Friday, September 28, 2007

New Beginning 373

"Thrice, the brindled cat hath mewed—" Hestia began twirling about the room before she was stopped by her sister.

"Do give that a rest, Hestia!" Camilla barked, rolling her eyes at her sister's child-like display.

"Thrice and once the hedge-pig whines," Tesira chimed, giggling along with Hestia. The two of them continued in unison, "Harpier cries, ''Tis time! 'Tis time!'"

"You fools. Why bring up that old nonsense?" Camilla opened another book and slapped it on the table. She grazed over the ingredients and frowned.

"Nonsense?" Hestia responded indignantly. "I say, it wasn't nonsense when we wrote it! It wasn't nonsense when that cad-of-a-'poet', Shakespeare, stole it from us! It isn't nonsense that that spell, our spell, has become almost a rubric for modern day, popular Western magical spells! If the laws then were what they are now, we'd be stupid-rich by syndication rights alone!"

Camilla couldn't help but smile, "Syndication rights? Off your head, you are." She fumbled down the list of ingredients again and pointed to a term. "Does that say dhole's claw?"

“Now where would we get a dhole's claw?” Hestia leaned over the table, stroking the open page of the cookbook with one long, beautifully manicured red fingernail. “Camilla, might I suggest you put your reading glasses on? It's cole slaw.”

Hestia ran her finger down the page once more, gently. “Hmm. Colonel Mustard is coming to tea this afternoon. The Colonel loves cole slaw. I’ll serve him cole slaw for his salad . . . ”

She paused, smiling. “ . . . and he’ll add some of his, shall we say, mustard seed, to my cherry pie afterwards. And though it may be thrice the brindled cat mews, it's only once a week my spindly-legged Colonel is able to spew. Forth. So I want him well-fed and happy.”

Opening: Xiexie.....Continuation: Robin S.


Dave F. said...

This is amusing and well done. But aside from the "Shakespeare in Love" cuteness of having the three witches turn into modern housewives or apartment dwellers and such, what's the rest of the book about? Is it about the three sisters and their using magic in the modern world? Or does a new MacBeth seek their wisdom. Let's say an not-so-kingly MacBeth who manages a fast food restaurant. Or perhaps they get visited by Romeo, Puck and that crazy hunchback. Those are interesting ideas and would make neat stories.

I find that this line is particularly egregious:
She fumbled down the list of ingredients again and pointed to a term. "Does that say dhole's claw?" damages every bit of goodwill you've created before that. I think that this lowers the witches into senility, dementia and super-silly old age jokes.

The plot arc of the book will not be about the three sisters overcoming their old-age infirmaments (I hope). Not that they aren't slightly fish-out-of-water girls. But they can't be the Golden Girls or the Odd Couple doubled.
When Camilla says "Syndication rights? Off your head, you are." then the next move ought to reflect the thematic plot and the book's struggle. Perhaps the villian should appear or the inept hero version of MacDuff.

Evil Editor said...

Well done. I see no problem with "dhole's claw" if that's what the book actually says (though it'll send most readers for their dictionaries). I wasn't crazy about "grazed over." I can guess the meaning, but it's not obvious, and since "grazed" can mean "ate," and we're talking about ingredients...

Kanani said...

This has a very good style to it. You've also chosen words sparingly, given just enough information without over describing. The concept of syndication of spells is funny as well. As we say in my writing group, the observations (because it's so well written) I have are small ones.

You have the word cat and then in the next line you've got "Camilla barked." It's not wrong, but it is odd. You might consider leaving it as a simple "said," since the exclamation point implies that it's being said with force. Attribution such as gurgling, barking, spatting does get to be a competing image at times.

I don't have any issues with the asking of "dholes claw," since her nearsightedness also adds to her character.

You might reconsider the initial sentence structure. It's not wrong, but for an opening sentence, it did cause me to look twice. I like the quote, not sure about having the dash used right there. Usually a dash is used to connect one thought to another in a cursory way (see Noah Lukeman's book on style). It might be that you have the quote, then use ... to signify an incomplete quote. But still, ..." is kind of annoying.

Or, you could try this: "Thrice the brindled cat hath mewed," said Hestia, as she twirled around the room, before her sister stopped her.

Good job. Can't wait to read more.

WouldBe said...

I liked this quite a bit, with the snappy dialog. I didn't hate the dhole bit as much as Dave, but it did stick out obtrusively.

I do question the wisdom of comparing yourself (the character and thus the author) to Shakespeare on page one, and then having to live up to it for the rest of the story. But maybe that was just the character's braggadocio and not the author's.

EE, does this represent some departure from including The Unchosen? or did something go amiss with my and possibly others' submissions?

Bernita said...

I've read The Jungle Book, so I have no problem with "dhole" - I also assumed she was near-sighted.
Don't care for the double action "barked and rolling," "chimed and giggling"
Still, it's a cute beginning.

Evil Editor said...

Sorry. Unchosen cont's:

"No, it says H-density foaming agent. A quarter teaspoon makes it frothy," Tesira said, clucking at her sister.

"Do you have chocolate biscotti? If you don't have chocolate biscotti, I want Oolong tea," Hestia announced. She pointed a crooked stick at the teapot and it boiled.

"Oolong for breakfast? Earl Gray for breakfast, dearie, Earl Gray." Camilla looked shocked.

"HA! The Second Earl of Gray, Duke Gigolo dumped me years ago. I never drink his tea." Hestia said.


"Let me! I know that one," said young Tesira.

"Cite it, then," said Camilla.

Claw of Dhole,
Finger of Turk
Eye of Editor
Nose of Crook

Stir in an Agent,
a Lawyer reviled,
a tab of LSD,
and your first child.

"Oh, Camilla!" said Hestia. "You want to get published."

--Bill Highsmith

Dave F. said...

Ooops, I understood the reference to Dhole. That wasn't my problem with the line. I think that it's a nice line and can be used later in the dialog to develop her character.

I'd rather see the line be something like:
a) MacBeth comes again.
b) Another Will Shakespeare wants to write a story.
c) Maybe we should be worried about that dead body.
d) anything about the story to come.

BEsides my personal opinion, the author already hints at someone else entering the scene -- Thrice and once the hedge-pig whines is a reference to MacBeth's whining in the play. So it is logical to assume that someone else is going to enter the scene.

Ali said...

I needed more to ground me in the scene. I was spending all my energy trying to figure out how the scene related in time and space to the Shakespeare references. Was I reading a take-off on MacBeth set in that era? A tale of sisters in pioneer America named after characters in MacBeth, who have a running joke related to the play of their namesakes?
"Syndication rights" at the end of the 5th paragraph was the first reference that brought me forth to modern times. ("Modern day, popular Western magical spells" is meaningless--Shakespeare himself would have been considered modern, in 1600, the washboard was modern, in 1800, and so on.)

A sense of their surroundings would have helped me. An appliance of the times, a paperback novel or newspaper on the table along with the presumably ancient spell books, the sound of a bus (or a horse-drawn streetcar) roaring by. Bifocals on Camilla (Robin was onto something there, I think. Loved the cole slaw in the continuation, too.) With that in place, I would have been able to focus on the true grit of the interaction between the sisters, and instead of wondering "what the heck's going on?" I would have read on to find out what was going to happen next.

AmyB said...

It's funny how much tastes very. I thought this was overwritten. For example, "at her sister's child-like display" tells us what we've already been shown. I didn't like "grazed over the ingredients," which gave me a huh? moment, and "indignantly" in paragraph 5 seems unncessary. The hook is nice, though.

Church Lady said...

Hilarious continuation!

I liked this opening, but felt some of the verbs were overdone to the point of being distracting. Like Bernita, I hesitated with barked and rolled, and chimed and giggled. Also had to re-read grazed.

And, drumroll please. Something I just learned recently: be careful how you use the words 'started' and 'began' when they precede a verb. For example, how would someone 'start to walk?' They simply walk. Thus, Hestia should simply twirl, not begin to twirl. Hmmmm....make sense? If not, Ray explains it much better somewhere on his blog 'flogging the quill.'

Good luck,

Xiexie said...

Hi everyone, thanks for your comments. This isn't a take onto a modern day MacBeth, but my three sisters here do play a very norn-like (norns being the Norse Fates) role in my story.

This is in our modern day, not Shakespeare's, and since they've outlived him.....**Xiexie's lost his train of thought but thinks the point comes across**

I didn't catch the "graze-ingredient" connection. I'm trying to think of another term. Any suggestions?

Camilla does see the word 'dhole'. They actually need a dhole's claw for this spell.

Dave F. you're quite receptive as another character, my MC, shall soon enter the scene. The MC is their niece.

Kate Thornton said...

Absolutely brilliant continuation!

Evil Editor said...

I didn't catch the "graze-ingredient" connection. I'm trying to think of another term. Any suggestions?


Xiexie said...

Church lady, can you link me to the blog?

Church Lady said...

Xiexie, my pleasure. You can go to my blog and go to the link for "The Compeller." Once there, click on "Writing" and scroll down to the part that says "Don't get me started."

Or, go here:

And scroll to May 10, 2006


This was a useful search because there's a whole bunch of stuff I hadn't read yet.

BuffySquirrel said...

I liked this--it has life and verve. And yes, dhole did send me to the dictionary, but so what? I learned a new word!

Lightsmith said...

Church Lady, I agree that "started" is overused (and often improperly used), but I don't agree with the reasoning behind quill-flogger's article. According to him, when you say "started," it implies that you are only starting something, but then stopping mid-action.

However, if I said that Evil Editor started his blog on April 23, 2006, would you assume that he stopped before completing his first blog entry? I think it's exactly the opposite: "started" implies an ongoing action.

I would be interested to hear EE's opinion on this issue.

Evil Editor said...

Hey, don't get me started. Of course you can start doing something. The only way to get from a standstill at point a to a standstill at point b is to start moving at point a and stop moving at point b. When you check the newspaper before going to a movie, aren't you interested in when the movie starts? Are you saying it doesn't start? Make a 12-hour line graph, placing a dot everywhere on the line that your gait changes. Can you not point to each dot and say, This is when I started jogging, this is when I started sprinting, this is when I started walking? I wrote this comment between 10:15 and 10:20. Did I not start writing it at 10:15? And finish at 10:20? Hestia can't simply twirl. An object at rest tends to stay at rest. It takes neurons and brain signals and muscle contractions to start the process. Once you get started twirling, you can keep going for a while without much effort, especially if you're wearing ice skates. If you couldn't start doing something, there would be no point to having the term "starting point." Yet when I Google "starting point" I get 180,000,000 hits.

Lightsmith said...

Okay, EE, you can stop now. ;-)

Phoenix said...

Ah, but Lightsmith, Miss Snark started her blog in 2004, and where is she now?

I think the issue is that "started/began" doesn't imply either a stopped or an ongoing action, but leaves open the possibility of both. They are flab words I generally edit out unless they're used correctly and are somehow integral to the meaning. So, short answer: depends upon the context.

In this instance, I question the use of "before" with "began." I would also take the sentence out of the passive. If it's truly important Hestia incants and then begins twirling, I would rewrite it:

Hestia began twirling about the room until her sister stopped her.

If sequence of events has no real bearing:

Hestia twirled about the room until her sister stopped her.

Or even simply:
Hestia twirled about the room.

Camilla rolled her eyes at her sister's antics. "Do give that a rest!"

McKoala said...

I really liked how this was written, but it made me think of 'Charmed: The Aging Years'.

One thing to watch out for: you had lots of speech assigned by actions, which is great, but then you had 'barked', 'chimed', 'continued', 'responded', which was as few too many clever tags for my liking.

Hate to disagree with the mighty one, but I would be happier with simply 'twirled'; and I'd like to know how her sister stops her. Which sister, btw? Camilla? Then perhaps she should bark first, then Hestia should stop.


Hestia is an underwear brand here in Oz, which creates some strange pictures in my mind.

Sarah said...

Other words for grazed


I liked this. Not having read MacBeth, I still knew that was the main reference. Not sure how much longer I would continue reading though as it does beg for some hint of what the story is about.

Well written beginning.

Anonymous said...

Funny. I thought "dhole" was an odd way to say da-whole claw.

Anonymous said... me, this is like everything else in writing, simply a guideline to be aware of.

I think 'started' is one of those words like 'that' or 'just' that creep into your manuscript. There are places where using these words are necessary, but many places where they should be deleted.

It's 5:19am-I thought I might be up for a while, but EE's post has caused not an insignificant amount of brain closure. Time for more sleep.



BuffySquirrel said...

Looks like we did get EE started. I wonder if he mangles his authors this way! lol

Sometimes people do use "start" or "begin" when they could do without them, but I don't think that's the case here.

Robin S. said...

Wow. Looks like I missed a good comment thread yesterday afternoon and evening. I love these things when they take off - sorry I missed it.

I like this beginning - and I think the use of chimed, barked, etc., are just fine as they are - added to the atmosphere. I kind of had a modern/medieval combo plan kitchen in my head as I read, which was nice - and I think the use of language took me there.

Thanks for using my continuation, EE, and thanks for the help with tightening it up. It was a nice birthday present.

Anonymous said...

A birthday song to Robin--written by one of my characters:

Happy Birthday to you
Happy Birthday to you
You look like a pickle
And you smell like one too.


affectionately 'guess who'

Lightsmith said...

Phoenix, Church Lady, I agree with what you're saying about this pesky "start" issue.

But just to be clear, this Flogging-the-Quill guy thinks that when you say, "It started raining," it means that raindrops fell from the sky and then magically hovered in the air, never touching the ground.

I swear to God, I'm not exaggerating. Read the article. That's literally what he thinks. Really.

That's wacko.

Okay, I know everyone is sick of this issue. I'll start stopping now. ;-)

Phoenix said...

Agent Dan Lazar posted an interview yesterday (9/28) on Writer Unboxed where he mentioned:

And oh! I’m oddly intrigued by witches. I’d love to find a new modern day witch story, like Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic or Natasha Mostert’s Season of the Witch.

Have we seen your query for this? *hint, hint*

GutterBall said...

This is silly. But in a good way, which the continuation picks up perfectly. It's the kind of silly I'd read on for a while.

I do agree that the fumbling down the list in that last bit makes them look a bit bumbling. Did anyone see Stardust? It made me think of those witches -- ages old and maybe a little senile, but still capable of some serious witchery. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

BuffySquirrel said...

"pored", not "poured"

Your friendly pedantic squirrel

BuffySquirrel said...

Your friendly pedantic sqrl returns to say:

Use an ellipsis to end the sentence when the speaker trails off....

Use a dash to end the sentence when the speaker breaks off or is interrup--

Anonymous said...

poured / pored. Hmmm. English much?

Thanks, Buffy! ;-)