Sunday, June 10, 2007

New Beginning 291

Cicely watched out the window as her newest neighbors, the Graysons, paused on the doorstep of their house. The little boy, who looked to be about ten, ran up the driveway then stopped to wait for his parents. Mr. Grayson was glaring at his wife, and she was pointedly ignoring him, her back stiff, as with crisp, jerky movements she opened her pocketbook and dropped the house keys inside. Mr. Grayson said something that must have hurt, for his wife jerked as if she’d been slapped. At the head of the driveway, the little boy fidgeted with his belt buckle, not looking at his parents.

Jack sat on the windowsill in front of Cicely, watching the Graysons with his startlingly blue eyes while she stroked his silky white fur. "What do you think, Jackie-boy?" she asked. "Do we have another lucky winner?" Jack meowed, but she had no idea if that meant yes or no.

It was her policy to invite new neighbors over to tea whether they looked promising or not. She let the curtain slide closed as the Graysons approached her front door.

"The Graysons, madam," Jawns announced in his peculiar way and stepped aside. Mrs. Grayson approached with a darling little fake smile but hesitated when she saw the large iron hand with which Cicely stroked Jack.

"Mrs. Summerton, thank you for having us over," Mr. Grayson said, trying to cover for his startled wife.

"Cicely Haberdashem Anabel Ophelia Summerton," Cicely stated with a small smile for the child. "Quite a mouthful, yes?"

"Yeah, that's crazy effing stupid for a name," the child answered curtly.

Cicely stopped stroking Jack. Her eyes narrowed and she reached for a small button on her wheelchair. A trapdoor opened below the Graysons sending them down a chute into a pool filled with bull sharks.

"I think, Jawns," Cicely said, "the house across the street is on the market yet again."

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Pacatrue


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations

"Hi," said Mr. Grayson, in a crisp white suit and an overdone smile. "My name is Todd, this is Linda, my wife, and this is our eldest, little Timmy. Family -- it's so important, isn't it? That's why we've come over to share with you the Good News. Have you heard of the Book of Mormon? The prophet, Joseph Smith ..."

"Excuse me for a second," I said, leaving Jack to entertain the Graysons. My heart was racing like a hummingbird's. I ducked into my office, grabbed my phone, and dialed a number. The other side picked up right away.

"Temple of Azmodeus the Dark. High priest Dameon speaking."

"It's me, Cicely. You know -- your old neighbor, the one you used to stalk with dead animals?"

"Death is but a doorway ..."

"Look, you win, okay? Kick out the people renting your house, and I'll drop the restraining order."


“Welcome to the neighborhood,” Cicely said, cradling Jack in her left arm as she opened the front door.

“Hello. This is my wife Margaret Grayson, and I’m Wilbur Grayson.”

“Please come in,” Cicely said, introducing herself, already celebrating her good fortune. This couple is perfect, she thought.

“I’m sorry, Cicely, but we can’t stay,” Margaret Grayson said, almost in tears.

“Yes,” Mr. Grayson chimed in. “We just came by to see if you could baby sit our son, Belamy. That’s him over there.” Mr. Grayson pointed across the street.

Cicely craned around the Graysons, recalling having seen the boy earlier fiddling with his belt buckle. “Is Belamy taking a crap in the driveway?” Cicely asked, shocked at the young boy squatting on the pavement. Jack jumped from Cicely’s arms and ran howling back upstairs.

Mrs. Grayson shook, unable to meet Cicely’s eyes. “Oh, Christ, Margaret! Shape up, for god’s sake! Yes, Cicely, I’m afraid he is. Ever since Margaret here got the bright idea to check out all those old Dr. Spock books to potty train young Belamy, it’s been a disaster. Now our son wants to crap everywhere. Most times you can get him to come in and…”

Cicely slid the door closed slowly, the raspy sound of Mr. Grayson’s voice dying in the solid oak.

--circus boy

Cicely waited for the first knock, then opened the door.

"Hello, hello," she said. "It's so lovely to finally meet you."

"Likewise," the man said. "I'm Ben. This is my wife Danielle. And this is our Jacob."

The boy looked up at his name, and Cicely offered her hand.

"It's very nice to meet you Jacob," she said. "Jack say hi to Jacob."

[Zoom in on Jacob's face. Then switch to cat's face. Zoom in on his eyes. His GREEN eyes.]

[Cue roaring sound, cut to close up of green HUMAN eyes, slowly zoom out to everyone standing on grassy plain]

Sun: Jack, I think we're lost.

Jack: Meow.

* * * *

"And then we play the title screen."

The man at the far end of the table scratched his head. "So is it like a dream?" he asked.

"No," the writer said,. "It's his second life. He's always been a cat!"

The other man pursed his lips. " We'll stick with the flash forward," he said. "Let's save this for next season."


Beth said...

The only real issue I have with this opening is clarity.

After reading the first sentence--

Cicely watched out the window as her newest neighbors, the Graysons, paused on the doorstep of their house.

--I immediately pictured them getting ready to enter the house. Other readers may correctly infer that they're actually leaving, but the point is, you've got a fifty-fifty chance that the reader is going to get the wrong mental image, and then will have to correct it. This is annoying any time, but it's particularly bad news in an opening.

It's an easy fix--just put them in motion, walking out the door.

I had the same problem here:

Jack sat on the windowsill in front of Cicely, watching the Graysons with his startlingly blue eyes while she stroked his silky white fur.

Until I reached "silky white fur," I thought Jack was a person. Did another double-take there. Having that happen twice in 150 words is a death knell for my continued involvement.

Otherwise, this opening has a certain intrigue--what's going on with the Graysons? Is Cicely a nice neighbor or an evil neighbor?--and it's not bogged down in backstory or explanations. With the clarity problems fixed, I'd keep reading.

Dave Fragments said...

One of my relatives has a neighbor whose kid used to run around naked and crap in the yards (plural). That family has troubles - lots of them. Bipolar, drugs, ADHD, slobbiness, anger and a kid who kept pissing on the hedges.

This opening says so little about Cicely and the Graysons. BTW - is there a Batman reference here?).

I'm guessing that the real revelations in the story happen at Cicely's Tea Party. In which case, this scene is a setup for that. It goes like this:
Scene One: Suburbs - we see a moving van and a family moving in. And since moving is just as tramatic as divorce, marraige or death, well there's lots of inherent drama, angst, happiness, sorrow, despair, discovery and squishy anguish.
Scene Two - strange old neighbor has conversation with tomcat - tell us new heighbors are coming to tea. She might be semile, might be psychic, might be an alien, might be Donna Reed.
Scene Three - Arrival at house, introductions. Names abound and those borig vamily histories - High, we're the Cincinatti Graysons. Hi, We're the Cicely Felicity family with satanic kitty.
Scene Four - the tea party in the old, strange parlor. Weak tea is served, oolong probably (that pretentious enough) or maybe pink strawberry, but somehow I doubt it. And stale cookies. A really daring move wou;d be Alice B Toklas BRownies but this is a family novel. A dread, great, earth-shaking revelation is made - murder, satanism, terrorist threates, CIA jobs, alien invasion, dead zombie unckles... (the revealer knows what it is, but the revelee's might or might not understand.
Scene Five - the Tea Party aftermath with the new neighbors
Scene Six - The Tea Party aftermath between the nebby old lady and the cat

Depends on the novel but I think that's too many words to introduce a story. It's so old style, like 100 years ago.
Just MHO

Anonymous said...

I thought the prose could be tighter and clearer.

"Mr. Grayson said something that must have hurt, for his wife jerked as if she'd been slapped."

Author, show this without telling us how to interpret it. We can.

"was glaring" "was pointedly" -- shift this to "Mr. Grayson glared at his wife, who pointedly ignored him.

"startingly blue eyes" didn't do anything for me. It's cliche.

I thought Jack was a person, and I wanted to know by that sentence who the POV character was, since we now have two creatures who are watching the Graysons. If you restructure that sentence with Cicely stroking her cat, Jack, there won't be that confusion.

I was also confused by why the Graysons were at Cicely's door. Had she already invited them to tea? Or were they telepathic?

The introduction of 5 characters in two for an opening, especially without some description of each. We can't visualize any of them with exception of the cat.

Anonymous said...

Whoa! My last paragraph was supposed to read:

The introduction of 5 characters in two paragraphs may be many for an opening, especially without some description of each. We can't visualize any of them with the exception of the cat.

Anonymous said...

Loved the continuation.

The opening was a bit clunky and confusing, as others have pointed out. But I loved the line "Do we have another lucky winner?" - so unexpected given the picture of Cicely I had formed. I hope this is a black comedy in the "Arsenic & Old Lace" vein, which is the impression I got from Cicely's comment. I'd read that.

PJD said...

I didn't feel much drawn in by this opening. There's really not much to it; it reads like something pulled off a CD of stock photography, gives an unremarkable yet recognizable image of anyone anywhere anytime. Several stock phrases are used: another lucky winner, as if she'd been slapped, startlingly blue eyes, it was her policy. (BTW, I think most people would have a tradition, not a "policy." If Cicely fails to invite the new neighbors over for tea, will she be out of compliance?)

Good continuations.

Is the name Cicely supposed to bring to mind the name Circe?

Dave Fragments said...

Gee, PJD, how did you make this statement in so few words: "it reads like something pulled off a CD of stock photography" ... My wordy, too-many-words, too-long post completely.

Anonymous said...

very interesting continuation. Just what I hoped would happen!!

pacatrue said...

I am glad I got the image, anonymous. It's sort of a Bond, "The Claw from Inspector Gadget", Austin Powers, Get Smart hybrid continuation.

And since jokes are always funnier when explained, Cicely has the super long name because it spells out CHAOS.

Evil Editor said...

Is that Maxwell Smart's KAOS?

pacatrue said...

That was the idea, EE. But her name unfortunately wasn't Kikely.

McKoala said...

I think I'd read on, although this wasn't that gripping. I also thought they were going into their house. I think you need a connection to get them from their house to hers - watching them cross the road or something - they seem to miss out that step.

I hate the word 'pocketbook', but that may just be me.

Dave Fragments said...

Radio Station KAOS has a seal of approval that assures the removal of anything bad at all, and just to prove that it's real - here's the KA-OS approval seal
arf, arf, arf, clap, clap

(it's an old jingle from radio days and childhood)

Dave Fragments said...

Why do we need this: "watching them cross the road or something"

Why not open the scene with Cicely talking to her cat about how suitable or unsuitable the Graysons are for whatever "lucky winner" means. Or open with the Graysons talking about the weird lady and her cat and what she told them over High Tea and low crumpets?
What possible plot element will be revealed by describing them crossing the street?

What if the scene began with the line:
"It's nice of that old lady to invite us to tea, but that cat gave me the heebie jeebies."
"Yes dear, and did you notice how he treated our son like he was the spawn of satan?"

Or maybe"

"Well Jack, it looks like we've found the heir to the fortune. Imagine the chances of the genetically right family moving in across the street?"

or possibly:

"Aha, so they are the Graysons from Grandview Avenue, father's old archenemies. We will have to plan a suitable revenge, won't we kitty?"

but please not:

"Mr. grayson and family walked across a well groomed lawn onto the concrete road. They admired the old lady's house with its many flowers, topiary and Elm trees. The georgeous red door opened as they walked up the stairs revealing a stunning interior worthy of a spread in Home and Garden."

AmyB said...

I agree with Beth and Kris. I was confused by the same things that confused Beth. I thought they were going towards the house, not away from it, and I initially assumed Jack was a person. When I got to "silky white fur," I decided Jack was a dog, and then of course I found out he was a cat, so I had to adjust my mental image twice.

I also agree with Kris's advice on tightening. If the narrator can figure out from observation that Mr Grayson's words "must have hurt," the reader can figure it out too. No need to interpret for us.

Thinking about how the order in which we relate information affects how it is received reminds me of something that happened when I was in high school. I was hit by a car in the school parking lot. I was injured, but not seriously. When the school nurse called my dad, she said, "Amy walked into my office this morning and told me she'd been hit by a car." He told me later he greatly appreciated her opening with "Amy walked into my office" because that assured him right from the start that I was basically okay. Imagine how different a mental image he might have conjured, and how different his emotional response might have been, if she'd opened with, "Amy was hit by a car this morning..."

Beth said...

Dave, excellent point. I'm slapping myself upside the the head for not having seen this sooner, particularly since I just blogged about this issue. Oh well, I was tired yesterday...

Anyway, this starts in the wrong place. If the Graysons are coming over for tea, then the story should open with them already there, sipping from their teacups. Anything the author wants to show about them or about Cicely can be handled far better right there, through dialogue, body language, and internals. The little trip from their house to hers is nothing more than a gangplank--something the writer constructed to ease him/herself into the story. That's OK but once we're on board ship, the gangplank must be jettisoned. In this case, the story obviously begins with the tea party and anything before that is expendable.