Tuesday, March 03, 2009

New Beginning 611

By the time the Krakowski family made it to the promised Cessna ride, they were on their ninth hour of travel and the novelty of Alaska had long since worn off. Except for Nathan's father.

"Look at that, kids!" Doctor Paul Krakowski shouted over the roar of the plane, pointing down over the vast Northern Slope. "The last great untouched wilderness in the world! Only a handful of people will ever see this in their whole lives!"

Nathan, locked in the same sullen silence since they'd left Chicago, ignored him but eight-year-old Anna put down her Junior Crossword with sigh. The pilot obligingly banked as she squinted out into the June sunshine.

Beyond the tiny cluster of brown and gray buildings tucked into the shallow valley below, pristine fields and foothills stretched out in an immaculate vista as far as the eye could see. Miles of blinding white snowfields alternated with bright green grass all the way out to the distant, icy sea.

After a long moment Anna slumped back in her seat with another, deeper sigh.

"This cabin had better have a decent wireless connection," she said. Her dad's face fell.

Kathy Miller-Krakowski, Esquire, pushed aside the stack of briefs she'd been studying and tentatively rested a hand on her son's shoulder.

"I'm afraid those won't do," she said.

She looked at Nathan's glum face and squeezed his shoulder. "You know, Nate, I do understand what it's like for a boy your age, how it's important to make a good first impression, especially trying out for the team." She squeezed again. "And with the girls . . . But where we're going, it's way below zero six months of the year. And the winds blow in from the North, making it feel even colder. You've got to be practical, and those just aren't."

She put the briefs in a trash bag and handed Nathan a pair of baggy, gray thermal long-johns.

Opening: Sarah from Hawthorne.....Continuation: anon.


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:

And that subtle touch was all it took.
Nathan threw up.


"Well, I've just done reading an entire year's book reviews," she said. "And if I'm right, we've an 87% chance of ditching in the middle of nowhere. Your dad's probably gonna break both legs, and we'll have to drag his sorry ass back to civilization." She folded the papers and slipped them back into her briefcase just as the plane hit a patch of turbulence. "On the plus side," she went on, "after four or five days in the wilderness, we get to eat your sister."


"Okay, Nathan," she said firmly. "I know you'd rather forget schoolwork, but if you don't crash the plane now, you'll miss your chance to re-create Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, and you'll fail the unit on Survival Motifs in North American Children's Literature."


"Don't worry, son. I promise, if this little plane goes down in the wilderness, we'll eat her first."


Evil Editor said...

The 4th paragraph has too many adjectives. A dozen adjectives in two sentences is overdoing it. Delete all but three of them.

If it's an omniscient narrator, he wouldn't say "Except for Nathan's father," rather than "Except for Nathan and Anna's father," or "Except for Doctor Krakowski."

Only Nathan would think that. But if this is the POV of Nathan, he wouldn't be able to describe the scenery, which he ignores, and he wouldn't refer to his parents as Doctor Paul Krakowski and Kathy Miller-Krakowski, Esquire.

I don't like referring to the parents that way the first time we meet them, no matter what the POV. It's force-feeding us information.

iago said...

Hm. I assumed that "Esquire" was Esquire Magazine...?

fairyhedgehog said...

I've not seen Esquire used for a woman before. Is that normal US usage?

Joanna said...

I liked this opening and would keep reading. I'd like to know what these professkals are dong out in the wilderness, or why a wilderness-lover took up a medical practice in Chicago in the first palce. I'd like to see how the kids grpow up (I hope they do...)

I don't always understand the importance of the POV rules... I took it that the narrator was focused on nathan but had a wider field of vision that Nathan had, which is OK by me.

I'd cut the 4th para to "Beyond the tiny cluster of brown and gray buildings tucked into the shallow valley below, miles of blinding white snowfields alternated with bright green grass all the way out to the distant, icy sea..." I found those visual images vivid, clear an dappealing; the 'pristine' and 'immaculate' parts felt more clich├ęd.

Evil Editor said...

According to this article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esquire (scroll down to the section titled United States), the term refers to male or female lawyers.

batgirl said...

Huh, and I always thought Esquire was what pompous nouveau-riche landowners put after their names, pretending to be English gentry.
I learned something today! I can go back to bed now.

I'm probably not the audience for this, because while I love survival narratives (this is required of all Canadian readers), I'm not keen on squabbling families.
The opening is competent, could be pared down without losing coherency, and perhaps sets the family up a bit too clearly for disaster and learning important lessons.

Evil Editor said...

Nathan appears only in the first sentence of paragraph 3, so the piece isn't focused on him at all. That doesn't mean we can't be told the story through his eyes, ears, and thoughts, but if that's the case we should only be told what he actually sees, hears and thinks.

As this narrator does have a wider view, the only question is why he refers to Paul as "Nathan's" father. We haven't met Nathan yet, so I contend the narrator would introduce Paul in some other way, either by name or as Nathan and Anna's father, thus letting us know both children's names at once.

I also contend that the images are just as vivid if we aren't told that the snow is white, the grass is green, and the Alaskan sea is icy. The reader assumes those things without having to be babied along by the author.

Dave F. said...

I think the author is trying too hard to get too much into the opening.

It's moving day and kids of a certain age are going to be even more sullen lumps of discontent than they are usually. That's a tried and true meme that makes this an inviting place for an info dump. It's kinda ho-hum. Perhaps it young master Nathan had ripped the head of a chicken and was cursing the ground will spilling its blood on the snow below the plane (Curse this forsaken and bleak landscape that I have to tolerate because I am unloved by my mean parents) I might take notice.

Wweeeelllllll, maybe not quite that act of rebellion. The pilot might object to non-Colonel Sanders chicken.

And "immaculate vista" Wow, that's so true. I knew the project manager of the HEALY Clean Coal Project in Alaska (next to the Denali National Park and Mount McKinley... Everything about Alaska was breathtakingly beautiful (if you like snow. I don't) and if you like wilderness (I heart NYC) and blinding white vista, and climbing Mt McKinley (I'll take the car, thank you). One visit and people held the meetings down here where it's warm, not icy and generally cruddy. It was like big deal the first time -- it's pretty, it's cold, it's icy, it's got nothing as far as the eye can see (immaculate vistas) and I knew the people who did the Environmental Impact down to single molecules of pollutants wandering into the Denali National Park. When you get that intimate with a power plant and a national park, it spoils the immaculate vista.

Perhaps the father could say --- "Look children, there's our new home, that tiny speck of a cabin. They say it's up to zero today, That's warm It was minus 40 yesterday." And then the kids can be bratty and object to chopping firewood. Or the polit of the plane and his wife could share a set of teeth because they only have one dentist in town (lucky they have one).

Or perhaps Nathan could dream all this silliness as the plane approaches. Nathan sees carnivorous bears, snarling wolves, frozen outhouses that explode on the on the hottest day of the year, avalanches revealing gold, a middle-aged MILF with an AK47 saving him --- yanno, wild imaginings. I like that Nathan. The surly lump of teen discontent needs a boot in the buttocks.

V. Dunn said...

Personally, when I read "Nathan's father" I immediately assumed both the Krakowski parents were on their second marriages. Paul isn't Anna's father at all. And that's also why Kathy is a Miller-Krakowski, instead of just a Krakowski (she wants to make it easy to ditch "Krakowski" for marriage number 3).

I look forward to seeing this blended family struggling to survive in the wilderness, and tearing each other apart in their inevitable decline into savagery. If only Kathy had gone with her heart and become a forest ranger instead of a lawyer. She might have had some useful skills!

Sarah from Hawthorne said...

Thank you all so much for great continuations and feedback!

EE, you're dead on about the POV issues; this switches back and forth between omniscient and third person. I knew something wasn't working technically, I just couldn't put my finger on what it was.

Just for the record this is actually contemporary fantasy (rural fantasy?), not a survival story. And it's a short story so I am, alas, cramming in a most undignified fashion. I will attempt to correct.

Anyway, time to go *sniff* cut some of my beloved adjectives.

V. Dunn said...

It's definitely the kind of short story beginning that would keep me reading, especially if it's in a fantasy magazine. Adjectives and all. ;-)

Robin S. said...

Yep - I know some attorneys that go by Blank Blank, Esquire.

I felt held at arm's length here, and at the same time, given too much info-dump information. I'm never against description or lack of action in an opening, as long as what is given is helping me know, helping me 'get' the characters, but it just seemed too pat here.

Is there a way to skip these paragraphs and move to the next scene as your beginning? If there's gonna be plane trouble, for instance, maybe start with the descent?

That continuation was a hoot, anon.

Dave F. said...

When a lawyer uses esquire, it sometimes indicates that he appears in court before a judge for trial as opposed to a corporate, business or probate, or contract lawyer.

The words "attorney at law" also carry the same distinction. An attorney appears in court and a lawyer reads and approves contracts, etc... The Brits have barristers.

These are not idle distinctions. Only certain lawyers may argue before the Supreme Court of the USA. Anyone may petition the Supreme Court, but the court restricts who may argue the cases. In my experience when I had to act as executor for a relative and simultaneously run a business into bankruptcy, I used two lawyers because one did probate and the other did bankruptcy and I was well served by both.

Jane Doe, Esq. said...

Dave, WTF? I am a lawyer. Everyone, men and women, signs letters blank blank, esq. Even corprate lawyers. It has nothing to do with whether you go to court. It means a lawyer is signing, not a paralegal or someone else.

An attorney appears in court? A lawyer reads contracts?? Again, WTF??? I practice corporate law and am referred to buy others and myself as an attorney.

To argue before SCOTUS, yes, you have to be admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court (which is not hard to do--any lawyer can seek such admission), same with federal courts, but this has nothing to do with calling yourself an attorney or a lawyer!!

Not sure why you speak so authoritatively about that which you are plainly wrong.

Dave F. said...

Sorry, but that was my impressions of the legal world. I didn't mean it to come across so authoritatively.

Jan said...

Thought: What if you started with the second paragraph? Drop in an Alaska and replace plane with Cessna, and add the nine hours in the second graph (left Chicago nine hours ago) and you still have all the info and it helps one of the POV shifts.

Question: "The pilot obligingly banked as she squinted out into the June sunshine." – not clear to me whether it's the pilot or Anna who's squinting.

Nitpicks: Are there really many fields in Alaska? "pristine fields stretched out" jarred with me because I thought of farming fields first off, not snowfields. And then I couldn't understand how there could be both bright grass and snow at the same time – if the grass is in the valley and the snow on the mountains is "alternating" the right word.

I really like the idea of this setting for a fantasy though. Good luck!

P.S. The continuation is brilliant :)

Anonymous said...

Dave, I'm sorry. My response was so rude that it startles me to re read it. I think I got irked reading the comments that a woman shouldn't be referred to as esq. and then went from there. But you were trying to be helpful and I certainly could have responded in a more civil way. Please accept my most sincere apology.

Dave F. said...

Apology accepted. I was commenting late at night and I should have prefaced it all with conditionals.

fairyhedgehog said...

Anonymous: I'm sorry if I upset you by saying I've not seen Esquire used for a woman. The usage in the UK is radically different from in the US and I didn't know that.

Dave F. said...

Sarah, -- -- a detail,
Go to Google and look up pictures of the North Slope of Alaska and the Brooks Range (the nearest mountains). And look up Barrow Alaska and Prudhoe Bay. I think that's where your plane is flying. The Alaskan North slope leading to the Arctic Sea. Barrow is technically a desert. It doesn't rain/snow/sleet/drizzle/precipitate enough for it to be anything else. The North Slope is mostly tundra well known for caribou, migratory birds and not much else. Prudhoe Bay is an armpit that has 5 full-time residents and a few thousand transient workers.

Paragraph four is fine but those aren't the words I see reflected in the pictures. They might be more suited to central and southern Alaska, possibly Mt McKinley and Denali or possibly a Canadian territory.

This won't change much in your story because you can find Alaska or Canada that looks exactly like paragraph four, but it might mean changing the name to something else. I mean, one disgustingly cold paradise (uh wilderness?) is pretty much the same as the next one.

Like I said this is just a detail and if I hadn't seen pictures from coworkers, I might not have read paragraph four and wondered about it.

Stick and Move said...

Only a handful of people will ever see the vast Northern Slope, but one of them made pictures available on the internet. Man, you can't get away with anything these days.