Monday, January 31, 2011

New Beginning 829

There was something odd about Strangley Lane. Actually, there were many things odd about Strangley Lane. The houses along the lane were odd, as were the people who lived in them. The little newsagent’s shop was odd, and sold odd things. The church was odd, with odd little gargoyles peering down from the steeple. Even the vicar, who preached from the pulpit, was not as you would expect; yet oddly, the congregation never seemed to notice.

The only person in Strangley Lane who wasn’t odd was Spud. -- though isn’t being the only person who isn’t odd, just a little bit odd?

They called him Spud because you can’t get much more ordinary than a potato.

It was said the name Strangley came from the fact that the path led to the gallows which dispatched the black of heart in the olden days. It was said that it was the daily passage of condemned souls through the village that had imparted much of the oddness on the lane. Spud thought otherwise.

Rather, he thought to himself in an oddly quotidian manner, the oddness was an artifact of the town's long defunct lithium mine and refinery just outside town limits. The half dozen spires still appeared to respire scant wisps of effluvium from time to time, even though the doors had closed many years ago, and the condemned souls no longer passed through the village on their way to the lithium industry's oddly meagre employ.

No, the oddness had its fores within the boundaries of what was rumoured to have been a failed Superfund site, despite the assurances of the oddly agreeable team of remediations specialists sent by Union Carbide. They appeared, and as quickly disappeared, shortly after the outsourcing of the entire plant's production to an oddly aboriginal village unencumbered by the profit-trimming burdens of minimum wage and child labor laws, and other bourgeoisie constraints to free enterprise.

Soon thereafter, the dankmoat encircling the former compound began spreading even as the edges crumbled inward with a curious alkali exudate that never completely dried. Every spring, since the mine's entrance had been shuttered and the refinery's whistle silenced, clots of granular yet oddly viscous ordure percolated through the ground like grim fairy circles. The breezes had always carried the oddly metallic scent of proto-pharmaceutical production out over the river, and only on the warmest nights did the town become bathed in the refinery's distinctive odor. "Uncle Carbide's in town again," the residents would whisper, oddly complacent and unruffled by the fine slurry of metallic silt that accumulated in their gutters and sifted into their oddly planted gardens.

Spud secretly relished his ordinariness; a silent rebellion against the even oddness of the populace. He'd never experienced the hair loss, dry mouth, itching, or joint pain of the news agent, or the constipation, gas, bloating and restlessness of the blacksmith. Nor had he been subject to the village idiot's inability to control shaking a body part; let alone his frequent urination. The vicar's crossed eyes seemed to linger a bit longer on him than he'd thought appropriate for a man of his station, but perhaps it was just the excess saliva in the vicar's mouth that seemed, well, odd.

His wife, a pale, acned lass with thin, brittle hair and a slurred manner of speech, considered him oddly appealing despite his mundane demeanour and unexceptional appearance. Not long after their first awkward kiss at the foot of the old gallows, she bestowed him with the moniker he carried, a result of an oddly memorable date that resulted in the need for immediate medical attention. His erection had lasted more than four hours before becoming painful, but he'd experienced a sudden, severe loss of vision and a rash before fainting away. This man, she told herself, would be hers, if he survived.

"Spud", she softly called to him as he lay in the doctor's anteroom, awaiting his return. "My poor spud, my spud horse, my love. I'll pake care of you, I'll pry anything, anything at all, just pell me you'll live."

Opening: anon......Continuation: Mistress Claudia Balzac


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation:

But no one cared what Spud thought. All they cared about was how he might taste come Sunday afternoon. Spud himself longed to be taken seriously, but as the spokesman for the plants, they only considered him a common tater.


Evil Editor said...

If the place got its name because everything's strange there, I would spell it Strangely. Strangley is what it would be named if people got strangled there.

I'm not sure why it isn't called Oddly Lane, or else why everything there is referred to as odd rather than strange. I realize they're synonyms, but it seems odd. Like saying every one in my town was pleasant, dogs were pleasant, the houses were pleasant, the streets were pleasant, that's why we called it Niceville. It's not that it's silly, it's just that if you're explaining why it's called Niceville, why not say everything about it is nice?

Assuming this is for a middle grade crowd, I have no other complaints.

Anonymous said...

People got strangled there - by the gallows.

Evil Editor said...

So they did. But if it's pronounced Strangle-ly Lane everyone would know why and there wouldn't be this common belief it's called that because everything's odd there. Thus I assume they pronounce it Strange-ly Lane.

Marissa Doyle said...

I loved the voice here--well done!

Dave Fragments said...

I sometimes feel like a contestant on that old game show - NAME THAT TUNE. I can do that opening in six notes. I can name that tune in half the words.

The continuation is excellent. Good work. It does, however take the opposite view from my view.

I think that repeating the word "odd" makes the opening annoying. Worse, the number of repetitions distracts the reader from a very important facts -- Spud is normal and Spud is going to be the hero.

BTW, when I used the names Spudnuts and Sparafucile in a story, I gave those two characters real names and then indicated that those names were nicknames. That's the author's decision.

It's not that I think this opening is a bad idea. The idea of it is excellent. Start with a physical street that is the exact opposite of the main character. Great. It works. But the repeated and insistent use of "odd" leaves the reader thinking only of "odd." At least it did that for me. It approaches a Suess-like list of oddities.

Use the word "odd" only once and the entire thing will improve.

Here's my idea of how to do that:

There was something odd about Strangely Lane. Perhaps it was the church steeple with the gargoyles that seemed to stare and follow the passersby. Perhaps it was the houses with the un-square angles and garish colors. Mostly, the gossipmongers said, it was because a gallows used to stand at the end of the street over a century ago and the dead have never left.

But Spud, our completely normal and unstrange hero, So ordinary in fact that his name became synonymous with a common vegetable, knew different.

That focuses the reader on ghosts and Spud. You can describe the News Shop and the Vicar later in the story.

Now you have two possible ways to make this work.

Phoenix said...

I guess I wanted to know specifically WHAT was odd about the things described. Especially for a kid -- they delight in odd. That was my first reaction: why isn't the author showing us what makes these things odd? Is there a theme to the oddness? Is everything a little too cheerful? A little too somber? Is it a quirky, just-a-little-bit-off odd or a wholesale loony odd?

Giving the reader a taste of the kind of odd that's here on this street would go a long way toward setting the tone for the book and helping to ground the reader in the setting, imo.

spud said...

Many thanks for the feedback, all!

Aika said...

Hi author (spud?), I liked this a lot. Love the contrast between the odd place and the ordinary person, the mysterious hint about the vicar, and the wry philosophizing about the oddness of being not odd.

And I wanted to know what Spud thinks.

Agree with EE on the spelling. Would Strangle Lane work?

Agree with Phoenix/Dave that the odd without examples goes on too long. Too many repititions of odd gets boring, and I start to scan for the other details. Can you tighten it?

There was something odd about S Lane. The houses were ___. The little newsagent’s shop sold ___. Strange little gargoyles peered down from the church steeple. Even the vicar, who preached from the pulpit, was ___; yet oddly, the congregation never seemed to notice.

The only person in Strangely Lane who wasn’t odd was Spud. -- though isn’t being the only person who isn’t odd, just a little bit odd?

They called him Spud because you can’t get much more ordinary than a potato.

They called the lane S because of the gallows at the far end. That's where the black of heart got dispatched in the olden days, after the condemned souls walked the length of the lane. Or so people said. Spud thought otherwise.

mellie said...

So many odds in the first few sentences, I couldn't read on. Maybe the story is great, but the opening got annoying really fast. Not only that, but there was the feeling that I'd read an opening like that many times. It's a pattern, and it's old, and I got turned off by sentence three.

Get to the story.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, I like it just the way it is. Is that odd?

batgirl said...

I'm with phoenix in wanting specifics. I felt let down by just being told 'odd' - odd how?
After a bit I started to think of that TZ (or Outer Limits?) episode where the punchline is that everyone is hideous and the heroine has been operated on because she's pretty.

Oh, and file under 'things that bother no one but me' - this village had sufficient malefactors that there was a daily hanging?