Tuesday, August 03, 2010

New Beginning 772

I sat at the back of the jewelry store curled up in the brown leather chair, hidden behind the glass display cases. We should have closed an hour before, but Aunt Merelda was waiting for something.

She streaked through the small store, touching this, straightening that, making sure everything was perfect. My mother had established the store before she died, which made it mine, but Merelda lived and breathed this store. At least, she did when it suited her, and today it suited her fine. She shined the rosewood panels and glass panes on the display cases. She made sure no hint of dust remained on the artifacts scattered tastefully around the place.

The collection consisted mainly of drums and tribal jewelry, which were not for sale under any circumstances. They were my mother's, things she picked up from all over the world before she had met my dad and settled down. I stroked a feather that hung from a Native American drum, remembering the anthropologist who had come in last summer. He had begged me to sell him a few pieces from what I called the 'permanent collection'. I refused. Instead, Merelda sold him a pendant for his wife. Merelda swore the necklace would be of more benefit than any 'moldy old drum'. Her words, not mine. His wife was thinking of leaving him; any bit of goodwill he could get from her would do him good.

Eventually Aunt Merelda went into the storeroom to put her clothes back on.

“Why do you keep doing that?” I asked through the closed door.

“Doing what, dear?”

“Streaking. Through the store.”

Merelda came into the front room, buttoning her blouse. “Look at it this way. We work in a store where nothing's for sale except a few crappy trinkets.” She pointed at the camera mounted near the ceiling, “Might as well have a little fun with the security men!”


Opening: Lela Simon....Continuation: Gwen Ever

23 comments:

Evil Editor said...

It would be hard to write in first person without being in the POV of the narrator, which leads me to ask how the narrator knows: His wife was thinking of leaving him; any bit of goodwill he could get from her would do him good.

Did the archaeologist come into the store and say, Please let me buy that drum; I need a gift for my wife who's thinking of leaving me."?


A little specificity in paragraph 2, sentence 1 would go further in setting the scene than "this and that":

She streaked through the small store, dusting a Vanuatuan slit drum, straightening an Incan prayer necklace, making sure everything was perfect.

Now that we've seen her making everything perfect, you can do without the last two sentences of that paragraph.

If what Merelda is waiting for is someone who's about to enter the shop, the paragraph could begin:

She streaked through the small store, dusting a Vanuatuan slit drum, straightening an Incan prayer necklace. She shined the rosewood panels and glass panes on the display cases, all the while keeping one eye on the door.

Sarah said...

I'm glad someone pointed out the incongruous "streaked", and in an amusing fashion too - excellent work!

Perhaps "scurried" instead?

LSimon said...

"Did the archaeologist come into the store and say, Please let me buy that drum; I need a gift for my wife who's thinking of leaving me."?"

A little further down the page you find out that Merelda is a bit psychic when it comes to matters of the heart. She just knows.

I will take a look at making the objects more specific, I was worried about cluttering the first page with a bunch of not needed jargon, but....You said it so it must be right!

Scurried is a nervous, fidgety word. Merelda is neither of those things. She streaks, she glides...but she never scurries! (Wow, could I get a little more pretentious? Gimme time,folks, I'm sure I can manage it!)

arhooley said...

"Streaked" also bothered me.

And unless that anthropologist/customer is going to come back in some important way, he gets too much matter in that paragraph about the collection.

vkw said...

I thought she was running around naked as well.

Excellent catch by EE about the POV. It's an easy thing to do.

If you have to fix it instead of removing it

"After he confessed his wife was about to leave him, Merelda convinced him a fifty cent pendant would save his marriage, which just goes to show you how dumb men could be." or you know whatever.

I'd leave it out myself.

The intro is a bit wordy for my taste. I'm wondering why one has a store filled with artifacts not for sale. I am also wondering the age of the narrator she sounds a bit young by the description of "curled up in a brown leather chair, hidden by the display cases."

But then she is able to assertatively refuse the drum sale.

Also "when it suited her just fine," points to some maturity, at least as old as a teenager where this no doubt comes to mind quite often.

Which leaves me to ask myself, most of the evidence points to sophistication and yet the narrator doesn't know what's the fuss about and apparently rather hide than ask.

I would suggest fixing the age incongruency, by other age descriptions like

While I texted away on my cell phone, examined my pony tale, picked my nose or read seventeen magazine.

or I had had enough and stood up, demanding she tells me what was going on before I got into my mercedes and left her to fend for herself.

Anyway . . .

vkw

Evil Editor said...

Dashing is close in meaning to streaking. Although if she's been there all day and an extra hour beyond that, you'd think she could have this small shop in good enough shape that she doesn't need to streak or dash to complete the job. Having reached the point where she's making sure everything is perfect, I'd expect her to be looking around the shop for the one item that's not quite right, not streaking back and forth as if the whole place is disheveled.

LSimon said...

vkw...you make me so happy :)

That was actually what I was going for, she is 27, but she isn't terribly mature. All of her decisions are a matter of convenience and doing what is easiest. At the very center this story is about her putting her big girl panties on and doing something hard!

The anthropologist is there to make you say..Huh? How the hell did she know that? And to give you some idea of the kind of store that they are in-- It isn't one of those places that sells $9 "gold" charms.

At least that is the intent.

I tend to think of Dashing as breaking stuff...but it never occurred to me that streaking would be read as naked...probably my propensity for violence over hedonism...

arhooley said...

Okay, how about zip? She zipped through the small store.

Zipping connotes speed, efficiency, purpose, and accuracy -- all in three little letters!

Sarah said...

Perhaps "glided" instead of "streaked" then - obviously there is a bit of confusion! :) Plus, to me "streaked" (in the sense you meant) conveys great speed, and I got the impression that the setting was pretty cluttered and would preclude dashing around. I'd get a better image from "glided", I think.

I do like the way you've thought through your characters. I am wondering, though, whether you might want to choose something a bit more unusual for your example of something your protagonist knows that she shouldn't? Knowing the anthropologist's marriage was in danger didn't really flash up my "wtf button" because I just assumed he'd mentioned it. Maybe getting her psychic abilities in there earlier? Even just "he hadn't explained why he looked so worried, but I read in his mind that his wife was thinking..." or, you know, something better written that does the same job.

Just my two cents, hope it helps. :)

Dave F. said...

I have relatives that do exactly this business of checking what you moved and where everything is and touching all of it just because you might have moved something. But that being said, this is just (dreaded statement)
too many words.

It's good but you need to cut a few words out. Think about what you are doing: a) introducing the narrator.
b) Introducing Aunt Merelda in an excited state.
c) Expose the reader to the "collection" that contains something very interesting.

Everything in the excerpt reveals the narrator. That's because we see Auntie's fussiness and the shop from the narrator's point of view.

In your case, the narrator introduces Aunt M and the interior of the store. To those two ends, the first paragraph does nothing. I know you think it sets up her immaturity (she sits like a child in an overstuffed chair). It doesn't.

Paragraph two has action. Aunt M fussing and all that. Action is good. But I'm not done with Paragraph 2.

Paragraph 3 has all the hints about the curios or artifacts. How about getting to it faster. This is a comment about "gilding the lily" and other things I do and then try to edit out. I've found certain subjects in my writing result in prolific chapters that contain three and four times the necessary words. So put those last two sentences in the second paragraph aside. Good words but they come after the emotional point of "...and today it suited her fine..."
That's the point you want to make in that second paragraph and it's brilliant the way it hits. Now you get to move on to the third paragraph. Get rid of those extra sentences.

The only fuss I have with the third paragraph is "...Merelda sold him a pendant for his wife. Merelda swore the necklace..." which (probably because I don't wear jewelry) seems to me to call a pendant a necklace. I always thought they were two different things.

I have no problem with "streaking" other than I thought "naked." That's my fault and not yours. I don't think you should change the word for my dirty mind.
;)

The fourth paragraph better get to the expected guest and why he/she/it is so important.

Joanna Hoyt said...

I hadn't noticed anything weird about Aunt Merelda streaking either until I got to the continuation. And I would definitely keep reading the actual story--I'm curious about the parents and more curious about the aunt, and I just like the narrator's voice.

Gwen Ever said...

When I read 'streaked through the store', images of the streaking phenomena that helped define the wildness of the seventies were invoked before my mind. Oh what a hedonistic decade that was. You take the story from the streaking line right into the mother dying after establishing the store. Could, perhaps, the first line of this paragraph be eliminated while still maintaining the integrity of the tale? Further on we find the third paragraph starting off with ‘The collection’ and ‘not for sale’, leaving the reader guessing about what kind of store this is, especially when Merelda swears that ‘the necklace would be of more benefit’. Why? Is she psychic? Does she know the anthropologist and his wife? A little more focus here would help to hook the reader.

BuffySquirrel said...

Unfortunately, the reader doesn't think, 'How did she know that?' The reader thinks the author has made a mistake.

Why not start with a scene that shows the psychic powers in action? Then the character being 'read' could do the, 'How did she know that?' thing.

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation:

"Muffy! No!" shouted Merelda when she saw me toying with the feather.

Slapping my paw, she scooped me into her flabby arms. "What was my idiot sister thinking, leaving a place like this to a poodle?"

I turned my head. At least the customers like me.

--khazar-khum

LSimon said...

Thanks everyone...I've decided--I'm going to change the story to focus on a Nudist and the poodle who hates her

:)

_*rachel*_ said...

The aside about her mother threw me out of the story's flow for a moment, and I had to double-check the type of store you said it was because I don't expect drums in a jewelry store. Other than that, I really liked it. It hints at interesting characters, and you can tell something's coming. Good job!

I didn't have a problem with "streaking."

Try saying, "I refused. Merelda winked and told him a jade pendant would do more to fix his marriage than a moldy old drum." That, to me, hints that Merelda knows something.

LSimon said...

I sat in the front corner of the jewelry store, curled up in the brown leather chair, hidden behind the glass display cases. We should have closed an hour before, but my Aunt Merelda was waiting for something.
She streaked through the small store, touching this, straightening that, making sure everything was perfect. My mother had established the store before she died, which made it mine, but Merelda lived and breathed this store. At least, she did when it suited her, and today it suited her fine.
I leaned over in my chair to look out the large, front window. Outside, summer battered the city; inside, the air conditioner worked overtime to combat the heat and humidity of August in Philadelphia.
“Can we go soon Aunt Merelda? It's getting late, and I walked to work this morning.” I stood up and stretched. I wanted desperately to go home, curl up on the couch with my dog and a good book, but I was not willing to leave her alone in the store at night. Of course, there were wards to protect the place, but that didn't quell my knee jerk protective reaction.
“He will be here soon, I'm sure of it. Be patient, dear one. We'll take a cab home.” Merelda and I lived in the same apartment building on Rittenhouse Square, so we often shared rides. “When he gets here, try not to look as though we expected him. It freaks them out so.”

**I know, I know, she's still streaking, but I went through and I already have her sliding, gliding, slipping and all sorts of other floaty yet purposeful adjectives-- so deal :)**

Dave F. said...

It works. It sounds good.
I would replace that "something" that ends the first paragraph with a more definitive object (like "a customer" or "weird old Uncle Festus").

If you consider this necessary:
I leaned over in my chair to look out the large, front window. Outside, summer battered the city; inside, the air conditioner worked overtime to combat the heat and humidity of August in Philadelphia.
Then make it briefer like: I leaned over in my chair to look out the front window. August heat battered Philadelphia.
because the statement is only to set the season and the location. The reader wants to get back to the narrator and Merelda.
In the next paragraph, take this out: desperately to go home because you say it again in a few words.
And you use the construction of "this but that" twice. Take out the first "but" and put a period after book. It sounds better.
The last question I'll ask is does the reader need to know right now that they both live in Rittenhouse Square? Only you can decide if the reader needs that fact or if you should get to the man they are waiting for faster. It's a choice.

writtenwyrdd said...

I generally liked the voice of this, but I have three things I'd like to mention: the voice, the commas/sentence structure, and a possible logic error.

VOICE. Dave's got a good point about tightening up the prose. If you are looking to evoke a breathy, airy feel, the plethora of clauses, phrases and commas are doing that nicely. However, you state you want your aunt character to be airy and breathy, not the narrator. And as it's your narrator that the airiness is tied to (this being her pov) I don't think you have the voice matching your character just yet.

COMMAS: I kept thinking "too many commas!" -- and I am the last person I'd ever expect to say that, lol. Lots and lots of clauses and phrases make the writing rather twisty and difficult to follow. Throw us a bone and mix up your stentence structure with a goodly assortment of sentences without intro clauses or parenthetical phrases. Use some more S-V-O sentences. (Read Hemingway?)

And, not to be snotty, but the attention I had placed on the commas made a comma omission error really stand out. ("Can we go soon Aunt Merelda?" needs a comma after soon.)

LOGIC ERROR: There's also a logic error in the writing. Your pov character is shown to both apparently know who is coming/what the aunt is waiting for, and to not know.

First you have the narrator not know why the aunt is staying late, flitting about the store in a tizzy. Then you both have the aunt act as if the pov character knows what's going on, and you have the narrator fail to react to the mention of the "he" who is going to be showing up.

To detail this: In the opening, your pov character tells us, in the first paragraph, that "my Aunt Merelda was waiting for something." The narrator tells us here that she doesn't know what the aunt is waiting for. The narrator also doesn't appear to care about the reason during the following paragraphs.

Yet, the aunt appears to think your pov character is aware of who the mystery guest will be when she says, “He will be here soon, I'm sure of it. Be patient, dear one. We'll take a cab home.” This implies Merida thinks the narrator knows what's going on.

As a suggestion, have the narrator ask flat out what's going on so we readers know she's curious and not in the loop. Then you might have the aunt reply with the "He'll be here soon. Be patient, dear one," which would work nicely to draw in the readers by making them curious along with your narrator.

This opening isn't bad; in fact, I'm curious enough to keep reading to see what the mystery is about this guy who Aunt Merelda is expecting, and your writing is good enough that I WANT to trust you and keep reading. But the writing is a little too frothy for me and I wouldn't keep reading much longer if the writing remained that cluttered. (And I think that issue would be entirely fixed by trimming the fat from the prose as Dave suggested.)

And I thought it worth mentioning that the name Aunt Merelda is awfully similar to Aunt Esmerelda, from Bewitched…

Best luck with this!

writtenwyrdd said...

Interesting...My computer kept saying it didn't go through, so I resent at least ten times with a 404 error message...yet EE has gotten it at least twice! My apologies for the barrage of posts, EE!

Evil Editor said...

I was gonna send an email surrendering, but I thought it might be a glitch in the email program.

writtenwyrdd said...

Well, I've been in absentia here for so long I figured I'd show up as a stalker...

Beth said...

I have a problem with "streaked" and not because it reminds me of naked running people. [g] It's because it simply seems to be the wrong word. When someone streaks by, they're going at one heck of a clip, so fast you can't even focus on them. It seems to me that what the aunt is actually doing is fussing with things. Puttering. Tidying up.

I would suggest putting this line of dialogue: “Can we go soon Aunt Merelda? It's getting late, and I walked to work this morning.” at the end of that paragraph rather than the beginning. The flow of information works better that way. We learn the real reason she wants to leave before she gives her aunt a more mundane excuse. The contrast makes the dialogue more interesting.