Friday, September 01, 2006

New Beginning 98

“So you’ve actually gone and done it!” Deborah said.

Through the static on my cell phone, I couldn’t tell whether she sounded delighted or shocked. I wandered toward the rear of the house in search of better reception. Taffy followed, his claws clicking on the wooden floor.

“I told you I was going to,” I said. I stepped out the back door onto the little porch and the static on the phone faded. I held the door open for Taffy. He paused on the threshold and sniffed suspiciously before stepping out. “Didn’t I tell you?”

“Well, yes,” Deborah said, “but …”

“But what?”

“I didn’t take you seriously. That was — what, two weeks after the funeral? At a time like that, you expect to hear some crazy things — oh, Ellen, I’m sorry! That just came out wrong. I didn’t mean crazy.”

I laughed. “It’s okay, Deb. Crazy’s fine with me. Whatever it takes to make the little kids in the neighborhood cross the street when they have to walk by my house.”

"But how on earth did you get approval from the city?"

I followed Taffy outside, then along the flagstone path that led to the front yard. There was George, right where I'd left him perched on the porch swing in his Sunday suit.

"What," I said, "now I need city approval for yard decorations?"

Taffy leapt up onto George's lap. Turning three times, he settled himself across George's thighs and began to nibble on a mottled black and grey finger. George didn't seem to mind.

"But--but Ellen," Deb spluttered. "You need somebody's approval to exhume a body, even if it's your husband's!"

"No, you don't," I told her, sitting beside George and leaning my head on his leathery shoulder. George's lips were pulled back from his teeth in that smile I loved so much. "All you need is a shovel."

Continuation: Karen Straughan


Beth said...

If the continuation were real, I'd keep reading. Since it's not...

Sorry to be so blunt, but the writer has wasted 150 words on a meaningless (to the reader) conversation. And the narration, instead of shedding some light on the character's thoughts or emotions, or at least providing some underlayer of tension, is devoted to casual descriptions of cell phone static and doggy doings. Also meaningless, in terms of story. (Though I suppose her search for better reception provides an unintended metaphor for the opening itself.)

Why not just start the conversation, not to mention the story, by coming and saying whatever it is they're talking about? Right up front. First line. Give us a reason to keep reading.

Anonymous said...

Euw and I thought my continuations were icky! Well done, both writers, I'd read on but there'd better be a good reason for Taffy.

wrthx: because you're worth it.

Anonymous said...

Okay that continuation was very disturbing. LOL.

I did not like this beginning. I guess it is a pet peeve of mine when authors try to stretch out the suspense of something by not letting us know what is going on. It is irritating.

I liked the descriptions of the dog though, "sniffing suspiciously" is good detail that helps me envision the scene better and make it seem real.

Jenna Black said...

I enjoyed this beginning and would actually read on. The author builds suspense by not saying what "it" is, but the characters are speaking naturally. It doesn't feel like the suspense is forced or the author is being cute. My sense is that we're going to find out whatever "it" is within the next paragraph or so. (And I loved the line about making the kids cross the street!)

braun said...

I like how real this feels. The static of the phone, looking for reception, the dog's claws clicking on the floor - these are great details that really flesh out the scene.

There's not really a big hook here, but I like the style so I'd keep reading to see what was going on.

Stacia said...

The last line (of the original 150) mademe want to keep reading. She's done something to keep those darned kids away? Something crazy? I like her aleady.

The continuation was genius, pure genius.

Nancy Beck said...

I liked this. The suspense is there, from the sniffing by the cat (or is it a dog? To my mind, Taffy is a cat name), and the line about the kids crossing the street...

I think I'd keep reading.


Nancy Beck said...

Whoops...and the continuation was funny in a creepy way.


Bernita said...

The deliberate withold of information annoys me when I can sense the writer behind it.
It's smoothly written though, and if I read it in a different venue rather than on a critique page, it might not bother me at all.

Anonymous said...

I'd keep reading, to find out what Ellen's done. I like the way we're not sure about Deborah's reaction, and how Deborah then hints that it's crazy.

With this build-up, though, the readers may be disappointed if Ellen hasn't done something interesting.

I suggest that in paragraph three, Ellen say "Didn't I?" instead of "didn't I tell you?" -- it'll sound more natural.

Good job, author -- and good luck.

writtenwyrdd said...

OMG, that continuation is about the funniest thing I've ever read. I'm glad I wasn't drinking coffee at that moment or I'd be buying a new keyboard.

I agree that the opening is a bit slow and should be tightened up. I wouldn't say ditch it entirely, although you certainly could.

The problem with this is that the talking is non-specific, non-dramatic, and has no emotion other than the one of irritation I experience waiting for you to get to the point.

Perhaps you are mistaking stretching the opening scene out with building tension in the opening scene. These are two separate things. If you wish to build up tension before the big reveal, you might consider presenting elements that foreshadow the big reveal. Use these as teasers and you are not guilty of cheating your reader.

For example, if you are going to have a tiger in a pit trap waiting for the annoying kids, the dog might react in a way that indicates there's a big cat nearby.

Kathleen said...

I totally agree with what Writtenwyrd said about building tension. Taffy, the static, wandering to the back of the house, should all be contributing to builidng something, and not just random. Obviously, we can't know if they are since we don't get the rest of the story. But I will say that they don't feel like they are.

I also think that "Didn't I?" is less repetitive than "Didn't I tell you?" when it follows, "I thought I told you I was going to."

Good luck author!

HawkOwl said...

I get the feeling that this is gonna be a story about Ellen dealing (badly) with the loss of her child. Meh... Very tragic and all, yeah, but what are the odds that it's going to be novel and captivating? I can just re-read Deep End of the Ocean instead of spending money on one more novel.

Anonymous said...

I get the feeling that this is gonna be a story about Ellen dealing (badly) with the loss of her child. Meh... Very tragic and all, yeah, but what are the odds that it's going to be novel and captivating?

Uh, so you disliked this because of what you think it will be about? Yeah; that's very rational.

writtenwyrdd said...

Anonymous, in defense of hawkowl (not that she needs it) that's what readers do. They pick up the book, read the back, read the first paragraph or two, and if it has the flavor of something they don't want to read or didn't like, they don't read it.

To me, that immediate expectation a valid response and very important. I would want to hear that and discover if something about the opening is missing the mark.

Anonymous said...

Hawkowl's a 'she'?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the feedback, and special thanks to the genius who wrote the continuation. MUCH better than the actual novel! XD

Anonymous said...



Hey, does this count as a publication credit?

McKoala said...

Re Hawkowl - can't you tell from the pic?!

The detail is nice, but the start is a bit bland. I'd probably read on, because of the last line about the kids - but would you consider moving that up? Even an edited version to the first line? It would be a more arresting start.

Continuation - sick but brilliant.

Anonymous said...

Apologies to Hawkowl re the she/he thing (Cringes behind EE's slippers and plaid skirt). I have minus nine vision.

from Anon 1

Anonymous said...

Actually, McK,

I wasn't sure from the pic, either. That's one big parka in a vision obscuring blizzard. It was one of her posts that led me to believe Hawkowl is a she. Something about gynecological exams or childbirth or something. Of course, having never received confirmation one way or another, I might have been laboring under a misconception all this time.

braun said...


From HawkOwl's profile:

Marie Cardinal
Gender: female

Right there at the top, folks. Personally, how anyone can have missed the fact that we have a female Canadian truck-driver/ writer in our midst is beyond me.

HawkOwl said...

Whoa. I knew I might miss some conversations being away for the weekend, but I didn't expect they'd be about my sexual identity. Weird. However, for those who care, I'm female. And that's actually a fairly light work coat and a light snowfall. :)

Anonymous said...

Braun, not everyone is au fait with blogging. Just realised the underlining leads to a profile link so yes, I did miss the whole 'female Canadian truck driver/writer' thing.

My erroneous assumption about Hawkowl wasn't to do with the photo. I thought it was a mountaineering pic.until someone pointed it out.

When I first read Hawkowl's comments, I associated the name with 'Hawkeye'(Mash) and that stuck. Haven't you ever made a mistake?

Hawkowl's comments are sometimes too blunt (as for this beginning), which made me think fleetingly, "Oh, that's a 'guy' thing".

Sexist? Probably. But not intentionally nasty. I was just surprised, is all, at the revelation and bemused by my own assumptions.

Wandering slightly - isn't the writing world made up of assumptions? Aren't women the intended market for Nora Robert's works, men for Clancy's? Didn't JK Rowling's publishers invent a middle name to make her seem like a male author?

So, sorry Hawkowl, if you're offended because no offense was intended.

Author, I'd read on. Curious about what's keeping away the little kids.

Anonymous said...


From what little I know of her, I think Hawkowl is above being offended by an honest mistake. Bemused, maybe, but not offended. Comes with a straight-forward personality.

And I've never clicked on her profile, either. I have with a few of the commentors, and moseyed over to their blogs, but mostly I just see everyone as faceless, genderless monikers.

HawkOwl said...

Offended?? I thought you were paying me compliments. :)

And thanks for explaining the "Hawkeye" reference. I've always wondered why so many people call me "Hawkeye" online instead of "HawkOwl."

Evil Editor said...

Author: We want this piece in the anthology of new beginnings, but want your permission. You may, of course, remain anonymous, and we can change many of the details if you're worried that it'll be recognized.