Friday, October 06, 2006

New Beginning 137

It was my mother who told me.

"Jennifer, I mean, Thuy, is back from Yale for spring break, Jacob."

One day when Thuy was ten, she had decided her new name would be Jennifer – the name of Loni Anderson's character on WKRP re-reruns. I argued for something like Thea that would be at least close to Thuy. For the fifteenth time that day, she ignored me, and so only her family and I were left using her original name. At least she hadn't gone with Smurfette.

"That's cool," I replied as I stuck my hand in the chip bag.

"When's the last time you saw her?"

"Uhh... I guess last summer. The Nguyens all went on that skiing trip over her winter break."

"That's a long time for you two."

"Yah. But we message each other some during the semester, so I know what's up."

Truth was, we didn't message as much as we used to. Nowadays, it was like a month delay, six hours of talking, and then another month off. It had been five weeks since the last marathon session broken up by Veejay knocking on the door to go to breakfast. I'd wasted the time since then moving furniture around Arkansas and trying to understand some equations on Fourier transforms. I only got paid for one of those tasks though.

Although I acted indifferent, I was pleased to hear Thuy was back in town. When I got home, I flipped open my iBook and fired it up. Once the program launched I tapped in my name and the necessary string of numbers, and then Thuy’s details.

After a few seconds, the main screen popped up. It said there was a 0.95 probability that Thuy would call and a 0.86 probability she’d want to meet up (0.89 if I picked a restaurant with tablecloths). There was a 0.77 probability she’d go for a drink afterwards resulting in a 0.81 probability of her coming round to my apartment with a 0.85 chance she’d want to stay. There was only a 0.12 likelihood of VeeJay interrupting this time.

Cool. Hauling furniture pays the bills, sure, but you can’t beat a continuous Fourier transform if you’re looking to get laid.

Opening: anonymous.....Continuation: ril


Anonymous said...

I have a feeling this book won't necessarily appeal to the masses, but I found it very appealing. Good work, author!

merper said...

I am so confused...

whitemouse said...

Where's the tension? You need a conflict. This is all backstory.

This piece is well-written (and I actually know what you're talking about when you talk about Fourier transforms, but keep in mind that most wouldn't), but I can't believe that Thuy switching her name to Jennifer could possibly be a major plot point.

Get us into the story. Find the place where the protagonist's life changes - the moment where s/he realises s/he has a problem that needs solving. That's the moment where you should start your story. There's nothing important or interesting going on in this scene, and thus nothing to draw the reader into the story.

Anonymous said...

I was confused right off the bat by thinking about how to pronounce "Thuy."

Rei said...

Continuation author:

A Fourier Transform is used to break a dataset into sinous components (both real and imaginary), not calculate probabilities.

pjd said...

I think you'd get a more publishable story if your character did furrier transforms. Sort of a Grizzly Adams meets X-Men.

Will we also be treated to Gaussian surfaces and differential equations? It's so rare that I get to revisit that most painful portion of my college days.

OK, on to actual commentary, which may or may not be more useful than what I've said above:

First, let's get this out of the way: The first sentence is not passive voice, but it sucketh anyway. (Sqrl, am I correct?) Even the passive version ("I was told by my mother") might be preferable. In any case, don't tell us about telling... skip straight to the dialog.

I think you've probably got a good starting point--the mom pressuring the low-ambition son to pursue the ambitious, educated girl. I like the quirky details (she named herself after a TV character, the MC is a furniture mover who secretly lusted after Smurfette as a kid, etc.)

But the flow of the prose felt a bit choppy. Phrases like "that would be at least close to Thuy," "For the fifteenth time that day," and "message each other some during the semester" are just klunky.

Overall, it seemed competent and like there's a story behind these characters. I'm not sure it's a story I would bother with unless someone recommended the book to me, but that's just personal taste.

verification word: eybdmv
The vanity license plate on the car of the head of California's motor vehicles department.

Virginia Miss said...

I enjoyed the author's voice on this piece. I'd probably keep reading, but there'd have to be some conflict or goal cropping up soon to keep me interested.

Dave said...

hmmm... I never thought that the Mother was talking to a boy. I always assumed it was a girl. I missed the "Jacob" bigtime.

Lose the first sentence, it makes the second sentence redundant. Say something like:
"Jacob, did you know Jennifer is home from Yale?"
"Jennifer, you mean Thuy." (you can add the third paragraph here and close it with: "Yes, It's their spring break."

My dumbness aside, if this person is to narrate the story, why don't we know more about him. Thuy is in college and the Jacob is eating chips like a teenager. Instead, make a comment about his character or situation. Is he in a lesser college? Win the lottery? At MIT? Loafing? A greasemonkey? REecovering from alien abduction? (now that's a weird thought!)

Jacob's Mom is matchmaking. Does he have a reaction to that? I absolutely despised my relatives when they set up "dates" for me. Most kids do too.

author said...

This is exactly the stuff I want to hear.

The good news is that "Thuy" is not a crazy made-up fantasy name; it's just not an English one. I'll look into Vietnamese names other than Thuy and also try to indicate the MC's intelligence other than with a reference to Fourier since it causes too much confusion. My biggest worry is the confusion merper expresses. I need to make sure that doesn't happen.

Kathleen said...

I liked that it had a Vietnamese character!

However, author, this is just super boring. Look at the info that is being conveyed in the dialogue: She used to be friends with Thuy, isn't so much anymore, Thuy is in town, they are college age.

All of this info could be conveyed in two sentences. Then you can move on to the conflict.

Your dialogue is just dragging out the introduction of this information, which doesn't seem that important anyway.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Thuy? Please. You can be original and still come up with something people can pronounce. Does it sound like Guy, or they, or Louis, or Thai -WTF? -JTC

Suomy Nona said...

Thuy is a perfectly fine name. In fact, a successful news reporter in the San Francisco area is named Thuy Vu.

And, unlike most names we see here (like "anonymous"... if that's your real name) Thuy is not a name that would be better spelled backwards.

author said...

Honest question for everyone.

How safe is it to rely on information in the blurb to orient a reader during an opening? This has come up in other openings as well. I am thinking about it at the moment because of the name Thuy. Thuy in Vietnamese is so common it's like calling someone Mary or Beth in English. This fact doesn't help most English readers, however, so I will almost certainly change it.

However, in general, the blurb might carry info that could make a name or any situation more familiar. Perhaps the back cover says, "Thuy and her family moved from Vietnam to Arkansas when Jacob was just 6 years old, building on the sold off pieces of his family farm..." All of this would help orient the reader.

My thought is that the author cannot rely on anything other than the first words, because you never know what will be in a blurb. What do others think? Not just about the name here (I'm going to change it), but about relying on a blurb to help the reader interpret the first page. Can you rely on a back cover telling the reader that this is a mystery or an adventure or an erotic romance to help you out?

Anonymous said...

author said makes a good point. My guess is not a lot of folks would know Thuy is a vietnamese name. If that is made clear up front it would help a lot. I'm probably not as smart as most people here, but I probably wasn't the only one that thought that was just another case of someone trying to be original and thinking too hard either. -JTC

Anonymous said...

Get over the name, already. There exist people in this world who aren't named Jason or Tiffany. Thuy is a perfectly valid name. I don't know the correct pronunciation either, but I picked one of the pronounceable alternatives and kept reading. So what if I'm mentally pronouncing it wrong?

It seems to me the strangeness of the name is the whole point--this young girl was so upset over having an "odd" name that she choose a name from a TV show.

Undercover said...

You could always slip in Thuy's origins somewhere:

One day when Thuy was ten, she decided to westernize her name to Jennifer – the name of Loni Anderson's character on WKRP re-reruns.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 3:21, My real name is Jixtiplurus Tinston Cobnister. So believe me, I understand about odd names and I know how to get over them. -JTC

Anonymous said...

I figured I was being racially insensitive when I brought this up earlier, but you never know. I better go sign up for a seminar on diversity.

I'm still curious how to say it. I'd pronounce it Thigh but I'm a hick.

anonyme said...

I second what whitemouse said - I don't mind unfamiliar names and such but get me into the story quick, please.

author said...

Jixtiplurus Tinston Cobnister?

I think you need to do an updating of Rumplestiltskin, because you so have him beat. I'm going to go find some straw because I want me some gold.

I could weave in the Vietnamese thing with ease, as "undercover" said. Just change it to "and only her family and I were left using her Vietnamese name" or the like. But I also will change the name so that English speakers can more easily guess a pronunciation from the spelling. No need in people saying "thooey" for 40 pages. I do view this as a problem, because I want people who don't know any Thuys in real life to love the story, too. I don't speak any Vietnamese myself, though I am going to go have "pho" for lunch - vietnamese noodle soup.

I will look for ways to ramp up the tension. It's not obvious as this is a simple story of two friends falling for each other. No beheadings to toss right to the front. But I hear people, and I will find a way to make it better. I did just discover through Google that an actress named Thuy Trang played the Yellow Mighty Morphing Power Ranger. That's a whole new action twist I could put on it. (My question is: did the producers worry at all about making the Asian girl the yellow power ranger?)

Thanks everyone!

author said...

To answer, anonymous 4:26, Thuy is pronounced basically "twee" or "tee". It will also have a tone on it, however, which means that the pitch on the voice is important when you pronounce the word. Cantonese, Vietnamese, Thai, and Mandarin Chinese are all tone languages. Korean, Japanese, English, French, and Russian are not tone languages. But basically it's just "twee".

And no one was being racially insensitive that I noticed. If someone had known it was a Vietnamese name and then gone off about how stupid Asian names were, then that would have been insensitive.


This is very helpful, because I need to know that "Thuy" and "Fourier transform" cause trouble. I put them in as clues to help the reader, and you all let me know that they in fact confused the reader. That's awesome for me to find out now.

Jeb said...

the author cannot rely on anything other than the first words, because you never know what will be in a blurb


That's why the first words are vital. In genre fiction, which, it seems, most of us around here are writing, those few words must convey the bare minimum about character, setting, and at least a hint of the plot to come. Those, as much as the 'hook', are the elements that will help the reader decide whether to keep reading.

Setting is an often overlooked or misused element; there's little more frustrating than forming a mental picture of people on a deck on a bright spring day from the opening paragraphs, and then finding out two pages in that it's really winter and there's snow on the ground. Orient the reader quickly.

In this opening, the setting is invisible. I have no mental picture at all. These two people might be floating in space, or they might be in the kitchen (where, in my experience, a fair number of seemingly casual mother-son conversations take place). If I mentally place them in a kitchen, and then find out they're driving somewhere in a car, I'll be disoriented and thrown out of the story.

Is it important that Jacob is eating chips? If the chips are disposable - just a beat for pace - could you replace them with something to orient us in a setting (opened the fridge, reflexively thumbed the remote, raked up a few more leaves)

Ask yourself what characters and elements are most important to establish early. Obviously, Jennifer/Thuy is one, and I don't mind the musing on her name-change. Jacob is another. Are the Fourier transforms really important? If that mention is merely to show there's a geek behind the unambitious furniture mover, you'll lose people who don't know Fourier from Foucault (readers don't want to feel stupid).

You could kill several birds with one descriptive phrase about him saving formula files on his laptop in the kitchen during the conversation & thoughts about Thuy.

Free advice.... you know what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

author - I don;t think you need to change Thuy. People seem to obsess about the weirdest things here. Work the pronunciation into the story somehow and you've solved it. There is something to be said for reminding people that "weird" names are common names somewhere else.

acd said...

I like the name Thuy. Maybe:

"Jacob, I just heard. Jennifer is back from Yale for spring break. I mean, Twee."

My mother could never pronouce Thuy's name quite right, so she, at least, was delighted when Thuy decided to change her perfectly good Vietnamese name to Jennifer.

Except in your voice, of course. I wouldn't change a neat ethnic name just to keep from tripping up some of us. I may not know how to pronounce "Thuy", but it's interesting. I say, keep it!

HawkOwl said...

I knew Thuy was Vietnamese and what a Fourier transform is, so I'm biased, but I'd say those are the things you shouldn't change. The Fourier transform tells us way more about the narrator than the rest put together. He's a math or physics students, either grad or late into his Bachelor's. And the thing with Jennifer/Thuy was a lot more interesting without the "one day when Thuy was ten" stuff, which was seriously boring. Use the word "Vietnamese-American" in your back copy and don't worry about explaining all this stuff to the reader. It ruins the flow of your opening, for nothing.

Except for these two things, I would change everything. Your dialogue sucketh even more than your first sentence. It's really stilted and unnatural. Would anyone's mother say "Jennifer, I mean, Thuy, is back from Yale for spring break, Jacob"? No. She's say "Jacob, I saw (insert Thuy's mother's name) at (whatever store) today. She said Jen is home for spring break." No one, but no one, would mention Yale in that sentence.

I also don't see why this should be such a shock to Jacob if he spent six hours IMing with Thuy just five weeks ago. The first sentence suggests something really unexpected and dramatic, and this is really not it.

I wouldn't like to read this style for any length of time, but if I were an agent, and your query made it clear that a cool plot is coming up (very much not evident in this opening), I might grit my teeth and try it.

Ashni said...

My opinion: don't worry about names that aren't "Mary," and don't worry about the Fourier transforms. Unfamiliar concepts shouldn't be that big a deal, if the surrounding story is interesting. Do worry about giving us a hook, and making the dialogue a little less perfectly expository. The line that managed to get in the protag's name along with both of Jennifer/Thuy's names seemed a little as-you-know-Bob.

Anonymous said...

Don't change Thuy. People will either be familiar with this very common Vietnamese name, or, by golly, they might learn something!

type, monkey, type said...

Coming in a little late here. I read it once, semi-closely. I could not for the life of me figure out the relationship between jennifer, the mother, or the narrator (had no idea it was a boy). The line "only her family and i were left using her original name," totally threw me. Because the narrator's mother DID call her Thuy. It was like a logic puzzle. I don't want to struggle over this.

Also, not seeing the cover of the novel, and not knowing Thuy was a foreign name, I thought I was in the future, the Nguyens were a clan or race, and who knows what Veejays were. K, so I got way off track. Perhaps it's a good sign that you only had one person with this reaction.

But in general, to ME, the whole thing read like a huge info dump meant to orient the me to the situation. This is always a horrible way to start off. As someone has said, start right in on a dramatic scene. His first convo with Thuy perhaps. Something. Details will work themselves in eventually.

Steph_J said...

I was confused reading the first couple sentences. I think it would have helped if I’d known the character’s full name the moment I she was introduced. Many Westerners may not recognize Thuy as a Vietnamese name, but I’m willing to bet that introducing her as Thuy Nguyen might have hit the light switch a little sooner for a few of us.

Once I saw her last name, I understood more about the character and the conflicts that might be possible in this story. I would enjoy reading this book if it gave me the opportunity to learn about new cultures, as well as culture clashes.

I researched many non-Western names for my own book, and discovered that there are very few Asian names that transfer well. I ran across a Vietnamese name that I thought might be a little easier than most on the Western mind. Languages that rely on tone can have many different meanings depending on how they’re spoken, but most of the sites I visited listed Tuyen as meaning angel. Even though I liked the name Tuyen and the meaning fit well with my book, I decided not to use it. It’s just a suggestion.

(It had been five weeks since the last marathon session )( broken up by Veejay knocking on the door to go to breakfast.)

I had a little difficulty with the flow of this sentence. Maybe it could be two sentences? I would suggest a comma, but I’m the worst person to give advice about commas. I tend to throw them around like salt on french fries.

Wonderwood said...

Jeb, excellent comments. Very insightful and constructive. I always find good constructive comments in this blog, you guys are great. Maybe one day I'll have the cojones to submit something to EE and see what I can learn. As I've grown older I'm more comfortable learning at the expense of others, though, so maybe I'll just keep on watching.

word ver = cewrcl
what it sounds like when you pronounce "circle" with the olive from your third martini under your tongue.

iago said...

Fourier transforms have many scientific applications — in physics, number theory, combinatorics, signal processing, probability theory, statistics, cryptography, acoustics, oceanography, optics and diffraction, geometry, and other areas.

The characteristic function in probability theory is denoted and is defined as the Fourier transform of the probability function using Fourier transform parameters , (a,b) = (1,1).

But does it really matter?

Let the geek fight commence...

author said...

You guys are all spectacularly helpful. Thank you, thank you. I don't know the solution, but I know the problems. I have been wording and re-wording. I think instead I'm going to rip out everything that resembles a reference to the past and see what I lose and what I gain. Thanks again all.

Jeb, you can give free advice like that anytime.

Anonymous said...

Iago, are you really Dave in disguise?

Anonymous said...

Don't change Thuy. In one of my novels I had an Indian character called Jyothi, and as one commentor suggested I worked the pronounciation into the dialogue: "Choty?" "No, J-h-yoti."

(And please, please don't call her Vietnamese-American anywhere! I am getting to LOATHE anything with -American at the end, including African.)

I didn't like the first sentence (info dump, unnatural) or the jump to backstory in "One day.." sentence. It's clunky. Why not begin with Jacob actually running into Thuy unexpectedly? Having his mom tell him is- um - telling, not showing. You can then work the backstory in little by little.

rameau said...

Author: The first sentence suggests that we're about to hear something shocking AND that information will be transmitted with blunt directness. Then the information turns out to be less than earthshaking, or at any rate its drama gets lost in a lot of detail; the narrative style is actually a diffuse and rambling one. I'd say save a portentous opening like that for another kind of book, because a reader (if she is like me, anyway) will feel shortchanged and confused.

(It could be a comedy opening, with the portentous opening followed by something absurdly minor, but that's clearly not what you are after here.)

Virginia Miss said...

I had no problem with the name Thuy, I assumed it was Vietnamese. I disagree with the commenters who criticized it, and I certainly hope the editors and agents out there aren't as culturally insensitive. (Since many live in NYC they'll probably be more savvy about this.)

writtenwyrdd said...

What's wrong with Thuy? Nothing, unless it doesn't fit in with your story (say, if Thuy is not Asian of any flavor).

The Fourier Transforms aren't a problem if they don't occupy too much of the story. If they are supposed to be understood by the average reader and are important to the plot, you might want to reconsider that-- you are narrowing your audience considerably.

You might want to give that some thought, as it will also limit the marketability of the story.