Tuesday, August 29, 2006

New Beginning 94

I was tired, damnnit all, and cold. Camping is highly overrated in my book. I tossed a few more sticks onto my little fire and felt adrenaline seep out of my bones like oil from an old pickup's cracked head gasket.

Chiquita pressed close and quiet against my leg in dog aplogies, and I forgave her with an aimless skritch behind her ear, not even flinching as I pried a fat tick from her tender parts. "At least SOMEBODY'S eating good," I thought as I flinked it into the coals with a dirty fingernail.

I could smell myself over the beginning of my last coffee starting to boil in the old tin can I'd scrounged and thought about just how fast all the veneers of civilized life can fall by the wayside when you're mainly busy surviving. Dawn breezes mixed dry desert dust with rank human sweat and mangy dog sharing an old sleeping bag. Much longer and Chiquita and I would be skin and bone.

Which made me think. Maybe I could solve two problems at once.

Grabbing Chiquita, I tossed her onto the fire.

Somebody else was going to be eating good tonight. And sleeping better too.

Opening: Maggie Pistel Baker.....Continuation: McKoala


Brenda said...

Liked the continuation - no typos.

The story itself made me want to go bathe.

Anonymous said...

Strong voice here. I liked it. I'd read on - you gave me a definite sense of character and place. Watch the typos.

Anonymous said...

"Camping is highly overrated in my book."
Apparently, so are a number of other things.
I would read no further.

Anonymous said...

I hate to be picky but "damnnit", "skritch", "aplogies", and "flinked" popped up in the spell checker.

Bernita said...

I like the voice, so far.
The beginning creates curiousity.
Watch those typos.
It's "dammit," just for one.

Anonymous said...

"I could smell myself over the beginning of my last coffee starting to boil in the old tin can I'd scrounged and thought about just how fast all the veneers of civilized life can fall by the wayside when you're mainly busy surviving."

This a run-on sentence and is confusing at the beginning (ie. "the beginning of my last coffee starting to boil..." What does that mean? Why not just, "I could smell myself over the coffee just starting to boil..." or something along those lines.)

The typos distracted me from the story. The voice is strong, but I would consider giving the piece a bit of a pruning.


Anonymous said...

I thought "skritched" was intentional. The rest of the typos did bug me, especially "damnnit," dammit.

The voice was not bad, but after a long summer in a tiny house with a smelly husband and smelly teenagers, the last thing I want to read about is B.O.

braun said...

I'm going to mostly keep quiet about this one, since I have already seen the piece and know who the author is (although I might add that I really, really like it, it's got a great voice and is very evocative).

BUT. Can I humbly suggest that it would be more helpful to said author if people focused less on spelling and punctuation and more on the actual writing? The author can get the correct spelling of 'dammit' from any automated spellchecker.

Anonymous said...

Great voice. I liked "skritched" and "flinked," and thought they were intentional.

I'd definitely read on, and hope that the narrator eventually gets the bath and decent coffee he or she so richly deserves.


Kathleen said...

The beginning conveyed a strong voice, as a previous commenter said. I would probably read on a bit to see what caused the loss in fortune. I hope the next part explains why his adrenaline was up, and what the dog was apologizing for. I assume it attacked an animal and scared him. Keep working author!

Unknown said...

Braun -- then why didn't he/she use spellcheck before posting? I think that if you're going to post 150 words then they better be spelled properly and punctuated appropriately. Dammit!

An editor/agent probably would read no further.

Professionalism plays a huge part in this business and proper spelling/punctuation is very important.

Also "I could smell myself over the beginning of my last coffee..." terrible sentence, confusing and improperly executed.

Anything that pulls you "out" of the story is bad. If skritch and flinked are on purpose, then they should be used in dialogue to add to characterization -- otherwise they pull the reader out -- totally.

braun said...

Malia. Yes, clearly, they should definitely spellcheck. I'm not disputing that. I'm just saying it's a waste of our and the author's time to go on and on about spelling or punctuation and not address the writing. Again, any automated spellchecker can give you the correct spelling of 'dammit'. But there's no program in the world that will tell you if your writing flows or that your sentences are awkward.

'An editor or agent would read no further' is quite a generalization. Maybe some wouldn't, but there are probably some that would be intrigued by the voice and would. Again, I'm not saying this shouldn't have been spellchecked, just that it's not helpful to get so hung up on it.

My guess? The author writes with pen and paper and just typed it in to the computer to send to EE.

"Skritched" is a subjective call. I like it, other people liked it, you didn't, other people didn't. I can certainly name at least a couple of famous novels that used made up words.

Grr, why does word verification hate me??!

Anonymous said...

I thought this was a good opening, with the author's voice strongly conveyed. I like the head gasket comparison, aimless skritch, dog apologies.

The run-on sentence bothered me, so here's a simple suggestion for splitting it into two simpler ones:

I could smell myself over the coffee starting to boil in an old tin can I'd scrounged. How fast the veneers of civilized life fall by the wayside when you're mainly busy surviving.

Good luck, author.

Annie said...

If you want comments on content, run spellcheck first so we are not distracted by a piece that is riddled with errors. Why would you submit something to be critiqued before doing at least a cursory check for typos?

I'm sorry if we are "wasting the author's time" by commenting only on technicalities, but reading a short piece with so many errors is a waste of our time. If you can't be bothered to take the time to run spellcheck, I can't be bothered to take the time to think critically about this piece

none said...

If skritch and flinked are on purpose, then they should be used in dialogue to add to characterization -- otherwise they pull the reader out -- totally.

You're overlooking the fact that this is first person narrative. In first person, we have the voice of the character, not the author, and the words the character would use. If the narrator would say skritched in dialogue, then they would also use it in narrative.

Anonymous said...

I didn't like the "skritch," but I liked the "flinked." Although, that might be because I say "flink" a lot of times when I throw something. Seriously. I like the character's voice too. I'd probably read more.

Anonymous said...

Is flink a regional word? I've never heard it. I'd assumed the author meant flicked.

I have heard skritch before.

The adrenaline simile confused me.
Why does he have adrenaline in his system? It sounds like he's been sitting by the fire for a while and hasn't been in in a panic state.

'Tender parts' doesn't really fit the area behind the ear. Tender spot would sound better. I've heard of men's loins referred to as tender parts so reading it here threw me a bit.

The beginning sounds like it's possibly a post-apocalyptic story. I like those so would probably keep reading.

Anonymous said...

No, the smelly sentence is not a run-on. Too many people confuse "run-on" with "long". A run-on sentence is two or more independent clauses joined without punctuation. The sentence is awkward and confusing, yes, but grammatically correct.

magz said...

Thanks for the comments all, for yes of course I am the author of this bit.

It's very interesting how some readers are soo enamored of correct grammer etc that the tale becomes secondary for it's easy to picture them enthralled with the driest of textbooks or non fiction. I wonder if they also critique movies and TV in like ways, thinking "I know it won Oscars, but there was a terrible awkward piece of dialog in the first scene, I quit watching".

I've visited some of you in order to read whatever you've chosen to share in public and been awed by the correctest of grammer... and bored to tears with the rigid mundanities of your tales. I quit reading, for I like a good story.

Yes, it's obviously true and truely obvious that I am a careless writer, often too absorbed in the story to do a great deal of editing. I also make up words, use regional slangs and colloquialisms, run on sentences and commit other even more obscure Failures To Grammertize Keewreckedly. Perhaps someday, maybe later probably, when I run out of tales to tell just for fun.

The Perfection Police are never going to be interested in my style of writing and may feel secure knowing they're 100% correct on each and every one of their critiques for composistion. There actually was one real live genuine typo I'd missed, somehow that cute little 'o' in apologies wandered off.. perhaps in search of a big 'O'. Damnit.

To EVERYONE else who were so wonderfully kind and inspiring with their comments, YAWL RAWK!! I love eachen ever wonna ya like brudders n sistahs... really fer shure. Hopefully one day you may actually see the completed Rabbit Raider, a long and involved apocolypse end-of-the-world tale set in modern times with a huge cast, most of whom die in interesting ways LOL.

Thank you fellow Minions, for the fantastic input! Special thanks to the author of the continuation for I LOVED it (tho Chiquita growled and bristled)
regards, Maggie aka Magz

Unknown said...

Buffysquirrel (typed "bs" but that just seemed wrong) -- you're correct. I apologize. But I hold with everything else in my post.

Anonymous said...

Some thoughts.

1. apologies

2. the last 2 lines add nothing, only repeat, and therefore dilute the impact of the opening.

3. adrenaline seeps out...like oil from a cracked head gasket--this is a powerful analogy, but it comes after tossing sticks on a fire-nothing to show us adrenaline. nothing to relate to this analogy as written. it comes at the wrong place and does nothing here (wasted, imho). Or maybe it's the last of his energy that is seeping out(which is a far cry from the strength, speed, power of adrenaline).

Basically, though, I like this opening. We see a homeless guy struggling and sense he's had a better past.

Anonymous said...

The only thing better than reading sloppy writing is reading a long ranting defense of the sloppy writing. Thanks for both.

Anonymous said...

Ye-ah. I second what e.m. #667 said. What a ridiculous display.

Gerb said...

I liked the voice with this one so much that I didn't even catch the spelling errors. I was intrigued by the character and set-up. I would read more.

Anonymous said...

Hee, hee, sorry Chiquita. Please don't sic Killer Yapp on me.

McKoala said...

I've seen this somewhere before on my travels, can't remember where/when. As I remember it's a female heroine, which is a nice contrast between with the masculine imagery and tone. I don't mind made up words - skritch/flink etc. (or regional or whatever) - because they work with the tone of the piece, and I assume that this will continue throughout.

Overall, I like it, but I don't love the first two sentences, sorry. We learn quickly that she is sleeping rough and is probably tired and cold. Do you need them? Could you shift around the start a bit for a more arresting first sentence?

Is Chiquita's ear 'her tender parts', that kind of stopped me for a moment? Not completely logical.

Talia said...

poor chiquita... it was a clever continuation but i'm a dog lover and while being smelly and revolting didn't affect me, bbqing the dog made my toes curl!!!!

I liked it. Magz can you please tell us the genre? At first I thought it might have been a mystery story of some description. Either an individual on the run from trouble or one of those kooky PIs. Of course this could in part be because i am obsessed by all things mysterious and didn't want to find it was just some one down on their luck. i wanted there to be a darn good reason why i person who thinks camping is overrated was camping. were they spying on their ex? did they have nowhere else to go?

i totally loved the voice and it aroused my curiosity. i liked the language. i found scritched "evocative". if i was reading this in a book yes i'd be annoyed with the spelling but not in the context of being a crit group reader. i'd be especially annoyed if i read it in a library book because the 1000 other people who read it before me would have been busily twinking and crossing out and putting exclamation marks and sarky comments

i thought the beginning was promising. it could be tightened up a little but others have covered that.

Unknown said...

There's dammit and damnit but no dammnit.

I have yet to read a book so riddled with typos and grammatical errors such as yours that has found its way to publication.

As that is the goal of most of us here (publication) -- to post something different will certainly provoke these types of comments.

Take the heat with grace or don't bother submitting.

writtenwyrdd said...

I liked the voice, skritch is a word even if it isn't yet in the dictionary, and this long sentence is also grammatically correct, if confusing.

Author, I liked your voice. I thought the scene very evocative. Likening adrenaline to oil leaks was interesting and unusual - very nice.

I'd have liked to know more about the dog besides her name, though. The only descriptions are mangy and the tick. Is she a yellow lab (Chiquita makes me think that) or some sort of dun colored mutt?

How about removing "not even flinching as" so you just pull the tick? No explanation needed that the narrator isn't flinching, because you do not describe a flinch.

You have a nice voice, and you obviously wish to share your work. So I hope you can unbend a bit and edit (after you are done with the first draft) with the readers in mind. The long and wandering sentences just need a bit of editing to keep from distracting your readers.

Beth said...

OK, Braun, I'll address the writing. This opening has great possibilities. I like the idea of the pickup-leaking-oil simile (though the execution of it needs work). I like the term "dog apologies."

However, the author is trying too hard. This is wordy and awkward in places. This, for instance--

felt adrenaline seep out of my bones like oil from an old pickup's cracked head gasket.

--uses too many words, which dilutes the impact of what would otherwise be a terrific simile. Adrenaline seeped from my bones like oil from an old pickup is sufficient to get the image across without the distracting detail of "cracked head gasket." We get the point without knowing the mechanics of how the oil drips out.

the beginning of my last coffee is confusing. The last of my coffee is sufficient.

The voice is inconsistent, teetering between colloquial (dammit, skritch, flinked (though that may be a typo for flicked)), and educated (how fast all the veneers of civilized life...etc). If the character is a "civilized" person fallen on hard times, then why the country slang? And if the character is a country boy, why does he sometimes speak in an elevated voice?

These two sentences--

...thought about just how fast all the veneers of civilized life can fall by the wayside when you're mainly busy surviving. Dawn breezes mixed dry desert dust with rank human sweat and mangy dog sharing an old sleeping bag.

--seem disconnected in idea. The writer could start a new paragraph with "dawn breezes," except that the sentence after that (the one about skin and bone) doesn't logically follow the one about the dawn breezes. IOW, the flow is snarled. I'd suggest moving the dawn breezes sentence to earlier in the opening. Maybe the end of the first paragraph.

So--like I said, this has promise, but the writer needs to revise for flow, precision, consistency of voice, and yes, for those distracting typos. Oh, and thoughts are not put in quote marks; maybe that remark about somebody eating good could be spoken out loud to the dog.

Beth said...

I made a booboo.

When I wrote my critique, I did it from the comment page (natch) where you can display the original post but can't see the blue type of the continuation. I thought the skin and bone sentence was part of the original. Oops.

writtenwyrdd said...

I don't think that this is "trying too hard." I think what we have is a distinctive author's voice and a piece that still needs a bit of revision. IMO.

Anonymous said...

It was an interesting piece, and I was intrigued by the situation that was presented, but yup, it needs cleaning up. This coming from a writer who has been on your end of the spectrum, Magz. Take the story, run it through several cycles, and go for it!

I seem to remember the word 'scritch' in a CSI episode, it involved some kinky stuff going on between people dressed up as animals in a Furry Mascot convention.

writtenwyrdd said...

"scritch" is onomatopoeic. (This is me getting my $.25 word in.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with magz to a large degree about the grammar police and spelling gestapo not being overly helpful at this early stage. Of course she will clean up the spelling before it is submitted to an agent or editor. Unless she's going to publish this with iUniverse, those errors will not make it into print, and will thus not annoy the buying public. I think the long (not necessarily run on) sentence is a little clumsy and could be reworked to better effect, but it certainly isn't criminal. None of the perceived flaws in this bit would induce me to stop reading. (As I said before, the B.O. might.)

What gets me is how highly critical we minions are of the openings posted here. I'll tell you right now, half the books I've read in the last five years (with the glowing exceptions of Guy Gavriel Kay and George RR Martin) are really not much better than most of these openings. There are some books out there that make me wonder what on earth the acquiring editor was thinking.

Truth is, most popular adult fiction these days boasts writing a third-grader can easily follow--with perfect (but pitifully simple) syntax, and appropriate (if unimaginitive) word usage. That kind of writing just puts me to sleep. Authors who can't write sentences longer than ten words without having the meaning fall apart; or who can't be bothered to pick up a thesaurus once in a while, piss me off more than "scritched" or even "damnnit."

If you guys don't like that--well, you can all go get flinked.

Anonymous said...

Not bad. If you can make a reader want to take a bath, you've done something right.

I liked the words like skritch and flinked. Then again, um frum Texas and tawk funny anyhow. -JTC

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the voice, it was clear and distinctive. I would continue reading, albeit with a bar of soap in hand.

Oh, isn't it just amazing... a country person isn't allowed or can't be educated and a civilized person obviously can't have humble country beginnings. Thank you for pointing that out Beth, y'all are ah, never mind.


Anonymous said...

You know, I'm kind of surprised at the attitude of some of the minions (the author included) - you've come across (which may not have been your intention) as being offended by the feedback. I get the sense that you've interpreted the feedback as directing your writing towards being sterile, perfect, or boring.

My sense of the feedback is not that perfection is expected...but rather that we are trying to help each other improve as writers. If some bit of feedback doesn't feel like it fits for you, ignore it. If it turns out to be helpful, fantastic. If lots of people are giving the same feedback (whether you agree with it or not), it's an opportunity to re-evaluate - still doesn't mean you have to go with it.


Beth said...

a country person isn't allowed or can't be educated and a civilized person obviously can't have humble country beginnings. Thank you for pointing that out Beth

That's not what I said, or meant. I only pointed out that the narrator's voice fluctuated between colloquial and elevated. The inconsistency seemed to communicate that the writer doesn't a real fix on the character's speech/thought patterns.

I may be wrong about that--it is a very small writing sample, after all--but that was my impression.

magz said...

WOW! An amazing amount of feedback for which I am very very thankful, really!
Yup, there were typos that will be attended to. Some of you have given exellent suggestions on a bit of tidying for awkward sentences, thank you!
I'm truely not offended in the least; instead I'm feeling very privledged for the chance at this sort of honesty and agree with whoever said 'use what applies, ignore what doesnt seem to'.
The narrator is a mature educated country gal hiding out from the total anarchy of the end of the world as we know it. 5 minutes prior to her coffee she'd had a live rattlesnake in her sleeping bag, hence the adreneline dump. Much as I loved the continuation she'd never cook the dog for Chiquita figures large in helping her survive the next week.
The book is a WIP and has about a dozen central characters, each with a different POV and voice, and she really does mix educated use of the language with some speech oddities, much as I do.
Thank you Minions, one and all.. and if I'VE offended anyone I apologize sincerely, it was not my intention. I *heart* EE and all his Minions!

writtenwyrdd said...

a country person isn't allowed or can't be educated and a civilized person obviously can't have humble country beginnings.

Um, Lots of people talk that way. I talk that way.

I'm going to say it again: I like the voice in this piece. Maybe it's self-defense, but I like it.