Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Beginning 984

I paced up and down our small living room with its peeling walls and shabby furniture. My living room now. If I could make the rent.

I picked up a photograph of my mother from the mantelpiece. The small, pinched face had never looked this beautiful to me when she was alive. She had never been much of a companion to me, but right now I missed her acutely. At seventeen, I felt half a mother was better than none. If you’d asked me at thirteen, I might have felt differently.

The phone rang. I hesitated. It was probably yet another person calling to offer condolences. Let it ring.

But it wouldn’t stop, so I grabbed the receiver just to make it shut up. “Hello?”

“Iona?” An unfamiliar voice, but one that spoke with an accent I recognized.

“Who is this?” Even as I asked, I knew. There could be only one man with that particular European accent who would contact me.

“This is your father.”

My legs suddenly felt like Jello, so I sank into an armchair.

What was I supposed to say? Hi, Dad. Nice to hear from you. A shame you missed the first seventeen years of my life?

I decided to just wait. Let him explain himself.

"Iona? You there?"

"Mm-hmm," I replied.

"Oh, okay. Well look, just tell your mother I'm on my way home, and I couldn't get any; she'll have to use potatoes. I've looked literally everywhere and..."

On the bright side, I thought, he apparently knows the correct usage of the word "literally."

Opening: Crossword.....Continuation: Anon.


Evil Editor said...

P1: I would italicize "My." I might also turn the last two sentences into one with a dash or an ellipsis.

P3,4: Could be combined into:

The phone rang. Probably yet another person calling to offer condolences. I grabbed the receiver just to make it shut up. “Hello?”

P6: When someone phones me and says "Evil Editor?" I usually say either Yes, after which he identifies himself, or I say Sorry, he moved to Bulgaria. "Who is this?" seems a bit rude.

Also, having already mentioned the accent, it's time to identify it more specifically than "European."

You tell us she's seventeen twice. Maybe the first one could be dropped.

Tk said...

It seems like a good place to begin – on conflict. And I thought you did a fairly good job keeping in her head. The second paragraph is most distancing and info-dumpy. You could cut it and trust the reader to pick up more, from less.

The phone conversation could also be trimmed. Unless you have a really good reason not to i.d. the accent, it sounds awkward to write around it.

“Iona?” An unfamiliar voice, but there could be only one man with a Finnish accent who would contact me.

My legs suddenly felt like Jello. What was I supposed to say? Hi, Dad. Nice to hear from you. A shame you missed the first seventeen years of my life?

Mister Furkles said...

Strong voice. Plenty to interest a reader to read on. I like verb-less sentences.

I didn't know walls could peel. If it’s wallpaper that peels, you might mention that. Most people don’t have wallpaper anymore. Maybe where you live people say “peeling walls” – I’ve never heard it.

AlaskaRavenclaw said...

To medieval history buffs, Iona is where Columba and other bad-ass saints hung out. Distracting, as is the capitalization of Jello.

(I understand the rationale for capitalizing jello but still think it's inadvisable.)

Count me as also ticked by the coyly concealed identity of the accent. And the comparison of the 17-year-old self's feelings to those of the 13-year-old self seems like a distraction, and not what the character would be thinking about at the time.

Other than that it seems good to go.

Dave Fragments said...

I think that the second half of this makes a good opening. The "old" aspects of her family home (I'm guessing that is the setting) are best left to later in the chapter or story

I have some pet peeves. This is one:
My legs suddenly felt like Jello, so I sank into an armchair.
It's saying the same thing twice and loading the story with extra words. Pick one part like this:
a) My knees turned to Jello.
b) I went wobbly and sat to steady my nerves."
Everyone sits in a chair or sofa. The drama of the story doesn't care which. "Jello" is an old metaphor that might have lost its power.

I would start with her name and her recognizing who is on the phone.
"Iona?" in one word I recognized that voice I hadn't heard in over a decade.
"Who is this?" i asked, knowing.
""You father." I went wobbly and sat to steady my nerves."

Now would be the time to describe the room as part of her memories of an absentee father.

The room spun around me, the peeling wallpaper, the shabby furniture, my mother's picture on the mantle. She was once beautiful and changed after he left. His leaving stole her beauty and my life.

And there is one possible way that you might revise the opening. All the same elements are there.

BuffySquirrel said...

Before I had to deal with my mother's death, this might have convinced me. Now, it seems lacking. Try to dig deeper for the narrator's emotions.

Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong with the name Iona. Good, solid Irish name. I think a surfeit of holiday food and "classic" TV programming can make one easily distracted.

Looks like the holiday spirit has left most people feeling charitable, so I shall step in and play the inevitable Grinch (with a capital G).

I guess this is a good place to start the story, otherwise why would so many stories start this way...?

As most people have said already, a little trimming could move this along more effectively (interesting how trimming a story means remove decoration, yet trimming a Christmas tree means add some).

I'm possibly the only one who finds it a stretch that Iona can pinpoint the unique European accent of the father she has never met after only one word. With Higginesque linguistic skills like that, she should have no problems making rent.

Had to giggle at the "This is your father" line, with images of a heavily breathing Darth Vader on the other end of the line.

Given that "my legs felt like Jello(TM)" is something of a cliche, you could probably drop the phrase altogether and avoid debate on whether trade names should be capitalised or not.

Not totally sure where this is going to go, but I'm assuming Young Adult teen-angst. Hopefully a little less self-pitying when it gets going, though.


AlaskaRavenclaw said...

Anonymous, my Christmas was spent in catastrophic medical hell. Do you want to know where you can stick your holiday food and "classic" TV and assumptions?

St. Columba would've kicked your anonymous ass.

Anonymous said...

At least you kept your sense of humor.

Jo Antareau said...

To anon - if Iona kept in touch with her father's family, it's possible she recognized the accent from the Greek island/village from where they hailed ( the only Iona I've known was Greek, so humor me here).
I second Dave's comments.
Loved the continuation!
To Alaska - hope you're feeling better.

Anonymous said...

To Jo,

Possibly, but then there wouldn't be only one man with that particular European accent who could contact her, would there?
Unless she only kept contact with the female members of that side of her family?

Evil Editor said...

I think I could tell the difference between a British, French and Greek accent from the word "hello," and if I knew no one who spoke with that accent, and also knew my father was from that country, I would make the obvious deduction.

Anonymous said...

From the word "hello", perhaps, but from the word "Iona"? Remain unconvinced -- and it's an easy problem to solve. Let him speak a few more words before working in that he's from a particular European country...

Jo Antareau said...

Yes, but I generally recognize my relatives' voices on the phone without having to think too hard. So maybe Iona mentally eliminated Uncles Stavros and Evangelakos, and even Auntie Aphrodite with the mannish growl before suddenly realizing that OMG, it's my long lost Daddy. Either that or another bloody cold caller wanting to sell the special deal roof repair offer.

BuffySquirrel said...

Good grief. As the character is someone whose mother has just died, rather than a nit-picky Anonymouse, maybe we can leave it as, "Well, this is what that particular character thinks at that particular time, rather than intended to be objective scientific truth".

Anonymous said...

You're right, of course. There are way too many comments in this thread as it is. People must be literally drowning in the noise. Better just to keep quiet and leave you two to it.