Monday, February 26, 2007

New Beginning 226

They came down their Parisian house’s stone steps and opened the massive front door to a night unseasonably humid and warm, the ground still wet from a freak rainstorm.

Johnny dressed like a Frenchman these days, Annie noticed, the cut of his sports coat flashier than anything he would have worn in the States. As usual, the good and the bad overflowed from her Chantal Thomas velvet dress in a very un-French manner. They walked in silence on rue Nicolo, under the old fashion street lamps. She buried her hand in Johnny’s but he let go of it after only a minute. “You drive,” he said, stopping in front of her filthy minivan. “You hold your liquor better than I do.”

She eyed the Maserati Grand Sport parked across the street. “Let me drive your car,” she almost begged.

Johnny had a small smile. “Woman, are you mad?”

Annie waved longingly at the black Maserati. “One day,” she told the car. She pointed to the corvette, then to her heart. “One day, you and I . . . ”

Corvette? Annie stopped in her tracks and rubbed her eyes. Yes, it was a Corvette; and not a pristine example either. She turned back to Johnny who stared at her with a dumb country grin, standing there with a brown bagged quart of Thunderbird in his fist. Where was her Margaux?

Johnny’s “sports coat” bore an iron-on patch with his name and “When Your Tires Are Tired” in white lettering.

This wasn’t Paris at all, this was Poloxey Mills; “Rue Nicolo” was nothing but the piss-stained alleyway leading to the parking lot behind their tenement building. She felt disoriented and queasy.

“I . . . I don’t feel like going out now,” Annie said, her daydream in pieces.

What?" Johnny looked at her, incredulous. "I made reservations at the clam house!” He snorted like a horse and shrugged his shoulders, then flipped a cigarette into his mouth and lit it. “Whatever, bitch. Not like you couldn’t stand to miss a feed.” His mouth curved down in contempt, and he blew smoke into her face.

Annie smiled to herself. This was more like it. "Say that again," she said, with a shudder. "In French."

Opening: Anon......Continuation: ril


Evil Editor said...

Another continuation worth posting, by Anonymous:

The sleek lines of the Maserati -- the gentle curve from its firm, short rear over the sinewy doors to the thrusting hood containing the promise of unlimited power -- said Latin Nights so much more eloquently than Johnny’s cheap sports coat ever could. She imagined herself sinking into the luxurious Italian leather, listening to the throaty rumble of the eight cylinder engine, manipulating the transmission up through the gears as she headed for the vineyards. In that car, she could drive from dusk until dawn and still be wanting more.

The Maserati spoke of everything Annie had imagined living in Europe would be: and that it belonged to Johnny just reminded her it wasn’t only his smile that was small.

“I think I’ll walk,” she said, breathing quickly now, and headed off in the opposite direction.

Anonymous said...

ril, you seem to have nailed the mood, if not the actual experiences I had in Paris as a lone, overweight American woman.

Brenda said...

Seriously, ril, I'm starting to crush on you bigtime.

Dave Fragments said...

Oh Author, I kinda hate to even say this... But, in the spirit of evility,

What opening line is most made fun of?
"It was a dark and stormy night."

And your opening is "Only hours ago, it was a dark and stormy night leaving the night humand and warm, the ground wet, and the sky dark."

Please drop that first sentence and begin with Johnny and his lady friend.
And forgive my feeble attempts at humor.

Anonymous said...

This author asked in the quey letter (scroll a bit down on the blog) if her ESL was showing through. It didn't really on the query, but it is here. Some things I caught:

"Parisian house's" - technically grammatical, but it comes off as very awkward to me. If they live there it would be "Parisian home's."

"old fashion" would be "old fashioned"

"corvette" As ril is noticing with his continuation, a Corvette is only one type of car, namely a Chevy Corvette, and can't be a synonym for other sports cars.

My guess is going to be that your novel is going to have lots of these. The question is what to do about it? I work in academic publishing where the majority of our manuscripts come from speakers of English as a second language. When it appears warranted, we will often ask them to have their article edited by a native speaker. This would be ideal for you, but it's one thing to edit a 10,000 word article and another to edit an 80,000 word novel. Perhaps you could try a critique group of English speakers and they could tell you how much work is to be done. Another possibility is to ignore these things for now and get as much feedback as you can on the overall quality of the book. Only when everyone thinks the novel is wonderful, except for weird language gaffes, is it worth actual money to hire an editor.

shaded-lily said...

I like this beginning. I want to read on to the part where Annie dumps this jerk.

The problem I had was with the first line (the weather description went in one eye and out the other) was with the phrase "house's stone." I'm one of those miserables wretches who can't read without mentally pronouncing everything, and when I tried to pronounce three "s" sounds in a row, my brain overheated and started to leak out of my ears, which may be why I didn't understand the continuation.

Anonymous said...

Corvette is only one type of car, namely a Chevy Corvette...

This caught me out too, but I decided to me a little more international in my thinking, given the subject matter, and reached for the online French-English dictionary. I recommend this approach before speaking in absolutes...

I would recommend using Alta Vista Babel Fish, which should enlighten you.

Anonymous said...

So anonymous 6:48 brings up a great point, which is that there is more than one form of English in the world, and it is possible that in some form of English "corvette" is precisely a generic term for a sports car. In parts of the american south, a "coke" is a generic terms for brown soda, so that Pepsi is a band of "coke".

The question then becomes what linguistic style the author is trying to create. Does she wish to sound to her audience like someone speaking Standard American English or does she wish to sound like another equally cool form of English? That will depend upon the POV, I would assume. So far the story has focused on Americans, so I was guessing we would see things from an American POV linguistically. Difficult call but an important one for any author.

It's these sort of things that translation software like babelfish cannot handle. Better software usually is attached to a corpus of natural text so that relative frequencies of phrases can be assessed. You can sometimes use a google search engine as a corpus of natural language. Do a search on a phrase that you are uncertain of and see if you find lots of places where that phrase is used. If you find nothing, it's a hint, but not always a certainty, that the phrase is uncommon in English. And of course being uncommon isn't always a bad thing. However, speakers do process frequent phrases more easily than infrequent ones.

Anonymous said...

I would recommend using Alta Vista Babel Fish, which should enlighten you.

Huh? I try to translate "corvette" and it gives me "corvette". I feel somewhat less than enlightened.

PJD said...

ril, do you have (a) a job or (b) a hobby or (c) a work in progress? I don't see how you possibly could with all the continuations you produce. Excellent continuations, I meant to say.

I did not have a problem with the freak rainstorm except for the word "freak." But after thinking more on it, that word seems appropriate for an American who has a filthy minivan in Paris. (But would it still be filthy after a freak rainstorm?)

Things I liked: We get a ton of information about the characters if we pay attention. I like most of the language choice and think the writing is tight. I like the "They came down" to begin it because it not only shows them but places the reader in the scene, too, waiting for them at the bottom of the steps.

Things I don't like so much: I don't get any sense of how old they are except that they're old enough to drink and drive. I mean to drive, and to drink. No one should drink and drive, of course. Yet they're young enough for Annie to dream about driving the Maserati in the future. So I'd guess late 20s or early 30s, but it's just a guess at this point. I'm hoping we find out more in the coming pages.

I, too, stumbled on the wording that others have mentioned. I also don't know about the Johnny and Annie names. Either this is Grease In Paris, or the two are actually nine years old. John and Annie I could imagine. Johnny... not so much.

Anonymous said...

The guy they all get the crush on should make a significant entrance on page 1 or 2. His arrival is the "inciting incident". Everything prior is backstory or "set up."

Dave Fragments said...

Write the story. Don't worry where to start, just write the story. When you reach the end of the story then you can go back and figure out the order of telling for the final book.

For the first draft, just write the story and get it down on paper (or computer). Don't worry about ESL or ADD or much else. All of that can be handled after you write the first draft. Put the words to paper.

The trick is that until you write the story, you might not be able to decide where to start the book. Don't be afraid that you are writing something that won;t be used in the book. That's OK. And the alternate is true - Don't worry that you forgot something. You can add it later.

McKoala said...

I love the good and the bad overflowing from her dress; that's a fabulous detail.

Sometimes as a speaker of a second language you see things in the language that native speakers forget/no longer notice; different and effective ways to use words that make people notice them afresh. I think Pacatrue's advice is good if you think that you need more help.

Just a couple of things - as a rule I find Americans flashier than the French, who have a subtle way of showing style. (No offence to either nationality intended...). 'You hold your liquor' sounded odd to me, but I'm not American, and maybe that's what you say.

Ril so funny.

Anonymous said...

A corvette is also (according to my online dictionary) "a highly maneuverable escort warship; smaller than a destroyer".

But yeah; applied to cars, the sudden change threw me out of the story too.

Corine, I thought the first two paragraphs started too slow, outlining the look of clothing and the weather. While that stuff sets the scene well, I didn't start to get interested until Johnny dropped Annie's hand. At that point, I thought things got quite intriguing. Everything you wrote after that point left me feeling slightly off-balance; the couple isn't quite a happy couple, and I'm curious to know what's going on.

As for whether you should start here or two years later, I'm not sure. My kneejerk reaction is to tell you to start two years later, when the story starts. However, I can also see this scene - if it's kept brief and interesting - making a great prologue to the story.

Saipan Writer said...

Ril-wonderful continuation.
Same with the alternate continuation--charming.

Corine--I liked this opening. It has a (langorous?) pace that drew me in, introduced me to characters I might be curious to read about, placed me very clearly in a specific corner of the world.

Nitpicks--the first line threw me and I had to re-read it. I envisioned the stone steps outside the house, but then the front door would be behind them. I'm not familiar with French homes--are interior steps made of stone?

Other nitpicks, already noted by the minions.

Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the best thing you can do for a much worked book is put it away while you write the new one. If you have where-to-start questions after 5 rewrites, it sounds like you took over my first novel, which I swear had great heroic tragic sexy characters, the most haunting dead husband in the world, and one incredible scene after another, all told with some of the most lucid inspired prose you ever saw in your life. Too bad there was no plot. None of the structure tweaks known to man [all were tried] ever helped.

Anonymous said...

I found the first paragraph weak, and it influenced my reading of the whole thing. You don't want to start weak!

"Johnny dressed like a Frenchman these days...." is a much more interesting opener. Cut the comma before "Annie noticed".

Good luck

writtenwyrdd said...

I hate blogger, it ate my most puissant and erudite post of yesterday! Actually, I have no idea what I wrote.

That first paragraph was visually skewed, as some have mentioned. I was also expecting them to be leaving the house, not coming downstairs.

The writing isn't bad; but it didn't grab me, either because the details didn't quite gel for me. In trying to figure out why, I think it is because the tension isn't focused as of yet. The various details don't point to a specific problem, whether it is being in France, her not fitting in, or Johnny fitting in too well. I just get a sense of vague disjointedness. I did get the sense that something was going to go wrong, but I wouldn't have picked a fight--which is expecting a bit much of 150 words, of course. Sorry, this isn't really clear.

What it left me expecting is that the woman would likely have her feelings hurt by Johnny.

I think that your grasp of English is good enough, but your edits are going to be hard work to get the little nuances of word choice, grammar and punctuation down. I'd focus on the word choice over the rest of it for the first few drafts, though. Best of luck with it.

Anonymous said...

My guess is that if your gut tells you it might be a prologue, make it a prologue or put it in later as a flashback. I had that problem with an earlier story, and when I just lopped off the beginning (as much as I was personally fond of it), the whole story flowed better and just felt better.

Anonymous said...

FYI, this site might be helpful in determining which term to use.

Beth said...


If you're looking for a critique group, try or and look for the Novel Workshop.

As to where to begin the story--well, without reading the whole thing, it's hard to say. But I rather like the idea of starting with this scene and killing off Johnny at the end of it. I recently read a book that did something similar, and then there was a flash-forward to several years later. It worked because the death of the character in the opening scene was significant in a number of ways. Its impact sent shock waves through the rest of the story. If that's true of yours as well, then you're probably fine with beginning here. However, if this is really just backstory--if Johnny's death is nothing more than an event that your main character must move on from, then you might be better off starting later.

Dave Fragments said...

I can't remember the famous author who said that if he felt good about a passage he'd written, he knew he had to throw it out.

A last minute addition is one of those, "Oh it's a good idea" - yeah, right, sure, good enough to resist.

You're not alone, Corine. I've done the same thing many times.

batgirl said...

off-topic, but writtenwyrd, you might want to compose your comments on wordpad or something and then copy and paste them into blogger? That way, if something strange happened, you'd have the wordpad text still handy.

Anonymous said...


Quirky idea: make your narrator a bit more present as a character who isn't a native English speaker.
That way the 'mistakes' become part of the narrative, rather than a disruption.
I haven't encountered a book like this, and it could be a sweet hook.
You might have to switch to first person (ouch if you're on a fifth rewrite) but maybe there's another way to swing it.
good lunch, er, luck, forgive my English, I am not being a native speaker.