Thursday, October 07, 2010

New Beginning 791

In the summer, moths had swarmed in the glow of the lights above the kebab stand, but the winter had already killed most of them. That night inside the lights' yellow glow, only the falling snow, the kebab seller, and one customer leaning on the kebab stand's counter could be found. The light separated the stand from the rest of the street, as surely as the glass windows and brushed metal counter separated the kebab seller from the rest of the world. Darkness, broken only by passing headlights, cloaked most of the road.

The kebab seller, immured inside the cramped, sweaty box, was intently studying the angle of the large knife held in his right hand. With each slice, he removed the uneven parts from the roasted meat slowly spinning on its vertical spit. It was a game he played with himself. Could he even out the lopsided chunk of lamb his colleague from the day shift had left him by the time the night was finished?

“Scharf?” he asked; his hand poised to spoon out the red chili sauce. The customer—on the other side of the counter and the other side of middle age—pulled his cigarette out from between his creased lips and held it in his cracked, thick fingers. He stared at the kebab seller.

Then he dropped the cigarette and, without looking, ground it into the sidewalk with the sole of an Italian loafer. His eyes narrowed. "Scharf? Is that not when you think it is a fart but then you shit yourself?"

The kebab seller, blade in his right hand, ladle in his left, each implement dripping grease across the counter, leaving yellow orbs that echoed the bulbs overhead, said, "No, no, my friend. That is a shart." Scharf is when you shit and barf at the same time. A man in this city in winter should know these things."

The customer pulled a crumpled packet out of his pocket, took out a filterless cigarette and slipped it into his mouth. "You are indeed correct." He slowly lit the tobacco with an old flip-top lighter. "Forget the kebab," he said. "I'll just have coffee."

Opening: Nicole.....Continuation: Anon.


Evil Editor said...

When you say the customer is on the other side of middle age, we don't know which side is the other side. The younger side or the older side? Depends on which side the kebab seller is on, I guess. Later you show us his creased lips and cracked fingers, a more effective way of conveying his age than telling us.

I wouldn't expect a kebab stand to be enclosed by glass windows. Seems like they'd fog up in the winter.

If the seller is holding a knife playing his game with the lamb, is it his other hand that's poised to spoon out the scharf? I'd expect him to use the same hand for both utensils.

I'd drop the first sentence. No matter what POV this is, I don't think they'd be remarking on the moths that were there last summer.

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation:

Then he looked down at his iPhone, already linked to the Google Translate page. His stubby, yet agile fingers quickly stabbed in the six letters; his eyes ran down the list of 55 adjectives until it hit number 46.

"Randy?" he grinned. "Ja, ich bin scharf."

Inside the stand, it was perfect. Isolated, private, sweaty. And with that chili sauce... this was really going to be hot.

--Paul Penna

Anonymous said...

Oh my God. Best. Continuation. Ever.


Ellie said...

Perhaps this says something about me as a person, but I absolutely cannot stop giggling over that continuation.

Dave F. said...

The entire opening can be reduced to something like "One lone moth still flitted around the Kebab Food Truck's yellow lights in the cold, snowy night. Ulysses, The Kebab Seller held the greasy gyro over the steel counter. "SHARF?" he said to the middle aged customer, holding a strong filterless cigarettes and hacking his lungs out."

That sets the scene and gets the reader to some action or important discussion. Unless you are writing the entire story of "Waiting for Godot At A Gyro Wagon" in one night, all the description is extra. I mean, balancing the cuts off the rotating slab of seasoned lamb could be a metaphor for balancing life. I suspect it's not in this novel.

Whirlochre said...

I've frequently been discombobulated but never enkebabulated.

Until now.

That said, the kebabular status games are amusing.

Maybe I just don't like kebabs.

vkw said...

I think there should be a rule that Kebab can only be used one time per page. . . perhaps per chapter. . . maybe even per book.

I started counting the number of times kebab was used. . . well that's a problem.

Dave was right, your intro is this

Snow was falling outside the kebab's box but the cook was sweating over the greasy grill.

"Scharf?" he asked, his hand poised to spoon the red chili sauce.

The middle age customer dropped his cigarette, snuffed it out with his Italian loafer before replying. "Sharf? . . . .

I would advise saving long descriptive phrases for later in the book when you have your reader hooked, (unless the descriptive phrases are action or bloody packed) . . . and he/she may skip over the part or be thrilled to read it. But in the beginning, especially the very beginning, you'll need to give the reader a reason to continue.

This is what you told us: kebab stand, greasy, professional cook, autumn, snow, smart alec assh@le with good shoes.

I don't care, but I would like to care.

Evil Editor said...

The Italian loafers are not part of the opening. The blue words are the continuation, added by a different author.

vkw said...

my apologies, I have to flip back and forth to see where the real opening ended.


Dave F. said...

This continuation is one for the record books. And the previous facelift with the poetry was great. Put them both in the running for "Best Of" category.

_*rachel*_ said...

You've got some great atmosphere here--I especially like the yellow lamplight and the snow--but I feel like you're trying too hard. You've got some extraneous words and phrases here, and your second sentence is passive. Cut your darlings and get to the action.

alaskaravenclaw said...

Opening with description is very, very risky.

The risk, specifically, is that your reader will put the book back on the shelf and pick up something else.

Anonymous said...

"Very, very" risky? Have you read The God of Small Things? It starts with the most breathtaking description--the entire first page in my copy--and it's, you know, sort of a bestseller and the winner of the booker prize.

Let's give readers a bit of credit here. Done well and people will read. And reread.

Evil Editor said...

I don't consider description a problem in an opening, but I think paragraph 1, with the moths and the separated worlds can go. The rest is okay with a few tweaks, but I don't see how it can take so long to even out a lopsided hunk of meat that the kebab seller's success in doing so over the course of his entire shift is not a certainty.

Also, wouldn't a kebab seller cut the meat off while it's raw and put it on skewers rather than slow roasting it on a spit?

Possibly the author is writing from experience of a specific kebab stand, but if such questions might bother readers, perhaps it's best to have the kebab seller roasting a kebab.

Anonymous said...

Also, wouldn't a kebab seller cut the meat off while it's raw and put it on skewers rather than slow roasting it on a spit?

You're thinking of shish kebabs.

Doner kebabs, for instance, are a pita bread filled with spit roasted lamb, vegetables and condiments.

Here's the kebab guy...

Dave F. said...

I suspect this author isn't a foodie.

A kebab is chunks of meat and vegetables cooked on skewars.

A cheap gyro is sliced off a processed cylinder of processed lamb meat and requires no cooking talent or much in the way of knife skills.

A Lebanese Schawarma has real meat, sliced thin, marinated and then stacked on a spit, cooked and then carved. This takes cooking skill to create and then carve. The TV show "COOKS V CITY"showed how and the transcript of the show is here:
D.C.'s WOODLEY PARK NEIGHBORHOOD Is home to Lebanese Taverna, a shiny example of the american dream.
00:19:19 ... with a quarter million orders a year, the top seller is the shawarma, 50 pounds of lamb and beef marinated in cumin, caraway, sumac, and olive oil.

This doesn't mean anything much to the writing (and it is a nitpicky detail) but it does signify that I'm late for lunch and hungry as hell because I'm writing and daydreaming about food.

Evil Editor said...

Research reveals that the doner part of the name comes from the Turkish word "dondurmek" which means a rotating roast. Kebab does mean small chunks of meat usually cooked on a skewer. Possibly the inventor of the item decided dondurmek didn't sound appetizing enough to sell in Europe and added the kebab. In any case, the doner kebab (kebap) has been around decades now, and the name has stuck. Basically, it's an open-faced sandwich folded in half that gives you food poisoning.

Anonymous said...

I think the author is trying way too hard to be literary and it shows. That is never good.

Anonymous said...

Basically, it's an open-faced sandwich folded in half that gives you food poisoning.

And yet, it becomes strangely appetising shortly after the pubs close...

BuffySquirrel said...

I liked the opening, although I'd trim it here and there. It has too much qualification.

That night, inside the yellow glow, only the falling snow, the kebab seller, and one customer leaning on the counter could be found. The light separated the stand from the street, as surely as the brushed-metal counter separated the seller from the world. Darkness, broken only by passing headlights, cloaked the road.

It's establishing setting and atmosphere, and we can spare a few paragraphs for that.

batgirl said...

I liked this, though it could stand a little trimming, as EE points out. Literary and atmospheric, but teetering on the edge of trying too hard.