and I'm rubbing my hands together and grinning. And, part of me wants to cry for the MC.

This is what I like about being a pantser for the first draft. I like to come up with a character and let it tell me it's story, bit by bit. It takes time, and that gives my imagination time to play with ideas. I'm not stuck with a choice between A and B. There are 24 more letters and an infinite number of numbers to choose from.

I'm taking online classes and watching how-to-write lectures. One lecture included advice to add layers into fiction. It isn't always sufficient to have one goal, one story line to follow, with it's ups and downs. More layers reveal more about the characters, with mini-plot arcs and minor ups and downs. Minor problems can be dealt with, giving the reader a chance to take a breath and relax before the next major disaster occurs.

An alpha reader wondered why it's called "The Sinister Umbrella." I'd been wondering if I waited too long to introduce the umbrella. I asked my critique group. They said, "No."

Jan 3 2023

I've written the first drafts of other novels/novellas. I usually start with the main character's name. That tells me about her likes and dislikes. This novel started with a story line. The main character's name was fluid until I read something on Facebook which led me to a French word. I liked the juxtaposition of characters in the word, and the meaning was an inside joke.

I had so much fun rewriting the first 5 chapters into snarky first person, I sent out a document with revisions to Chapters 1-5 to some alpha readers. 2 readers responded almost immediately and liked it. I stopped writing in third-person. Chapters 6 and 7 have only one version: snarky first person.

The night after the 5-chapter doc went out, I realized I'd introduced plot holes. Argh! The next night, I figured out how to fix the plot holes, which led to more plot layers and complexities. The new name led to a new character and startling revelation for the main character.

I'm a pantser with my first drafts. I let the story tell itself to me. I can't wait to see where it goes. But, I know where it ends up, so I know I'm going in the right direction.

Dec 24, 2022

I started writing this story in the Spring. I'm using "story" to refer to the idea, not the specific literary form. This may turn out to be a novella or a full-length novel.

My goal: a coming of age story for a young woman whose life was ruined and the obstacles she has to overcome to create a new life. I knew how she got hurt and had a general idea of her family. It took me a while to realize I was writing a modern-day Rapunzel story. With a twist.

At that time, I was reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In it, he refers to a "sinister umbrella." I pictured it as a bat. Later I changed it to an old umbrella with holes, and lights shining through it at night. It becomes more than part of the scenery in her new home—it becomes a talisman that helps her discover her power.

At some point, I realized I was writing a horror story. I'm not a fan of horror stories. I am a fan of humor, and I have no clue how to write a humorous story. In October, I signed up for a comedy-horror writers workshop for the humor and discovered I was writing a horror story. I was, um, horrified. I couldn't see any way to make it funny.

The moderator of my critique group told me that humor would NOT work in my story. Of course I took that as a challenge and wrote version 2 of Chapter 1. The moderator changed his mind. He "like[d] the new version better."

Now, I have 3 chapters with 2 versions, and will do the same with Chapter 4 once I finish the revisions based on my critique group's comments. It seems to be easier to write the first draft to get the details, then come back and add the humor.