Monday, October 16, 2006

New Beginning 141

I was a young girl, fifteen years old, when I left Mama’s dusty shack for my father’s flawless mansion in the upper class section of Puerto Plata. I should have been relieved to go but I wasn’t.

Mama’s house was more than just humble, it was poor. It was a sad mix of wood, concrete and dried palm leaves. We had a small plot of land behind the house that my brother, Manuel, used to grow plantains and yuca. Our small piece of property held some chickens and a goat that I tended to early in the morning and an immense flamboyan tree behind the house. Pitiful as it was, it was the only home I knew and I was afraid to leave it.

One day that spring, while I was playing with Aurora in the dirt yard, I overheard Manuel arguing with Mama. "Mama, how can you let Maria Matilde go with him?"

"I have no choice," Mama said. "The chickens continue to fall victim to el Chupacabra. Soon there will be nothing left to eat."

"But," Manuel protested, "Maria Matilde is el Chupacabra."

"Don't you think I know that?" Mama sneered. "I told your odioso papá that one day he'd pay for leaving me."

Opening: Glendaliz Camacho.....Continuation: ILS


Rei said...

Flawless is unnecessary. In para 2, you're talking about the property the whole time, so you don't need to reiterate with "Our small piece of property." You've already driven home what the house is like by the third paragraph, so you don't need to say "dirt yard."

This kind of overwriting concerns me.

HawkOwl said...

Oh good, that means we get to have a group discussion on what "El Chupacabra" is. (Yes, I could Google it, but really... what is it?)

As to the original, I believe I said on the query letter that if I were an agent I'd look at the chapters and synopsis. So far I'm not liking the tone. It doesn't sound to me like a 15yo girl in whatever country it is (El Salvador? Nicaragua? I forget) sixty to eighty years ago (I'm guessing, as this is based on the author's grandmother's life). If this is supposed to be the voice of the woman as she would sound when retelling it eighty years later, I think the whole thing is going to sound really disconnected.

However, I like the setting so far, and I still like the premise. I'd read more pages and hope the voice becomes more plausible.

HawkOwl said...

Ok, I did Google it. Now it's hilarious. Hehehehehe...

Anonymous said...

What concerns me most is the sudden jump from the first paragraph and second to "that spring." What spring? It doesn't quite flow. It would help if there was something more added to the first paragraph:

I was a young girl, fifteen years old, when I left Mama's dusty shack for my father's flawless mansion in the upper class section of Puerto Plata. I should have been relieved to go but I wasn't.

I can still remember that spring, when Mama sent me to live with him..."

Or something to that effect, if that is where you were going. (And if it is, I would think carefully about having a fifteen year old "playing" in the dirt.)

And if that isn't where you were going with the first paragraph, I would suggest deleting it, or adding a few more paragraphs to show that this is a flashback to her early childhood.

writtenwyrdd said...

This isn't bad, but it moves a bit too slowly. I do see a trend that may work against you. You seem to write in a slanted style, basically telling the readers what to feel/think.

For example, "Mama's house was more than just humble, it was poor" drips authorial judgment. Other judgmental words are "Humble," "sad," and "pitiful". Less loaded words include "small," and "dirt yard."

The overall effect is a mallet to the reader's head.

HawkOwl said...

Me: I think she's "playing in the dirt" because she's watching a younger child named Aurora.

GutterBall said...

Ah, El Chupacabra. Makes me want to watch The Venture Brothers!

On topic, I was curious why Manuel calls the narrator "Maria Matilde"? Is there more than one Maria in the story? Do we know that in these first paragraphs? I realize that some people call family members by more than just the first name, but it seems kinda whonky here.

Maybe because it's not Manuel Eduardo and Aurora Marita and Mama Rosali. I dunno.

I don't mind the overdescription too much (though it would become tiresome if it continued more than a chapter or so). I think it's just to hammer the difference between where she was and where she's going. I can dig that, so long as it's not continual throughout the whole story.

But not much is happening here. If your going for a hook, you might want to get to it fairly quickly or your page-turners will simply put this down and reach for the next on the shelf.

Okay, I was good and stayed on topic for like 4 whole paragraphs! Chupacabra, here I come! Woot for the goatsucker!

Anonymous said...

If you read this piece with a Southern drawl, it has an easy feel to it, with a dash of melancholy.

There was one sentance that was a tad long for the POV's voice, but overall, I like it. It reminded me of Noral Roberts Blue Dahlia... a little.

The last line grabbed me! I'm wondering if this stupid mother sent her daughter off with some lecherous man, or let her marry the town drunk.

I'd read on to find out.

Anonymous said...

Hawkowl, I do not get the impression that the POV character is fifteen years old. I get the impression that she's older and reminiscing.

I could be wrong.

Read it with a lazy southern drawl. You'll get a different feel... almost lulling. At least I do.

Anonymous said...

"Our small piece of property held some chickens and a goat that I tended to early in the morning and an immense flamboyan tree behind the house."

After the previous sentence to this one, it is unnecessary to reiterate the lot.

How 'bout this: We had some chickens and a goat that I tended to early in the morning, and an immense, flamboyant tree behind the house.

Still almost the same number of words, but the lazy drawl of this voice shouldn't be compromised.

HawkOwl said...

Cathy: exactly. But this is the story of her life, so it's gonna be 80K of reminiscing. I never say this but just for once, I think "we're not in the scene enough."

Hang on why I wash my mouth with Purell.

Ok, what was I thinking? Right. Too dissociated from the events. Unless... it's one of those books that are done all in flashbacks. That can go really well or really awry. However, some of my favourite books are written that way, so I'll still very hopeful for this.

I have a hard time picturing a "southern drawl," unless that's how Miss J. talks on ANTM. I tried reading it with a hispanic accent (the narrator being, as we said, hispanic), and I find it's worse that way.

Damn, I wish I could get the whole first three chapters and see for myself. :)

Dave Fragments said...

I’ve read a handful of novels that start out with an “I remember” opening. I even tried to write one. Some of them worked so well that if I recited them you would know the book. Others, much less memorable, I can’t even remember.

First off, you need more than 150 words to set a scene as complex as the one you’ve written.

I like the overdone quality of dusty shack and flawless mansion. I think that “in the upper class section of Puerto Plata” is redundant. Where else would a flawless mansion be built. You don’t need to say that.

You make a distinction between “Mama” and “father” that is so exquisitely subtle. If you wonder what I see there, ask me, I’ll explain. If you can maintain that through the novel, it will only add to the story.

Now as for the next paragraphs. Dualities abound – humble and poor – wood, concrete and palm leaves (oops) – plantains and yucca – chickens and a goat – ending with a flamboyan tree behind the house. It has to endc on a single or a triple.

a) what’s a flamboyan tree and who cares about the name. It matches the palm in front and the flamboyan in back. The name is awful. It defines a small yard with space enough for a garden of plantains and yucca to coexist with a goat and chickens. What a wonderful image of poverty. Take a few sentences and flesh that out.

b) Now how pitiful? Well, you can’t put an adjective to pitiful unless you’re doing humor or satire “mostly pitiful” is too Douglas Adams. Absolutely pitiful, positively pitiful, no, no, no, no, no. It was so pitiful that the front door was made of plywood and the back door was a thick blanket to hold out the weather. The roof was made of tin and the walls of a hodge podge of material. BTW - don’t use hodge podge, It would destroy the atmosphere of the story. Instead describe the materials that one would scrounge from the dump in Puerto Plata and use for walls.

c) the storyteller has a sister and brother. One of each. Again a duality. Good.

The narrator doesn’t learn about her fate on “one day that spring.” Jeepers, here is a memory so vivid that it is going to fill most of the novel with its consequences. It can’t be just “one day” nor can it be (shiver me timbers, get ready for a cliché) “one fine spring day” or “one sad spring day” or “one fateful day.” What about that day is special? Where there brightly colored birds and pleasant smells? The beauty you describe is the contrast to the uglyiness of leaving her family.

Can you meaningfully contrast that with the outside ugliness that might exist in a poor neighborhood? Dirt floors imply abject poverty.

Aurora and the narrator can sit in the yard playing something (or with something). They play in the soft rays of the morning sun and to pleasant sounds. She hears the argument (That’s the first time she either hears about her fate or she hears her family discuss her fate) and the second time she hears her fate or discusses it is after her mother slaps Manuel. Note the duality. Maybe even Aurora and Manuel get separate discussion (again a duality). It can be as simple as “but Manuel, I will send something back for you, Mama and Aurora to struggle your way out of poverty” and “We’ll never be separated as long as we love each other” (gimme a break, it’s corny but she’s fifteen and she’s not Shakespeare). Sumthin’ like - She’ll always treasure this house. Maybe.

And that is all I can say about 150 words.

McKoala said...

This was neatly written, but some things didn't work for me - 'flawless' for example - I think that the rest of the sentence shows the contrast. I also think that you could do without the 'more than just humble, it was poor' sentence completely - it's clear from your description. 'Sad' is probably hammering it home too hard, also 'pitiful'. Sorry I think I'm repeating someone else so I'll shut up and just say that I think it's good, but maybe a little trim about the edges might make it great!

Stacia said...

Hawkowl, Miss J is more ghetto than Southern drawl. I can't think of a good southern example, though.

I liked the voice here, but agree there's a little too much adjective and telling. Like the first sentence..take out the humble and poor and justtell us Mama's house is a jumble of bricks etc. That shows us it's a poor little hovel without telling us. All of it could use a little more show and less tell, but it wasn't intrusive, just what I noticed when I looked for it.

I was intrigued, though. I'd keep reading.

Anonymous said...

Oh, right... Latino accent. I MISSED that! It's doesn't work for me in a Latino accent.

Kate Thornton said...

The continuation had me in tears! I loved it!

Anonymous said...

What concerns this tenuous critiquer is the use of backstory as a hook. And, the lack of verve, or umph for the more stylistically inclined, to open this opening gambit pushed me away from the piece. If Manuel had been choking one of them chickens, on the one hand, or whichever one is free, or battering the goat, then that might have kept my attention.

I have no clue who this is from, or what the query said, but my advice to the author is to move this bit to later in the story. Backstory is tedious in the best of circumstances, but right off the bat--yuck. This piece needs something to grab the reader's...uhm, what was I saying?

Anonymous said...

I like it, and would keep reading. I think you show a lot of flavor, though I would agree with some of the others that you can remove some of those adjetives without losing, and probably gaining something.

I would give a quick description of the tree so Americans can picture it.

As for the comment about the double name, double names are often but not always used in the Dominican Republic. It depends if there are other family members with the same fist name.

HawkOwl said...

As there are several votes for "describe the tree", I say, don't describe the tree. That would really ruin the voice, for one thing, as the narrator would have no reason to describe a tree she grew up with, anymore than I would describe aspens to myself sixty years from now when I reminisce about the beautiful mature aspen that's currently in my front yard.

Anyone who wants to know what a flamboyan tree can look it up, and everyone else will live without. I've read White Oleander twice and I still have no idea what an oleander looks like.