“American Refugee” – My first Critique Workshop

I have never done a critique workshop until very recently but I have to say I really enjoyed it. It helped me learn not only how to critique my own work but to edit with more in mind.

This is the final product of the workshop and is an excerpt of a new project, “American Refugee”. A novel from the point of a sixteen year old teenage girl who fleeing America at a time of civil war. A dystopian novel that explores hope, life, death, and all of the things that make humanity as it is.


Heat rose in waves from the asphalt. Walking with ten others across what used to be a highway, I was simply waiting for my shoes to melt.

Dad was in front with a man named Phil, consulting a map to see what would be the quickest route past the patrols and to the next stop.

I glanced around with mild interest. Cars with bullet holes, scorch marks, and broken glass. Was it just a year ago that my biggest worry was which car looked the best?

In less than a year and the country’s civil war has nearly destroyed itself and everyone in it.

It was the main reason Dad said it was time to go. He had tried in vain to get papers to other countries but no one wanted a few more American refugees. We were on our own.

There was only one other girl close to my age, Martha. She was a year older and she had told me she was 2 months pregnant. She didn’t know the father and I didn’t expect she would. The bastard attacked her when she wouldn’t sleep with him of her own accord. We didn’t talk about it. No justice would be given anyways. Justice only existed if you gave it out yourself.

“We camp in another 2 miles to the right. There is a rest area a mile off the next exit”, Dad shouted back. There was a collective sigh of relief at the thought of rest. The one benefit to traveling the highway was that rest areas were more common.

I continued my scouting of the cars and trees. You never knew when something would be useful. My heart sunk a little as I noticed rattles, strollers, baby seats, and bottles littered the area around some of the vehicles.

We had traveled for a few weeks with a group that had a baby and a small child. It was nice to forget things for a while and only worry whether or not peek-a-boo would make the baby laugh.

Because the group had children, they were able to get passes to the nearest airport and get a plane out of the country. It probably cost them all they had in gold, silver, and valuables. Paper money was worthless now. Back to the good ol’ barter system.

The sky was darkening by the time they had made it off the exit and headed to the rest area. Two other families were also headed that way which made me feel a little better. There was always more safety in numbers; not that a machine gun couldn’t kill us all off quickly enough. Safety was a loosely given word nowadays.

Was I really only sixteen? I felt older, maybe sixty. Aging decades in the past year with the wars, the shooting, the fear, and mom’s death. She died in the first protest. More died in the rest. Ten million before the war broke out. Better to think of something else.

By the time we reached the rest area, the sun had started to set. Smoke rose from a campfire towards the center. The rest area was secluded enough with trees surrounding it, a lake, and even a potentially working bathroom.

I would not be against staying here for a few days. Martha and I walked together in silence. What was there to talk about? Hey have you seen the latest shooting? I heard it was a killer! Yeah, lame. Real lame.

“Hanging in there kiddo?” Dad walked up beside me, sweat already soaking through his flannel shirt. He wiped a rag over his face to catch the sweat dripping down his cheeks.

I had to smile that he asked me that question when he was the one barely on his feet, “Better than you, old man.” He gave a mock frown of disapproval, “Hey now, this old man was -”.
“I know, I know,” I interrupted, rolling my eyes for good measure, “part of the Marines. Hoorah.”

He chuckled, “Okay, okay so I haven’t done PT in a while.”

“Twenty Years,” I reminded him, pointing out his fading gut. This past few weeks had started to flatten his stomach and tighten his muscles. I could easily imagine what he must have looked like as a fully uniformed Marine and just maybe why Mom fell for him.

He grinned. “Well you know what they say. Once a Marine, always a Marine. Besides, it’s all up here,” he tapped his forehead, “and is coming back like instincts all the time.”

I shook my head in disbelief and watched him run up to Phil to start figuring out where everyone would sleep.

“Danielle,” Martha’s mom came up to me holding a pot and a spoon, “Would you mind cleaning these in that lake dear? And then starting to boil some water?”

I stuffed a groan down into my belly and did my best I-am-not-a-teenager grin and nodded my assent. Walking slowly down to the river, I observed the other families. One had two dads and a ten to twelve year old boy with them and the other consisted of one man and two older women. Likely his mom and aunt or something of that type of deal. They look tired but seemed well stocked if the meal they were preparing was any indication.

I reached the lake and sighed. If there was one thing I had learned in the past year, War doesn’t discriminate. It hates everyone.



Kelly is a mother of a feisty two-year-old and married to a wonderful gamer husband. She has a business blog about compassionate leadership at thewayofaleader.wordpress.com. She writes fiction, non-fiction, and poetry in her spare time.



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