Thursday, October 19, 2006

New Beginning 143

When I was a kid, a bespectacled bookworm creeping through the children's section of the library, a poster hung in the corner where preschoolers fidgetted through Story Time.

The poster graphic was a book opened like a door, showing the way to a pastel fairy-tale land, castle on a hill and all. I loved that poster and was embarrassed by it in equal measure. The straight-backed chair for the Children's Librarian stood right in front, so I couldn't always read the words as I scuttled by. I knew them, though, by heart.

Books are magic.

Back then it was just a metaphor.

Outside the piledriver slammed, shaking the walls. I pushed my earplugs in harder and hunched over my keyboard. At this rate, McClung Library would collapse before the Dee Centre for Thaumaturgical and Shamanic Studies was two storeys high.

Thud. A book fell off the shelf. I stifled a curse. Since Magic's Return there's been the chance a curse would work, and then what? Curse while holding A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and find an oak in the middle of your bedroom? Snap at your husband while he's reading The Lady Vanishes and never be seen again? Books have to be treated with respect.

The pile driver slammed again, sending a rain of dust onto my head. I sneezed.

"God bless you!" sang out the head librarian.

Oh, no. Now she'd done it. Without warning a brilliant column of light shone from above and my ipod playlist miraculously morphed from Megadeth to Gregorian chants. I picked up the book that had fallen, just as the pile driver sent another shudder through the building. "Son of a b--" I bit the sentence off incomplete. Not too late, I hoped.

I glanced at the book: Female Caligula.

Uh oh. Miss Ranavalona, the librarian, was approaching.

Opening: Batgirl .....Continuation: acd/ril


Bernita said...

I like them!

writtenwyrdd said...

Still ROFL for that continuation!

This is intriguing. I am not overly fond of the first 2 paragraphs, though. YOu might be better served to use them later. But this is only 150 words, and the premise is interesting. I would have read on further on this one.

Kate Thornton said...

Excellent continuation!!!

I would read this - I am intrigued and rawn it - nice work, author...!

Dave Fragments said...

When I first read this opening I could not imagine anything that came after those first (how many) words. But then the continuation came along and I Think I understand.

Beyond that, I disavow the rest of this post as the rantings of a fevered brain (so don't take it seriously) but the opening inspired these dangerous thoughts that wrenched themselves out of my brain:

Nitpick time: misspelled words – fidgeted, pile driver, stories

I was a “bespectacled bookworm” with bladder trouble but I still listened to the books as the teacher’s voice echoed off the tile of the bathroom. Oh, I remember my youth, my lovely youth and now that I am wrinkled, decrepit and curmudgeonly, I can write about my lovely youth spent alone and abandoned in the library. All the other boys wanted Tom Swift, Mark Twain and into Nancy Drew’s bloomers. Me? I wanted to be in a pastel fairy land, a blond in the castle on the hill saved by Xena and Gabrielle the blonde sidekick, to sit in the straight back chair wearing toile socks and high collared lace, and to brandish the yardstick over those bad ones who talk with their lips moving.
But this is all homesickness, remembrances of things past, and nostalgia de la boue. (1)
Why when the great author says “Look Homeward Angel” I believed him and tried desperately to go home to that library so significant in my life. My great literary inspiration is gone. (2)
A great and ugly powered machine now thumps next to my precious to build a new monument, a monument to American ingenuity and capitalist cunning. It will be a new monument, just like my library, a new and cunning linguist will arise from the poor and unsheltered masses to teach the world a language like no other. This new temple will be devoted to art of another sort. (3)

(1) How’s that for a foreign language reference, reader?)
(2) It might be bombastic and sprawling but it still counts as a bona fide literary reference
(3) The Heidi Fleiss chicken farm with superstar Mike Tyson

- - And that is the end of strange thoughts that popped into my head. The opening inspired something. I ain't sure what.
BTW - I will use this bit of weirdness in a story, somehow, someway. A time and place for us.

Rei said...

Quite the opposite of writtenwyrdd, I liked the first few paragraphs, but wasn't as infatuated with the rest. I'd read on, though.

Anonymous said...

Cut the first four paragraphs (or use them later). Begin with "Outside..."

HawkOwl said...

That's funny. I found the sample so stunningly bad, it left me speechless, but all the good reviews shocked me back to normal. I think both the style and content are vacant, tired and psychologically hollow. Not only is there no tension, there is hardly enough to call it a "scene", and what little there is, is badly rendered. If magic has been back for twelve years, nobody would be at the stage of "stifling" curses anymore. They'd have gotten over it.

The query leaves the possibility that the novel is gonna rock; this doesn't. I wouldn't read any further.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't particularly intrigued by the first two paragraphs, but I thought the third and fourth were brilliant. The plot in ten words - now that's concise!

I didn't have any strong reaction to the next paragraph, one way or the other. The only thing that really strikes me on glancing over it is that I'm seeing a lot of capital letters.

The last paragraph though is, IMO, another keeper. Just from that, I'd want to read on.

One thought: despite the first two paragraphs giving a fair amount of background about the narrator, I'm not feeling any strong connection with her (as an indicator of that, I had to scroll down and check the query just to confirm that I was dealing with a female narrator). Depending on the style of the book (which seems pretty humorous), that may not be a huge problem. Plus, like writtenwyrdd said, this is only 150 words. I'd read on :)

Anonymous said...

I like. I'd read on. Some introductions are concept driven, and this one has my attention. Of course, I was a bookworm at a young age, so...

Anonymous said...

I would have to read more to know if I would read more. -JTC

Anonymous said...

I really liked it, especially the first two paragraphs. I felt like it was the writing of a professional, not a wannabe.
Good luck with it!

Anonymous said...

I think it'd be more pleasant for all if we curb really negative comments. You certainly don't have to like a passage, and it's great to say what you didn't like, this is the only way we learn. But I personally find comments like "stunningly bad" unhelpful and hurtful. What purpose does it serve? I'm not the author, by the way. Just making a general comment.

Anonymous said...

Unless the story takes place in the 19th century you shouldn’t use the word “bespectacled”. Nowadays people wear glasses not spectacles. That word says, “too cutesy, trying too hard”. It draws so much attention to itself it obliterates the sentence in which it appears; it’s a black hole word.

Crichton used it in the beginning of Timeline, which I only read once when it was first released; the only thing I can remember about that book is his asinine use of “bespectacled” to describe some kid in a hospital.

HawkOwl said...

Personally I think it would be more pleasant if we curb the really gushy comments, but hey, what can you do? You can't always get what you want.

Dave Fragments said...

I can't resist this discussion.
The pain is too great to continue.
I didn't like this opening. IMHO it would hurt the story.

There are 80 some words devoted to the worst type of nostaligic reminiscence and then another 80 words devoted to a character trying to study while a pile driver destroys the building.

What is there left in the world to wonder about? Books are Magic and nowadays that is not a metaphor but reality.

Bespectacled bookworm - Does baby billy borrow billies bobbysox? Bespectacle is only said by wizened old farts drinking sherry reminding each other of their ill-remembered glory days.

Preschoolers fidget due to their bladders. Cross thos legs and hold it kiddies or I'll make your thingies dissappear magically.

For years the narrator walked past the same poster of fairyland and couldn't read the words hidden by a chair? Maybe next time we should print the poster in braile and (oh stop, that's just over the top).

What is important to the story?
Books enabled magic and now anyone handling a book can make their wishes reality.

I'm going to go buy a book about Fort Knox and wish for gold.

I'm going to by a book on everything you needed to know about high school and wish I knew it all. That will put an end to sitting the noisy library.

Can I read Dante's inferno and damn my enemies to hell? Now that would be dangerous.

I don't like the word SAMOVAR can I wish it out of existence and will that change the space-time continuum?

I'm holding "How to Sh*t in the Woods" and I'm wishing that the writers for 30-Rock would write better than Monkeys on crack cocaine or Zombies at a wake without alcohol.

PJD said...

Apparently, the query has appeared here before. I don't remember it if I saw it, and I don't have the patience or time to go and look for it.

For my part, I stumbled on the "bespectacled bookworm" as well, but after a few more words I found it cute and endearing, and it told me a lot about what I was going to get the rest of the way.

So it's not dark and angry and brooding. So what? I liked the tone of this, particularly because it's first person and shows a lot about the narrator.

Besides the misspelled words, the only other real quibble I have with it is the rough transition from long past to current story across the white space. Since they're both past tense, it took me a moment to realize that the pile driver was not slamming away way back when.

I find myself intrigued. I want to know what happened to make magic return, or at least how it's changed the world and this narrator's life. I want to know how the bespectacled bookworm turned into a stressed-out library [patron|employee] with earplugs and a keyboard. And I expect we will learn more about the magic school going in next door.

All in all, I think it does an excellent job of setting up tone, character, setting, and expectation for an interesting journey.

Anonymous said...

I liked this; I'd read on. It had a good momentum and an engaging voice. It was much better than the query letter would have made me believe.

Poor Hawkowl; are there any books in this universe that you do like? :-D You sure seem to find slim pickings around this place.

Anonymous said...

I liked this; I'd read on -- if by some wild chance I picked it up in the first place, because usually I avoid books having anything to do with magic.

Dan Lewis said...

I like the second beginning better than the first one. I don't think the first beginning adds enough.

"Books are magic. Back then it was just a metaphor" sounds like a logline. Maybe it belongs on the jacket copy.

I find the story-world intriguing. I don't have a great sense of who the main character is. I don't have a good sense of the plot.

I assumed that a character with a keyboard in a library would be a library worker (also, because they are experienced enough with the sound to have earplugs at the ready). Maybe they're a student or a free Internet user.

I had to look up "storey" to know that it's a British spelling.

McKoala said...

I hiccuped at 'bespectacled bookworm' - it's old fashioned and a real cliche. Kept going, though, and it totally picked up. I'd keep reading.

One small thing: creeping and scuttling - one is slow, the other is fast - which is he/she doing?

Anonymous said...

I liked the voice and I would keep reading this piece.

Good job and good luck!

HawkOwl said...

Whitemouse - Actually, I do find it harder and harder to find books that appeal to me. That's amongst published books, which, as bad as they often are, have been carefully selected as the best out of an ocean of much worse stuff. EE and the crapometers showcase the unfiltered effluent of amateur writers. "Raw suckage," as Miss Snark calls it. So considering that, the amount of beginnings I've liked is staggeringly high, in my opinion. :)

The most important aspect to me is that it has to be psychologically plausible at all times, including of course the narrator's stream of consciousness, and this is a particularly bad example. I don't think the narrator would be thinking any of these things. The Shrimp that Sleeps excerpt was a lot better, though the style wasn't right, at least the content was plausible.

Anonymous said...

Befuddled critter here. Is this a Harry Potter opening? Or an attempt at one? That's how it read to me. I couldn't get Harry Potter out of my mind after I read the bit about the bifocals. That alone prevented me from getting immersed in the piece. I hope the query clears that up.

Also, I wasn't too keen on the background opening. I'd start at "Thud" and work the rest around that paragraph.

Anonymous said...

I liked this in general, but I would start with 'Outside..."

It has a kind of 'Discworld' feel. As long as it didn't immediately turn into a pale copy of either Harry Potter or the one with the kid opening the book and finding the world of magic disappearing because he didn't believe, I'd give it the 50 page test.

GutterBall said...

...cunning linguist....

Dunno if it was intentional, Dave, but it cracked me up. I very nearly snorted Hawaiian punch out my nose.

And I agree with JTC -- I know! a Chiefs fan agreeing with a Raiders fan! -- that I'd have to read more to know if I'd want to read more. What's here doesn't do much for me, other than make me wonder what some of my favorite books shelved behind me would do if they could grant wishes or come to life.

I mean, I gotta lotta Stephen King. This could be bad.

KD13 said...

I'd definitely read further but then I've been a bookworm all my life and I love fantasy so the book is probably intended for readers like me.

And I really liked the beginning. It's written with a different pace. A warm sink-in-the-bathtub pace.

Just my 2 cents...