Monday, October 04, 2010

New Beginning 789

Men get a hankerin' for war. Every 20, 30 years when a new crop of boys grow into manhood ready to flex their muscle and show their mettle and the old guard starts remembering their glory years and lusting after their youth, it starts to happen. If you listen close you can hear it: in the hush of the children, the whispers of the womenfolk, the shouts of 'duty' and 'honor' over the grime and sweat of work, whiskey and fisticuffs at night, and offering plates passed between pews on Sundays.

It's in the blood. It can't be helped.

Find a cause, take a side. Don't matter which. Most of the time you don’t get to choose anyway. The war chooses for you. Saxon or Norman, Christian or Jew, North or South. Who you were born, where you were born are far more important than what you think.

Charlie Daniels liked war. He liked the pageantry of it -- liked waking to the sound of the bugle and marching to fife and drum. When the muskets fired, he liked breathing in the sharp smell of gunpowder till he could taste the sulfur on his tongue. When the howitzers went off, he was there like a setter on a pheasant, watching the mortar shells tear through walls and men alike.

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Opening: Anon......Continuation: anon.


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

The setter costume was hot but it kept him alive. No man on either side wanted to shoot a dog on point. That would be a war crime.

--Wilkins MacQueen

But this would be his greatest battle, the one that would become a ballad remembered everywhere drunken men raised voices in song. Johnny stood by his side, and they stared at their opponent.

Tall and hard, skin dark like cured leather, their foe lowered his weapon and smiled at them, his thin lips curling under a waxed goatee. “Your turn,” he said, in a deep and cultured voice.

“I'll do it, Charlie,” Johnny said. “I can beat him.”

“You sure?” Charlie leaned in close. “This guy's good. And you... you're just a boy.”

Johnny grinned. “I'm the best that's ever been.”

Charlie nodded slowly. “Okay.”

Johnny opened his case, and took out his fiddle. As he tucked it under his chin, Charlie Daniels gave him one last piece of advice:

“Johnny, rosin up your bow.,and play your fiddle hard.
'Cause hells broke loose in Georgia, and the devil deals the cards.
And if you win, you get this shiny fiddle made of gold.
But if you lose, the devil gets your soul...”


Evil Editor said...

Unless this is a biography of Charlie Daniels, that name is going to be distracting to everyone who's familiar with the musician. You wouldn't name your main character Elton John or Mick Jagger or Bruce Springsteen. In some crowds Charlie Daniels is just as well-known.

The writing is good, but I find some inconsistency in the voice. A narrator who would say "hankerin', "Don't matter which," "womenfolk" and "like a setter on a pheasant," would probably not throw in "Saxon or Norman" as one of the examples in paragraph 3. Or "He liked the pageantry of it." You might do without "and lusting after their youth" in sentence 2 for the same reason.

As we tend to think of muskets being from an earlier time than howitzers, should we assume Charlie is really really old? Like a vampire?

Anonymous said...

This opening reminds me of something the late Howard Zinn said-- something to the effect of... governments start wars, pretending they are acting on the demands of the people. Then the people demand peace, which is then said to have been brought about by governments.

That's not even close to the exact words, but that's the general idea.

Anonymous said...

"Every 20, 30 years when a new crop of boys . . ."

I'd make that "15, 20." My associations with 30 are vastly different from those with 20. And in the era you seem to be writing about, teenaged soldiers in America were common, I'm guessin'.

I had to go back over "Who you were born" to get it.

But anyway, do you really need that buildup? What would happen if you started with "Charlie Daniels liked war"?

Dave Fragments said...

By the way, some men might "get a hankerin'" for war but others do not.

That being said, use either the generalized first paragraph (Hankering) or the specific "Charlie Daniels" paragraph for the opening and then get immediately into the action. It is important to realize that those paragraphs say the same thing, evoke the same emotion, evoke the same stylistic tone, evoke a nearly identical image.

Here is what I think:
These mystic, atmospheric and philosophic openings don't keep the reader's attention for 50 to 75 words. They are a single thought invoking a single emotion. You get one chance to invoke that feeling and then the action of the story must take over. You don't get a second chance at painting the picture hanging on the wall.

I think that the only way to sustain the emotional impact beyond those first 50 words is by focusing the thought onto a character or a scene. The reader has to step into significant action or information about the main character. That opening is the invitation into the world, now you have to reveal the world.

If I were the writer, I would use the "Charlie Daniels" paragraph as the opening and move immediately into a scenario he's involved in so that you can reveal more about him and develop his character.

BTW - what part of the country is this setting?

Unknown said...

The writing's pretty strong which makes some of the inconsitencies in the language stand out. But EE has already noted those issues.

Personally, I'd rather start Charlie than the three intro paragraphs.

vkw said...

"It starts to happen" at the end of 2nd sentence may have broken the flow.

Maybe "It starts to hapen every 20,30 years or so when"

I think "who you were born" broke the flow in p.3. Try leaving that out so you have, Where you were born is far more important than what you think . . . .

(As aside I'm reading B. Cornwell's the Last Kingdom that has an interesting twist on this ideal as the main character uhtred first fights for the Danes and then the English. His internal struggle is he doesn't know why he chooses a side . . . .not based on whose winning, whose offended him, who his blood relationships are. Anyway)


none said...

The narrative doesn't seem to take the grandfather effect into account. Or maybe I misread.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

This is the beginning of a short story submission for a Civil War-era zombie anthology. One of EE's minions has already had her story accepted, so I'm just trying to keep up...

I'm ambivalent about the prelude bit. I'd like to keep my darling in, but the rest of the story is pretty tight, and the theme isn't really about the right or wrong of war-- it's about Charlie really liking to kill and finding acceptance with some like-minded zombie folk (see above). Keeping it in, though, adds to the word count -- and they're paying by the word ;o)

Love the continuation and the packaging! What's the author's cut on that, please?

Darn. Thought "Charlie Daniels" seemed a bit familiar. Thanks for the reason (and Sean's pointed reminder)! Will change.

Absolutely agree Saxon/Norman doesn't fly. It kept ringing wrong and I'm changing to French/English as that's closer to period anyway.

I keep getting tripped up by perception when it comes to history. Howitzers have been around since the 18th c. But my critters also thought it anachronistic. The Civil War was a watershed for artillery where muskets and howitzers happily played side by side. But that doesn't matter if most readers think otherwise. A good reason to get a broad scope of feedback. I'll change howitzer.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Also, an AuthorFAIL tale: The phrase "like a setter on a pheasant" isn't mine. It's Minion Bibi's. I read it on one of her posts a couple of weeks ago and the phrase lodged itself in my subconscious only to re-emerge when I was needing a similar image. I didn't realize I was stealing it or remember where it came from at the time. Total mortification and embarrassment.

The moral: Be careful when sorting through all the words we're bombarded with.

The kicker is that once my attention was brought to it, research told me pheasants aren't indigenous to the South, so had to change to "like a setter on quail" anyway. Writing is such a minefield!

Dave Fragments said...

"Saxon/Norman" could become something from the French and Indian War. That is within memory of Civil War fighters. Just beware of Mohawks with odd names.

Civil War Artillery might help.

Perhaps calling it a twelve pound smoothbore instead of a howitzer will end the confusion.

_*rachel*_ said...

I like this; it's vivid and eloquent.

The first three paragraphs are, unfortunately, probably deletable.

I did not expect it to have anything to do with zombies.

Mohawks with odd names--are you talking names like "Much Blood" or "Bob?"

Laurel said...

Agree about Charlie Daniels. Disagree about Saxon/Norman. You will NEVER meet people more obsessed with Saxon/Norman heritage than pure-n-tee white Southerners. They join any historical society they can lay claim to: Sons/Daughters of the American Revolution, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Sons of the Confederacy, and whichever one that is that predates the Union.

Every last cotton-pickin' one is descended from William the Conquerer, dammit! And maybe Robin Hood, too.

The only argument against is timeline. The Southern obsession with heritage might not have been so pronounced in the era.

Xiexie said...

Dammit! I hate it when the internet gobbles up commments.

Anywho, I love the voice and do agree with the suggestions above, and the change from Norman/Saxon to French/English is a good one.

Who you were born did read awkwardly for me at first.

Dave Fragments said...

I meant to avoid Mohawk names like Chingachgook, Magua, Tamenund.

I did guess zombies or vampires. I can't point to a single word or phrase but Charlie liked fighting too much not to be near to a lot of death and devastation. It wouldn't surprise me that he would be tolerant of zombies if they fought well or on his side, at least.

Anonymous said...

Now that I know this is a zombie story I like it much more.

McKoala said...

Aha, Ms P!

And sounds like I'd fit right in over there, seeing as I am genuinely descended from a French knight who came to England as part of the court of William the Conqueror.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

And I believe Robin Hood, being an arboreal kind of guy, had a pet koala, which explains that side of your lineage, eh McKoala?

Thank you for the suggestions and links, everybody! Off to research and revise now. You guys have been, as always, awesome.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Late to the party and not much new to add. I like this. I also agree with most of what was said here.

First thing that tripped me was the crop of boys grow. I thought a crop grows. It's one of those things I try to avoid in my writing because I get screwed up with the verb ending.

Like the flavor. And the contin was hilarious.

none said...

I don't think descendants of William I would have left their cushy lives here, somehow.

none said...

I've discussed this whole verb/subject agreement question before and there seems to be a feeling in the US that in such cases the second noun determines whether the verb is singular or plural, whereas in the UK the author chooses which is the more appropriate noun.

I would definitely write 'a crop of boys grows', myself. But tis a losing battle when I come up against the Senior Copyeditor, lol.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

I actually considered 'grow' a typo and changed it to 'grows' during my edit. I like agreeing the first noun with the verb. But it's a gray line, generally dictated by house style.

It makes me cringe when I hear about some agent or editor dismissing a query or an entire story based on a couple of grammatical errors. Mainly because a lot of those 'errors' might well be house style usage that really isn't wrong at all. Like using a comma instead of a semi-colon between independent clauses when those clauses are parallel. Some people don't realize there are special-case rules. And when they don't know that they don't know, they wind up condemning usage that's correct -- or at least not wrong.