Thursday, April 12, 2012

New Beginning 937

When I got the email I was in my car, cursing the great state of California for putting Algebra on the GED. Wade was thumbing through an old Soldier of Fortune in the passenger seat. In the back was our recording equipment. We had it turned down low, but every now and then a particularly loud moan would echo over the speaker. In other words, a slow Tuesday.

"Such bullshit," Wade muttered and reached for his cigarettes.

"What's bullshit?" I said, holding out my hand.

Wade smacked the box down on my palm. "Well for one thing, the fact you never buy your own."

"Hey, I only smoke to keep you company."

"But what I meant," Wade pressed on. "Was this job. Is bullshit."

"You like this job," I said around the cigarette in my teeth, trying to hold my place in the textbook and light up at the same time.

"Not the job, the job. This job." He waved his hand at Cabin Number 6 of the Lucky Pines Resort. "Surveillance on a housewife? It's goddamn amateur hour out here."

"The client paid extra for an experienced team," I offered without much conviction. Behind us another car swerved into the lot, headlights flashing across the faded beige interior.

"Bull. Shit." Wade sucked in a deep lungful of smoke petulantly. "This is a message from the partners."

"Paranoia is hilarious in a man of your size," I said, my eyes on the rear view mirror. The other car, a late model silver luxury sedan, coasted to a bumpy halt about three feet over the parking lot edge into the tanbark.

"And it's probably for you. What did you fuck up behind my back?"

"That's hurtful.” The sedan driver had half fallen out of his car into the shrubbery and was now trying to wrestle something long and metallic out of the backseat. My phone chimed.

"You gonna get that?" Wade picked his magazine back up. "It's probably Amanda. Explaining how you fucked up."


"Yes, Mal?"

"Isn't that the client?"

Wade snapped his head around to see the man stagger over the sidewalk up towards the Lucky Pines cabins. As he passed under a street lamp, the light glinted off the double barreled shotgun on his shoulder.

"Never mind that," Wade snapped. "What about that email you mentioned in the first paragraph?"

I kept my eye on the man with the gun; did our client have an identical twin? "First paragraph?"

"Happens all the time," Wade said, exhaling smoke at my face. "Authors put some bullshit in the first sentence, trying to hook the reader. Then they don't mention it again for three chapters." Wade laughed, a crazy wheezing sound like an animal dying. "I'M ON TO YOU!" He shook his fist at the heavens.

The man who appeared to be our client had disappeared. "Wade, what are you on about?"

"OUR LIVES ARE WRITTEN BY THE GREAT AUTHOR IN THE SKY!" He collapsed, wheezing, muttering, "I'm on to you..."

I stared at him. My partner was certifiably insane. At least this explained why we'd been given a crappy assignment.

Opening: Sarah Hawthorne.....Continuation: Anon.


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation:

I looked back at the Algebra section of the GED preparatory exam...and finally understood.

"I get it!"

"Get what?" asked Wade.

"I just have to replace the symbols with real numbers."


"Yes." I calculated. "Two loaded barrels of a shotgun divided by two distracted detectives equal one dead cheating wife."

I tried not to sound too proud when I answered Amanda's call between the first and second shotgun blasts.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

I've spent so long wondering whether or not algebra should be capitalized that I've decided it should not be.

This is pretty good. There's just a tad too much info-dumping. It may be not be necessary at this point to call our attention to the protag's educational status, the boss's foibles, the sidekick's feelings about said foibles, the sidekick's unusual size (large or small?), the fact that the protag and the sidekick are an experienced team... that can all come in later if it's needed at all. Cut to the guy with the gun.

Oh, and pure personal taste... I probably wouldn't read past all these fucks and bullshits. Some would, some wouldn't. At least you got 'em in early to warn us.

Evil Editor said...

P5: Delete "Hey,"

P6: Delete "But what I meant," Leaving: "This job. It's bullshit."

P8: I would change
"Not the job, the job. This job." to
"I'm talking about this specific job."

Not sure "amateur hour" is the right term. It usually means the people doing the job are screwing up, not that the job doesn't require experienced pros. He feels more like a junior high hall monitor than an amateur.

P10: delete "petulantly."

Seems like a waste of money (and not too smart) to kill someone who's being watched by guys you hired to watch her.

Anonymous said...

Love the continuation. Because yes, we see so many of these seemingly thrilling things flung out in the first sentence or first few paragraphs and then are doomed to read so much backstory / set up etc. we wonder whatever happened to that other story, the exciting one... It's the old bait-and-switch technique. One wonders: what is the deal? Does someone tell authors it's clever to do this, or what?

Author: this has some charm but also numerous distractions that amuse you but are likely to be confusing or meaningless to readers. For instance: maybe the content of the GED is not helpful to mention at this point, especially because, amazingly, most people never take the GED and don't actually know what it is and even those of us who have taken the bloody thing a few times don't care what's in it.

Take a lesson from Agatha Christy: it's easier to sell books if your text is meaningful to readers who don't already know and care about obscure things like the content of advanced academic exams.

Dave Fragments said...

I both like and dislike this opening.

First the good stuff:
This works to introduce two characters and it's not burdened with the usual info overload or scene setting. What we have are two witnesses to a body being dumped who are so high they can't report it. NEATO!

Now the bad stuff:
The dialog doesn't ring true. It doesn't sound like two stoners in a band in a car smoking marijuana. Stoners talk in shorter bursts with lousy grammar. The rest of it reads so comfortably and so easily.

sarahhawthorne said...

Ha ha! Love the continuations!

And hooray, this was received a little better than I'd hoped!

Just for the record, the phone chiming was the email hitting Mal's Blackberry, so it would have been just another 300 words or so until we actually got to it. Pinky swear!

Thanks all for the comments, I will definitely take them under advisement.

EE - thanks for the tweaks. You don't mind if I use "junior high hall monitor," do you? You're right, that is better.

Alaska, your summary of all the backstory made me laugh, and you are probably right, much of it is there to amuse me. I'll see what I can cut. Probably I'll take Anonymous' advice and leave out the GED thing.

Thanks all!

vkw said...

I think they are smoking cigarettes, Dave.

But, if they were getting high that may make it more interesting.

I think I would cut at least one BS and cut the algebra part, though it was interesting. The author left it hanging there like a boyfriend your not quite ready to dump but is already out the door and doesn't know it yet.

I like it, cut a bit and get to the shotgun faster so you really have someone hooked

Laurie said...

What's been said above - get to the surveillance and the guy with the gun and introduce the other stuff later. And less cigarette passing - I found that an annoying delay when I wanted to know what the heck was going on. Save it for a downtime scene later on.

The opening line is not only a bait and switch, but it also doesn't do anything to get me into the scene or tell me what's going on now. Instead, it made me think he'd just finished taking the GED, which gave me a completely wrong idea about the main character and what was going on. Once I'm more familiar with everything, it could make a fun punchline - it's not a bad line, it's just the wrong place for it.

But otherwise, this is good. You can write, the dialogue is good, we're getting an interesting situation, I get a sense of the characters. Just some hiccups with the opening there.

BuffySquirrel said...

If the email isn't important enough to mention for another 300 words then it isn't important enough to mention in the opening line.

sarahhawthorne said...

If the email isn't important enough to mention for another 300 words then it isn't important enough to mention in the opening line.

Fair enough. That seems to be the general consensus. I'll take it out.

Anonymous said...

Really, your first-sentence dump wasn't a horrible one. At least there was still action in your first scene. Most I've seen who do that put an intriguing first line and then NOTHING HAPPENS for a long time. Not just nothing related to the first line, but zip-nada nothing. That's why it's a huge pet peeve of mine, and I couldn't resist poking at it (hence the continuation).

I really did enjoy reading this, though. You write well. To echo everyone else, the faster you can get to the client thing, the better.

james said...

I don't consider myself qualified to offer advice on grammar and punctuation, but I really liked the opening, Sarah. Made me want to turn a page, which is what I think a story is supposed to do. If it does that all the way to the end, you've got a book.

Xiexie said...

Great continuation. Algebra should be a lower case. I was pulled into the scene, and I'd forgotten about the email in that first paragraph.

Good Job Sarah

Bonnee Crawford said...

Yeah... what did happen to that email? Otherwise, pretty cool. Get to the point a little faster, and definitely be aware that a lot of people will put the book down with all the fucks and bullshits mentioned. I wouldn't though :)

PLaF said...

You had me at Soldier of Fortune.
The client falling out of the car into the shrubbery, then pulling a shotgun from the back seat was very well done. I could see it all happening and was ready for more.
A couple of things to consider:
The opening line didn’t lead into the opening scene. Since the hook is the client showing up, maybe mention that the car the MC sees in the rear view mirror looks disturbingly familiar.
The cursing. People may speak that way, but it makes the reading tedious. I would read a little further but would put the book down if the trend continues.
“the job, the job” – guys don’t usually repeat themselves this way. Is the MC a female?
There are four conversation threads in this opening, five if you count the GED comment. This makes it a little busy for the first scene. It’s written well and would probably work a little further into the story, but here it reads like you’re trying to use several hooks at once. (Down south we call that fishing with an Alabama rod.)
Now I’m curious: how does this scene play into the rest of the story?

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

PLaF, I actually assumed the narrator was female. Dunno why. Maybe 'cause the writer was female...

Interested that you're also turned off by the cussing. The fact is, cussing will lose readers.

james said...

Wow, Alaska! I bow to you. When I first read the opening, I thought the author was a guy. By the way, Sarah, I mean that as a compliment. If you connect to both sexes, you double your readership.

james said...

Oops. Just checked back in and backread enough to notice that PLaF commented on the author being female before Alaska. Sorry, I was busy listening to music on Youtube when I posted. Anyway, goodnight and good luck to all. Especially Sarah.

I'm going to bed.

BuffySquirrel said...

If cussing's going to lose readers, then all the better to have it at the start so they don't waste any time before putting the book down and seeking out something more anodyne.

batgirl said...

Am I the only one who didn't clue in that the car was parked and not moving? For some reason I read the opening as the character trying to drive and study algebra at the same time. I had to go back and re-read the first few lines trying to figure out how that worked.