Friday, October 17, 2008

New Beginning 563

“For the storms of life, your comfort and your salvation lie with the Lord God. Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven. For the storms of Bay St. Louis, buy your cypress storm shutters at Chauvin’s Lumberyard.” I’ve been nailing boards all morning in preparation. God, I’m getting old I thought as I sank. My easy chair gasped as I settled to rest for a moment before I go to the post office. I nodded and the old Chauvin lumberyard sign bubbled up from the depths of long buried memories in a vision.

It was on Beach Boulevard at the foot of the bridge that crossed the Bay. As children, the sign was our marker. Momma allowed us to go only as far as the sign on our bikes. The sign was ancient, and like Bay St. Louis, bleached by the sun and salt air, and battered by the eternal storms that are a part of Gulf Coast life. It leaned badly, and the two wooden posts that held it seemed ready to give out at any moment. How it stayed there all those years anchored in nothing but sand, I never understood. Yet, by an act of faith, it hung on year after year. Stubborn. Determined to be our guidepost. It was a special marker for me. Countless days I rode to the old sign and turned left onto Ulman Avenue to hear the beautiful piano music emanating from a home just off the beach. Miss Betty Lee Meacham practiced piano every day in the front room of her house. That was my refuge.

Once, Sonny, my older brother, asked Daddy what the words on the sign meant.

“Buy insurance,” he said.

Of course, it was inevitable that the salt air and storms would have their way with our sign, and after a couple more winters, our demarcation was lost to the elements. Six months later a new sign was in its place.

When the spirit is weak, the Lord God will give you strength; when the flesh is weak, get your rubber, leather, whips, masks and chains from Madame LaFife's S&M Boutique.

I asked him one time, "What do the words on the sign mean, Daddy?"

He cleared his throat and thought for a while. "Invest in bonds," he said.


Opening: Luke.....Continuation: ril

8 comments:

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:


Yeah, that was Daddy, ever the salesman, but I wasn't going to be caught again. I was older, wise to his schemes; I kept my money firmly in my pocket, remembering that Sunday I was cleaned out by his Bank of Jesus Saves!.

--anon


Almost a year later, a balmy summer evening, I took my battered old butcher's bike, turned left at the sign, and came to a halt outside the Meacham place. It was silent. All I could hear was the whisper of distant beach breakers.

I quietly let myself in through the screen door. Miss Meacher's bottle of Navy Rum was on top of the piano where I'd left it, next to her teeth; but now it was empty. The old lush, cold as ice, was slumped over the ivory keys. I was never again going to hear the familiar, off kilter plinks of Tequila Sheila or Rednecks, White Socks and Blue Ribbon Beer.

"Buy insurance," my father had said. Smart guy.

I fingered the thin paper folded into my back pocket, and imagined myself on a brand new Schwinn Black Phantom.

--ril


"Oh..." I said. I wondered, Why am I so freakin' sentimental about an insurance sign? "Can I borrow the keys to the tractor, Daddy?"

--wouldbe

Evil Editor said...

Starting with the sign message, especially with quotation marks around it, isn't working. We think someone's speaking. Then you have three sentences that don't involve the sign. If the message comes at the end of the paragraph all becomes clear.

There's a mix of present tense and past tense in the first paragraph.

Not clear what is meant in p.1 by "I sank" or by "I nodded."


p.2: I'd delete

Yet, by an act of faith, it hung on year after year. Stubborn. Determined to be our guidepost.

It's repetitive; there's enough about the sign without adding these baby steps.

writtenwyrdd said...

LOVED that continuation. Very punny. (And now for the PUN-ishment.)

There's some nice language in that paragraph describing the sign's history, but this opening is having a case of split personality.

By beginning with a sign, skipping to what must be present day, and returning to the past, you imply that the sign's presence and message are supposed to be important right off to the character who's been nailing plywood. But nothing that's on the page ties the two together. Have the guy wonder about if the sign will hold up this time, or have the sign description come first, used as a parable of hope for the old guy to look at and think his place will survive this storm like the sign has survived. Something that links them. Otherwise ditch the sign as a precious darling you must kill for the sake of the story.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I thought it was a radio ad. And "I sank" lost me as well.

Very intriguing voice. I like it. Just some tweaks, tightening and a little re-organizing needed here.

Anonymous said...

BRILLIANT continuation.

Tense problems were jarring. Liked the voice though.

Dave F. said...

Interesting. I like the drama you can create with highly dramatic openings and endings.

J Michael Straczynski wrote 3/4ths of all the Babylon 5 episodes. B5 was conceived as one story that would be told over five years. So year one presented the first hints of trouble, year two presented the political maneuvers that brought disaster closer. Year three revealed all the villains but not all the secrets and showed the descent into war and the death of the hero. Year 4 was the war, the a resurrection of the hero and the victory. Year 5 was the political aftermath... He began each story with a very dramatic voice over. It's too long to reprint and there were five different versions (one for each year of the show as the over-arching plot progressed).

That type of dramatic introduction is what your sign for Chauvin's Lumber is meant to be. It's the tie-in to the themes of the story (or the paragraph, or chapter) from beginning to end.

The portion of the first paragraph about nailing boards and getting old seems to me to be an after thought. I get the feeling it was added. That's because the second paragraph discusses the metaphorical meaning of the sign. A sign that was built on SAND and yet survived. The lamp that is lit in churches signifying the Divine presence. We only notice that beaten copper lamp when we are in troubled times. It is the metaphor for the characters who first build their lives on poor choices and suffer losses. What survives (like the sign survives) is faith. And this is a story of the loss of faith and the journey back into grace.

You can make the entire first paragraph about the sign and the meaning of the book. It doesn't have to have car chases or murders. But if you do that, the entire chapter has to grab the reader. Now that's harder to write. De Maurier did it in Rebecca. Her opening chapter is static, dreamlike, haunting and full of foreboding. It reaches into the reader's being and creates a longing, much like the new Mrs De Winter's longing for the old place, her lost innocence and the life that was. That's what you have written without the "growing tired" stuff.

Take the second paragraph and craft it so the reader feels the comfort of seeing a landmark representative of the return to faith. Using the sign to signal directions was good. The piano lessons are good. Find a couple examples like that. the statement "I never understood" stands so alone and yet, that is one of the points you need to make. That "beaten copper lamp" that I referred to above, is the crowning image in Brideshead Revisited, a story of faith. That "lamp" pulls together everything in Brideshead. And this sign is going to do that for you. You only need to present that strong an image once. It can recur but if you do it well, the image should linger with the reader from the start, or resonate from the end with what the reader just completed.

And as advertisement, the sign misses the rhythm. You have to match elements from one phrase to the other.
Try:
“For the storms of life, seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven. For the storms of Bay St. Louis, buy your cypress storm shutters at Chauvin’s Lumberyard.”
OR:
“For the storms of life, your comfort and your salvation lie with the Lord God. Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven. For the storms of Bay St. Louis, buy your cypress storm shutters, windows and doors at Chauvin’s Lumberyard.”

Anonymous said...

Cut the first paragraph. Especially, "I nodded and the old Chauvin lumberyard sign bubbled up from the depths of long buried memories in a vision." Not a subtle or artful transition to the memory at all. Most importantly, cut the last part and do not save it in another file for later use. ("bubbled up from the depths of long buried memories in a vision.") It's overwritten and trite.

The voice in the second para, in stark contrast, is nice. Work the sign's message in there if you must. But please, no more nodding off to deeply burried memories bubbling up in a vision.

Luke S. said...

Thanks all. Last time around I wore out my welcome, so I won't do that again. Every scrap of advice here is helpful, and I think I will use something from just about every comment. Thank You.