Tuesday, October 24, 2006

New Beginning 147

I shall end the slave revolt with four nails. To the south, more than six thousand crosses line the Appian Way to Capua, where the uprising began. The dying moan and gasp for breath, begging for rescue that will never come. Dishonored even in death, they will never be buried. Even after vultures rip flesh from bone, their carcasses will hang, a reminder of punishment that awaits those who oppose Rome. Two legionaries throw a thin, ragged youth onto wood planks cut from a nearby forest. They tie the boy to the cross. Barely old enough to shave, he had been Spartacus’s servile pupil.

“Rip that medallion from his neck,” I order. I am not superstitious. I lend no credence to the slaves’ prophecy that their god will explode from the earth and exact revenge. Nor do I believe their claim that, forged by a deity living below Mount Vesuvius, the medallions empowered them to outfight us in battle. I merely want to add them to my coffers; it will put me in high regard to present the silver pieces to the next general to which I am assigned.

And when I have grown in power, I will no longer feel like that little puer I once was.

(Orchestral strings enter. Lights dim to a single spot on the centurion.)

CENTURION (singing): When I was just a puer . . .

CRUCIFIED BOYS (raising their heads and singing): We are all just pueri.

CENTURION: I never saw my mater.

BOYS: He never saw his mater.

CENTURION: I never saw my pater.

BOYS: His pater worked for Caeeeeee-sar.

CENTURION: And I was beaten by my magisterrrrrrrr!!!

Crucifixion! The Rock Musical!

Opening: Steve.....Continuation: Pacatrue


writtenwyrdd said...

I loved this opening but couldn't think of a single way to continue it. This continuation reminded me of the crucifiction scene in Life of Brian.

I liked the tone and the writing in this opening and would have read further to see if I was interested in it or not. Seeing as it's shaping up to be a historical novel, I probably wouldn't buy it.

Kate Thornton said...

LOL at the continuation - I just saw "the Producers"...

Anonymous said...

Give Paca some props: first ever continuation with music! Nicely done...

acd said...

Wow, pacatrue. I want your drugs.

pacatrue said...

Mr. Coombers would be so proud I am finally putting my Latin to use. It was particularly tough to find rhyming Latin words that English speakers could guess the meaning of: puerile, maternal, paternal, magisterial.... Go English language with its gigantic borrowing of words from other languages!

And for writtenwyrd:

"Life's a piece of sh--
When you look at it
But still you've got to
laugh and jump and sing."

Virginia Miss said...

Great opening, I especially liked the first line, it establishes so much in just nine words.

I loved the brilliant continuation, one of the most creative I've seen in this blog.

EE, is it too late to get this one in the book?????

GutterBall said...

Hawaiian punch out the nose, Pac-Man. You're killing me!

none said...

Great first line, but after that it's downhill. The narrator spends too much time telling us about all the groaning and dying he doesn't care about. If he's indifferent to it, why even mention it? Cos otherwise the reader won't know about it, cos it's first person...

Then the narrator tells us all about the bits of the backstory that he doesn't believe in. Because otherwise we wouldn't know about them, cos it's first person...

There's too much tell and not enough show. Too much irrelevant detail--does it matter where the planks came from?

The narrator is talking to the reader not like a soldier carrying out a necessary task, but like a third person narrator taking an overview. First person is about what the narrator thinks and sees and feels and does; it's about the things to why they, as an individual, pay attention.

I love first person when it's done well. This could be so much better if other ways were found to convey the necessary information. Interaction between the narrator and other characters would be one approach.

Don't have the narrator telling us he's not superstitious--have him demonstrate it through something he does or says. And so on.

Dave Fragments said...

When I first read this, I didn't know what possible continuation you could have for it. That was said earlier and I agree with it.

Now, let me say – this is my opinion and no is under any compulsion to follow it. I will not be disappointed whether it is used or not. I don’t necessarily want to know. It’s offered as take it or leave it, merely advice. I’m a little tender from that criticism the last time I did this and I don't want to argue the point.

Part of the problem is in the words. The first sentence is excellent. It rivets the reader to imagine the four nails of a crucifixion. However, the next three words “to the south” just kill the thoughts. The compass direction is out of place. It’s a detail we don’t need to know right now. When you drop those three words and read the first two sentences together, it starts to work. We move easily from the four nails and their bloody intent to the crucified slaves lining the Appian Way.

Now as for the sentence beginning with “The dying moan” again, it doesn’t read aloud or work to further the image of the vast cruelty that crucifixion is. It’s a list of despair. Try “The dying moan, gasp for breath and beg for rescue that never comes.” And with that I would never, ever break the flow with “dishonored” … not that the thought is bad, it’s a poetic matter, the flow of words. The dying moan, pause, gasp for breath, pause, and beg for a rescue that never comes. Period big pause, - - it needs a soft word, an Iamb not a Dactyl, a breath and not a shout – invert the next two clauses.

The dying moan, pause, gasp for breath, pause, and beg for a rescue that never comes. Period big pause. They will never be buried, pause, dishonored even in death. Even after vultures rip flesh from bone, pause, their carcasses will hang, pause, a reminder of punishment that awaits those who oppose Rome. Big, big, big pause, give the reader time to appreciate the horror of rotting bodies being eaten by vultures,. No one mourns those who oppose Rome, no one honors them in death.

Now make a new paragraph. Why? We’re moving to the preamble of a crucifixion, the preamble to despair, the actions you must take to nail a body to a wodden beam and hang them to die. No punishment is crueler or more horrific than this.

As far as we can see, the road is lined with death and here, at our feet is even greater abomination: A slave being crucified. If I were the writer, I would paint this with exquisite cruelty.
The author says: Two legionaries throw a thin, ragged youth onto wood planks cut from a nearby forest. They tie the boy to the cross. Barely old enough to shave, he had been Spartacus’s servile pupil.
I would say: Two legionaries throw a scrawny, naked youth onto rough, wooden planks hastily cut from the nearby forest. They are not gentle as they tie the boy’s arms to the cross. He’s barely old enough to be a man. They nail his ankles and then his hands. He screams, tears pouring from his beardless face. They pound relentless. Death awaits Spartacus’ servile pupil, death alone.

And after that, you can deal with the medallion. The medallion has to be ripped off and dishonored too.
Not even it's image in the dying youth's mind would serve to comfort him. To that end, I would have the centurion belittle the medallion the way the he belittles the slaves and minimizes their lives.

{!} and now, believe it or not, I have to go eat dinner!

Dave Fragments said...

BTW - I liked the zaniness of the continuation. Really, really good job.

and Kate, I just loved the tap dancing little old ladies and their walkers in "The Producers"

Dave Fragments said...

Just for information, I culled this from Wikipedia:

Spartacus first revolted in 73 BC near Capua and Vesuvius. He was captured and crucified in 71 BC in Calabria, Italy.

6,600 of Spartacus's followers were crucified along the Appian Way from Capua to Rome--the distance being 132 Roman miles (of 5,000 Roman feet) - every 100 Roman feet apart. Crassus never gave orders for the bodies to be taken down, thus travelers were forced to see the bodies for years, perhaps decades, after the final battle.

Anonymous said...

The continuation-LOL. Truly hilarious.

The opening-I liked it.

Small nitpick--At the end of the first paragraph, you have "Two legionairies (sp) throw a thin..." These three sentences seemed different in perspective -more objective rather than 1st person. The narrator is not talking to me, the way he does in the opening lines. I can't say that it's a grammatical faux pas (since I'm not very good at that aspect of writing), but it did stop me in my reading.

I'd keep reading.

But I'd keep reader.

GutterBall said...

I’m a little tender from that criticism the last time I did this and I don't want to argue the point.

Dave, you always amaze me with your commentary. I learn from your suggestions on tone and the poetry of prose. Don't let The Man get you down. Or The Woman. Or the Dactyl.


When you're chewin
On life's gristle
Don't grumble
Give a whistle
And this'll
Help things turn out
For the beeeessst

Everybody! You too, Pacatrue. You started this!

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Author, this dragged for me just a little. Not enough that I wouldn't read on, but I think you could streamline it and make it more compelling. I agree with buffysquirrel that the second paragraph in particular is a little too much "tell." The man's behavior alone will make clear his lack of superstition.

You obviously love words, so I know you can make it work.

As for the continuation-- OMG! Hic hilarissimus est, Auctor Secundus! Macte virtute esto! (Even though it should've been "we are all just pueri," if I remember dear old Wheelock correctly.)

pacatrue said...

Bunnygirl, it looks like EE has just changed it to "pueri" so it looks like he agrees on the plural ending. You know, he once added the word "paterfamilias" to another one of my continuations. I wonder if we have a prep/catholic school contingent here. -shines bright light in EE's and Bunnygirl's eyes- "Name the top three private secondary schools in the nation! Define parietals and explain the three feet on the floor rule! Give an account of how Dead Poet's Society is and is not like a real prep school!"

But with Dave's info and my double-check, I see that my lyrics are bogus. For some reason, I always had Spartacus as a Christian slave in revolt against a Caesar. But at 73 BC, there was yet no Christ and no Ceasar. So, down with me. Hides my head in shame from Mr. Coombers.

For the original author, I think buffysquirrel's comments are really on target. I liked the overall idea, but I just couldn't say exactly why. I think she nailed it.

I really didn't say that last one on purpose, but I did leave it on purpose.

Evil Editor said...

But at 73 BC, there was yet no Christ and no Ceasar.

If we're talking Julius Caesar, he was around in 73 BC, and while not yet emperor, he'd had some military success. Wikipedia claims he lived 100 BC - 44 BC.

pacatrue said...

Dang it. Well, this shows I am now an idiot on Roman history, but at least it lets my lyrics almost work again.

Mazement said...

For some reason, I always had Spartacus as a Christian slave in revolt against a Caesar. But at 73 BC, there was yet no Christ and no Ceasar.

You might be thinking of Barabbas. (Who also had a movie about him.)

Julius Caesar was involved in the wars with Spartacus, but he was just an up-and-coming politician at that point in his career.

I'm not sure where the story is going from here. The foreshadowing seems kind of odd; nobody ever exploded from the earth to avenge Spartacus. Unless this is an alternate history novel?

If the opening section goes on for very long, it might be better to write it in past tense.

Anonymous said...

I don't know my Roman timeline well, and I don't have the time to look it up, but could the author be linking the slaves' god to the eruption of Vesuvius? When did that happen? Just a guess...

Dave Fragments said...

A story about a slave revolt in ancient Rome is a great plot. Not only that, this is a strong opening to whatever story.

I must admit the reference to Vulcan under Vesuvius took me offguard. It is perfectly reasonable. However, the medallion is silver and we all know that silver is the coin of the realm for betrayal. I hope that the author takes advantage of that subtle foreshadowing.

Anyway, I looked it up and determined that Spartacus was before Christ and yet in the time of the Roman Republic. Julius Caesar was not made Potifex Maximus until 63 BC, ten years after the revolt.
On March 15, 44 BC he uttered the famous words "e tu Brute" and died. Octavius Caesar lead the army against the assasins and took the name Augustus. Augustus forged the peace and declared a census, and the rest, as they say, is history.

THe literature about slaves is rich and very Christian. Ben Hur from 1880, Barabbas (1950), The Robe (1954) concerning the centurion who killed Christ, Demetrius and the Gladiators a sequel to The Robe (1954), Quo Vadis (1885) to mention a few good books and subsequent movies.

McKoala said...

I loved, loved, loved that first line. I would have loved a break to contemplate it before the rest of the paragraph let loose. More importantly a paragraph break before the boy is put on the cross would help me to understand what is going on - the contemplation runs into the action there and confuses me.

I'd be reading on, though, you've grabbed me with this character.

Loved the continuation too! Don't put your minions on the stage, Mr Evil Editor.

writtenwyrdd said...

Funny, I have to say I thought the opening line was a riff on Shakespeare: "For want of a nail, a horse was lost..." etc.

Evil Editor said...

Shakespeare? Which play? The Nailing of the Shoe? Two Jockeys of Verona? Seabiscuit Andronicus?

writtenwyrdd said...

My sincerest apologies for not double checking my failing memory. The line about nails is a nursury rhyme, and it has always reminded me of Shakespeare (King Richard III. Act v. Sc. 4.): "A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!" (Teach me not to double-check myself. Just once, I don't, and look what happens...)

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

From rhymes.org.uk: "The earliest known written version of the rhyme is in John Gower's "Confesio Amantis" dated approximately 1390."

Anonymous said...

Seabiscuit Andronicus made me spew my coffee. Thanks again, EE....

ScienceSleuth said...

I agree with buffysquirrel on this one. I found it difficult to figure out who was speaking. The narrator? Or are we inside the character's thoughts? Both, I guess.

The details were good, descriptive, but there are too many crammed into the first paragraph. Too much exposition.

Stephen Prosapio said...

Thanks all for your comments!!!

Hard to believe, but I missed this when it was originally posted. Now (even though I know it made the book), for it to be considered as one of the year's "Best" is quite a shock. I'm still not sure if we're voting on Best Opening or Best Coninuation or what, so I'll take this humbly...I've also updated the opening to 3rd person and am focused more on the medallion as it is the central "character" being introduced here.

As an FYI on Spartacus, he was NOT captured in Calabria. In fact, many of the slaves entrapped there escaped. He likely died in the slaves' final battle near Salerno. His body was never recovered (likely ripped to shreds by the Roman soldiers). At this time (71 BC), Mt Vesuvius had not erupted for over a thousand years and the Romans had such small a reference for Volcanoes that the word was not even in their vocabulary.

I'll post the updated opening in a seperate post (if EE would be so kind to post it) and would love additional feedback/contructive criticism.

Stephen Prosapio said...

A Roman Centurion shall end the slave revolt with four nails. “First, remove that medallion.”
With fear in his eyes, a legionary grips and pulls a silver medallion from a chain around a ragged young slave’s neck. He tosses it to the centurion. As it catches the sun’s rays, the medallion appears to radiate an amber hue, and then is silver again.
On the hot day, the cold metal feels strange in the centurion’s palm. “Tie him,” he orders.
The youth, scrawny and unshaven, is thrown onto wood planks. Barley old enough to be a man, he had been Spartacus’s servile pupil.
To the south, more than six thousand captured rebel slaves hang on crosses lining the stone-paved Via Appia. To Capua, where the uprising began, the dying moan and gasp for breath, begging for rescue that will never come. Dishonored, they will never be buried; their carcasses will rot, a reminder of punishment that awaits those who oppose Rome.
The centurion looks again at the medallion. He lends no credence to the slaves’ claim that, made by a god atop Mount Vesuvius, the medallions bestow special powers. He believes poor leadership and weak fighting, not magic, allowed the gladiators and slaves to defeat the powerful Roman army in battle after battle. Not superstitious, he desires to add the plunder to his coffers. He feels confident that presenting it to his next general will put him in high regard. The centurion drops the medallion into a small, brown sack filled with other like silver pieces.

Anonymous said...

I dunno, I kind of miss the immediacy of the first person narrative. It's not clear at once that we're in the centurion's pov rather than an omniscient narrator, so it's kind of distant. 'radiate an amber hue' is a bit clunky. Does a colour radiate? If it radiated an amber light, or golden light (because I also thought of the material amber--Nature's own Plastic!) that would be easier to understand.
'He believes that weak leadership and poor tactics, not magic' sounds as if the weak leadership was on the same side as the magic, but sense suggests one side had magic and the other side had poor leadership, so maybe you want a possessive on the opposing qualities? Rome's poor leadership, not the slaves' magic?
I'm not crazy on 'servile pupil' - the kid's a slave, so he's servile, or the centurion knows something about Spartacus's ways of ensuring obedience in his students? That distracted me. 'wood planks' - is there another kind of plank, that is't made of wood? Maybe an adjective that suggests how quickly the crucifixes were slapped together, like rough-cut, or dribbling sap? 'brown sack' - is the colour relevant? the material might be a better descriptor, probably leather, less likely linen.
Yeah, um, better at detail than big-picture, that's me. Trees I'm good at, woods not so much.

Anonymous said...

I was wondering at the POV. Omniscient?

Stephen Prosapio said...

Yes, omniscient...the opening is a prologue/vision of sorts and is about 550 words. The rest of the novel is 3rd person.