Saturday, August 12, 2006

New Beginning 68

Until the lawyer had tracked Joe Morrissey down, in L.A., to tell him that his entire life had changed when they found Magnolia Morrissey's body, in the driver's seat of her white Lincoln, at the bottom of High Point Lake, he had never heard of his Aunt Magnolia. But when Joe hung up the phone in the back of the bar on Melrose, on a unusually humid afternoon in early April, he didn't know that, yet —about the body, or the Lincoln, or that he had ever had an aunt, or even that his life had just been taken by the ear and been wrenched around, pushed squarely between the shoulder blades and sent stumbling in an entirely new direction. Just that the inheritance was sizeable.


Sizeable was a solid word, a dependable one, and it meant something out here. It was a word you could sink your teeth into, like a filet mignon cooked medium rare, where the pink blood ran along your tongue and over your lips, spilling out on to your chin, making the woman in the small black dress across the table want to lick it from the stubble that had appeared on your chin since you'd shaved in the morning, at about seven thirty. Filmy little hairs.


Filmy was a flimsy word, unreliable, and nonsensical in that context.

Opening: Jen.....Continuation: Pacatrue


Cheryl said...

The continuation says it all.

Anonymous said...

What? About 50 words in that opening sentense? Too much Satur left in my day to play with it.

Cut, cut, cut.

none said...

I don't get it. Until the lawyer tells him all these things, he doesn't know them--that bit makes sense. But not that he doesn't know them after the lawyer tells him, either. When then does he know them?

Also, I think you have too many had's here. It's not the most inviting start to the story.

Until the lawyer tracked Joe Morrisey down to LA, and told him his entire life had changed when they found Magnolia Morrisey's body in the driver's seat of her white Lincoln, at the bottom of High Point Lake, he had never heard of his Aunt Magnolia. And when Joe hung up the phone on the back of the bar in Melrose, on an unusually humid afternoon in early April, he still hadn't understood--about the body, or the Lincoln, or that he had once had such an aunt, or even that his life had just been taken by the ear and wrenched around, pushed squarely between the shoulder blades and sent stumbling in an entirely new direction. All he took away from the conversation was that the inheritance was sizeable.

Anonymous said...

I dearly hope the entire novel is not written in this style. Those meandering sentences might work now and then to make a point, but they get tiresome to read. I would not continue.

braun said...

I like it. Those crazy, extended sentences have kind of a manic energy to them that drives it forward. But they still hold together and parse correctly. Great style, don't cut it.

Anonymous said...

i agree with braun. don't make a list out of it. ... he got a call. his aunt had some money. now he has some money. he hung up. ... bad words: entire, unusual, squarely. ... evil seems to dislike "sizeable," but it must mean something to joe. the stumbling thing is nice.

Anonymous said...

Well, it's definitely telling, narrative summary, not a scene. And it is a bit confusing because the first and second sentence don't seem completely aligned, as buffy squirrel says.

I think the problem is that the lawyer probably doesn't tell Joe his entire life has changed. The lawyer tells him Magnolia, his aunt, died and left him money, a sizeable sum.

And lose "unusually" --it doesn't add anything and it makes the article wrong (should be "an" if you're keeping unusually).

But I do sort of like the tone. So perhaps start with "When Joe hung up the phone in ....he didn't know yet that his Aunt Magnolia's body had been found in the driver's seat of her white Lincoln, at the bottom of High Point Lake. He didn't know that his life had just been taken by the ear.... All he knew was that his Aunt, whom he'd never heard of before, had left him a sizeable inheritance."

Or something like this. And then quickly delve into action.

Dan Lewis said...

Am I the only one who pictured Joe Morrissey steepling his fingers and saying "Excellent" in a raspy voice? Was the inheritance as sizeable, say, as... a hefty ransom?

Until his Aunt Magnolia's lawyer had tracked Joe Morrissey down in a Melrose bar, Joe had never known he had an Aunt Magnolia. He was thus quite naturally surprised to discover that she had been missing for several weeks, and even more surprised to learn that a diver had found her white Lincoln at the bottom of High Point Lake, with her still buckled inside it. But the biggest surprise of all was that this by-now unrecognizably waterlogged woman, less than an acquaintance, had made Joe the sole heir to her not inconsiderable fortune.

Not inconsiderable.

Anonymous said...

Don't change a word. Seriously.

(Buffysquirrel: the "hads" are there because it's in past-perfect tense--describing something that, in the past, was already in the past. When you need that time-frame, lots of "hads" are just an unfortunate byproduct. Presumably, we discover in a page and a half or so that we're already in Pennsylvania during the actual time frame of the narration.)

Everybody else: People who read lit-fic tend to be more patient, and are looking for stylish prose at the start rather than a "hook." You also want some information to start setting up a character. We've got both of those things here, so I'm not complaining.

Anonymous said...

While on vacation, I picked up a copy of The Globe and Mail and noticed an excerpt from a current story by W.P. Kinsella in the Arts section. I thought, "Ooooh, Kinsella, Shoeless Joe! He's writing again!"

I think I made a whole pot of coffee before I finished the first sentence.

I still liked it. Sometimes ya gotta concentrate when you're reading. It can't ALWAYS be easy.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Marc. It doesn't feel like genre fiction, and as long as it isn't supposed to, I can be patient. In lit fic it's the feeling that keeps me reading, and I like the feel of this.

Anonymous said...

Um, I do like the tone, and the style, I really do, and I know that you're getting lots of positive response. However, for me, I think it would read better and make the tone come across if the sentences were short and sporadic, rather than long and winding. That first sentence doesn't really grab me the way it should. If you rearranged it to read : "Joe Morrissey never knew he had an Aunt Magnolia until they found her body at the bottom of High Point Lake in the driver's seat of her white Lincoln."

I mean, even that could do with some rearranging. But the first sentence has to be grabbing, and instead it just confused me. I appreciate the tone, I really do. But you have to cut the sentences down or else you will confuse a good portion of your audience, if not the Evil Minions.

Dan Lewis said...

Like I almost said, the problem for me with this beginning is that the point of view is confusing. The first paragraph is the omniscient narrator, and the second paragraph is Joe thinking, but is not tagged as such, so it just sounds like the narrator talks strangely. By the time I got to the third paragraph and the treatise on "a solid word", I didn't know who was talking anymore. Was it still the narrator, or was it Joe reflecting on some private way that sizeable does matter? The clues are not there.

Also, the redundancy of "life had changed" and "life had just been taken by the ear" etc. sounds wrong to me. Same with "Magnolia Morrissey" and "Aunt Magnolia". I suggested one way to get rid of all that; YMMV.

pacatrue said...

I think the most significant characteristic of the comments so far is that we are all talking about the style, and no one is talking about Joe or Aunt Magnolia. You, the author, will have to decide if that's OK.

I am pleased to be the author of the continuation, or at least mostly its author. I wrote the long sentence about the steak and the blood, but then that one ended with a contemplation of the single paragraph word "vampire". EE or another minion dropped the "vampire" contemplation and used "filmy". The reason I am telling all this (not showing) is that the style seemed easily parodied, perhaps by more than one minion. When I wrote the continuation, I didn't care what I said, I focused completely on imitating the style. The mention of a filet and a date and stubble was just whatever popped out, completely overshadowed by the manner of writing.

The important question for the writing then becomes whether or not the style is 1) a barrier to certain readers as has been discussed and 2) a barrier to the story. Is it OK with you if people focus on style and forget about the protagonist?

Another question might be, "what is the difference between Faulkner and Faux Faulkner?" I.e., what is the difference between the use of a distinctive style such as Faulkner's, which is a critical part of the story (imagine his "The Bear" written in short clean sentences; it's not the same or as good of a story), and the comedic faux Faulkner where the style takes over everything and the goal is almost to say as little as possible in a very stylish way?

Your style stands out, which is why we are all talking about it, and becomes part of why we read or don't read. That's terrific. I think to pull it off, you will have to mull each and every sentence repeatedly, probably reading aloud to yourself, to make sure you are still on the Faulkner side of style and not the parody side.

Luna said...

Lit-fic or not, you cannot count on the patience level of readers. I, too, read literary stuff and I actually have LESS patience for it than I do with genre fiction, because while I accept that most genre fiction follows certain conventions, I want literary fiction to hook me. Your opening sentence needs help. Far be it from me to suggest a re-write, being only a humble genre writer, but if you're familiar with the term "infodump" that will point you in the right direction.

The rest of this is genuinely good, and if it had started with sentence 2 instead of sentence 1 I would have turned off the phone and kept reading.

Dave Fragments said...

I like this beginning. Mostly because it is so different in style and voice. I'm not sure where the novel would go and what the plot would be. But then, with this style, the readier might not know for a while.

none said...

Yes, I understand the concept of past perfect tense. In a novel opening, however, it gives a strong impression that the writer has started the novel in the wrong place. Hence I attempted to help get rid of it while retaining the tone and sense of the original.

Brenda said...

I got lost in comma hell.

Then I got completely squicked with the raw steak. I don't care what cut of meat it is, it can't bleed. Instead of wanting to lick at his stubble, I'd vomit on his plate.

McKoala said...

I love long sentences, but I think that you lost control of the first one somewhere along the way. Partly it's because you sound as though you are reporting the words of the lawyer, but I don't think that the lawyer would say that Joe's entire life had changed- what does he now about Joe's life?

In sentences two and three - if he knows that he has an inheritance, then surely he must now know that he had an aunt - and perhaps about the body - if not the Lincoln.

To me the writing is good, but the meaning isn't quite there. Does that make any sense?

Kanani said...

I like the name Magnolia Morrisey. Your work has the feel of an detective novel from the 1940's. Don't be afraid to drag in more details. If it was LA at that point in time, it's a good opportunity for you to do some research of the city through photographs, maps and even old newspapers.

However, let me point out something that doesn't work very well.
You have a comma tic that induces breathlessness. Unwittingly, you've created a narrator that sounds like they never stop to take a breath. It might be a problem not only to sustain this over the course of an entire novel (unless you're Tennesee Williams), but it becomes a chore to read as well.

Go through and break up your sentences. Look at each for meaning and content. Don't try to explain everything all at once. Slow it down, add to the scene through description. If this is a crime noir story, then go for solid, strong writing and a steady narrative voice.

Right now your narrator is explaining things. Rework that first paragraph so that you're showing, not telling.

Good luck w/ the rewrite. Thanks for tossing this up here.

braun said...

I'm not sure that telling the author to rewrite the story in an entirely different tone and style is helpful.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Joe listening? He's either a self-centred scumbag with no redeeming features or the writer needs to clarify what's happening.

I'd probably read to the end of the page to see if either improved.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the tone, the writing style, but I'm confused a couple times.

Right up front, how would the lawyer know that his entire life would change? What the lawyer tells him might change his entire life, but it seems odd that the lawyer would tell him his entire life has changed.

But much bigger is the end of the second paragraph: He didn't know all this stuff, yet he knew that the inheritance was sizeable? That just doesn't make sense. I've read it a few times, and maybe I'm not getting something, but that's how I read it. That needs fixing.

The style, on the other hand, is great. Keep that going.


Anonymous said...

i'm with braun again. write how you want, dude.

Anonymous said...

I forgot that when Braun is around, everything is a "pat on the ass."