Saturday, July 14, 2007

New Beginning 315

Ethan had the face of child, but the scalp of an old man. Tendrils of blue reached out under the pale skin, curving and parting like rivers searching for the sea. Rivers in winter, sluggishly winding under ice, compelled to struggle and flow to their destination, even when the surface lay still and silent.

Nothing in this room smelt of life, nothing offered freshness and perfume; only the sharp, nose-biting scent of intervention, blended with bleach, vomit and old food. On the bed Ethan was barely a wrinkle under the crisp-cornered sheets. The only thing that moved was his pacifier, pumping in his mouth under his closed eyes. The suck-sucking sound of him working at the little rubber teat pulsed rhythmically against the humming of the machines that propelled the medicine into his system, the machines that were keeping him alive.

Abby should have got rid of his dummy. Told him that if he’d give it to the poor kids Santa would bring him a special present. That’s what I did with my kids.

I suppose he can suck it for as long as he wants now.

Sheila stared across the dining table at her daughter-in-law. Abby closed the book, placed it on the table and peered meaningfully at her son.

"You know, Abby," Shiela said, "in my day, we did things differently. If you like, I could suggest a less traumatic way to persuade little Ethan to eat his pureed spinach."

Opening: McKoala.....Continuation: ril


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuation

"Okay. That's . . . a little better, but . . . Look, you're new here at Hallmark, so I'll cut you some slack. We're after something more along the lines of: Congratulations, it's a boy, May we share in all your joy!"


Dave Fragments said...

That's one of the saddest pieces of writing I've read in a long time. (emotionally)
It's got a few rough edges - I guess a "dummy" is a pacifier, - humming, propelled, keeping (odd, unparallel construction there) - alliteration (blended with bleach) and some overdone description, but it's solid and well done. A gripping opening.

Robin S. said...

It seemed like ril was gone for a while. I'm glad he or she is back.
Really good continutaions - both of them.

Hi McKoala,

Good opening! The only thing I'm wondering is if actually mentioning "veins" would be a good thing in the first paragraph. I had to read a few times to catch up with you on the idea of the veins in Ethan's scalp.

I love the way you describe things-what you choose to keep, and choose to leave out. Example: this is really effective "only the sharp, nose-biting scent of intervention.."

I'd read on.

writtenwyrdd said...

Powerful opening. A little rough, but really good overall. I liked the first line, it was a good hook.

The term dummy is a Britishism, if I recall correctly, and it threw me off completely, because I had to rack my brain for the explanation.

none said...

What in heck's wrong with alliteration?

Robin S. said...

I wondered about the alliteration comment, too, but didn't say anything. I like alliteration when it's used well, and sparingly.

I also like a little bit of rhyme/rhythm to prose - "scent of intervention", for example.

I also like these discussions.

Anonymous said...

Hey!! Do my eyes deceive me or could this be poetic prose, right here on my screen? Few things in life are more heart-wrenching than a sick child, especially one young enough to still be sucking on a (binky--brand name--in some parts of the midwest)pacificer. As I read, I recalled the author's descriptive paragraph of a chemo-ravaged child a few weeks ago. This is quite a sobering start to a novel. I experienced instant empathy for both Ethan and Abby, and I wondered who the narrator "I" was. If this is a story about Ethan and he survives (or at least makes it to the half-way point of the book)I might want to read on. If he dies, and the story is mainly about his mother and her struggle to deal with the death of a child, her character and attitude would have to be pretty compelling for me to read on. If there's some other twist, I might want to read the whole book.

I wondered if someone would be able to attach humor to such a sad beginning. The cont elicited a rueful chuckle that did not dispell the haunting despair of the preceeding words.

Bernita said...

Yeah, what the hell is wrong with alliteration?

The line " only the sharp, nose-biting scent of intervention, blended with bleach, vomit and old food" is particularly fine.

Dave Fragments said...

Nothing is wrong with alliteration. It just took me away from the story. And the "suck-sucking sound" is so amazingly effective, I thought it should stand alone.

I would have used the word "disinfectant" as in
"only the sharp, nose biting scents of intervention, disinfectant, vomit and stale food."

There is nothing "wrong" with the original.

In the same vein, I think "suck-sucking sound" should be a quintet of beats: "Suck suck sucking sound" ...
And I don't like the "that" a few words later.
i.e. -"humming of the machines propelling the medicine into his system." PERIOD.
and I like a shorter version of the next sentence: "the machines that kept him alive." It's stacatto, and a punctuation mark ending the paragraph. It stops the reader. There's a lot of running on text, out of breath text, that has to be here. However, paragraphs have to begin and end with a little punch.

The third paragraph introduces the second and third characters and the longer sentences of the second paragraph have to stop before they reach "Abby"... Ethan has his two paragraphs all by himself.

This is all so subjective. It's the perceptions of words and phrases and atmosphere, especially the atmosphere created in the reader's mind.

Chris Eldin said...

I liked this when it was posted a few weeks ago. I'm glad you shared even more. It's a gripping beginning. I liked the alliteration.
The only word that caused me to trip was "dummy." I read that over and over. There's binky, passy, and I've heard foo used also. I think just go with pacifier.

Can you tell us what the book is about? I'm guessing that the child doesn't die, that it's a dramatic event to help illusrate the personality of the future Ethan. Right? Wrong?

Anyway, very nicely written!

Hogenheim said...

Dear Evil Editor: Browsing through different Blogs I came upon yours. Let me tell you I was thrilled with the "Guess the Plot" section, of many, many blogs I´ve seen yours is the best by far. My congratulations.

none said...

Thanks for clearing that up, Dave. I think it is important to specify when particular instances of something don't work, rather than apparently dissing the entire form :).

Dave Fragments said...

I don't think that I said this was good and I liked it in any terms that were uncertain. Sorry if you took my original comment that way.

I did finish with "but it's solid and well done. A gripping opening."

I can't stand here and gush about the opening (don't take offense McK) because this makes me cry. I never snorted coffee or soft drinks on my keyboard but the tears almost hit it this morning.

Nothing is more of a downer to me than sick kids and this just rips my heart apart. Don't ever not write something because it's that emotional but understand that as an author you are manipulating the reader (and that's not a bad thing). That's why I commented, I could see ways to make it, uh, more efficacious.

Bump in the Night said...

I found it a compelling opening. My biggest comment would be to cut the last sentence in the first paragraph. Otherwise, it gripped me.

The third paragraph introduced questions for this reader. Ethan's age for one. Is a child with a pacifier old enough to understand giving it to poor kids with the promise (bribe) of getting something better? And I questioned who the narrator was. Not his mother, obviously, but a mother.

But I can deal with questions. In fact good ones like those push me forward. The last line really emphasized the tragedy of the opening for me. Ominous.

Nice job.

Anonymous said...

"Dummy" is the Australian word for pacifier, dummies. "Pacifier" is the Aussie word for machine-gun. Here's a Klew: the author's name is McKoala.

McKoala said...

Thanks for the great comments. Dave, thanks for the specifics and helping me sort out that dummy sentence (and I did get that you liked it!). Yup dummy=pacifier, sorry, it's a pondular thing.

This is the start of a short story. It's not an easy one to write.

Xenith said...

That first paragraph, it reads like, um,um, pretentious literary drivel of the worst sort. Took me three attempts to get past it.

Then the second paragraph is nicely done. If you're really attached to the first paragraph, maybe move it later, after the tone has been established?

(And why have you got pacifier in the second paragraph & dummy in the third?)

Anonymous said...

The first paragraph was a bit hard to follow but the rest was excellent. Very sad but compelling.

Good job.

GutterBall said...

"Pacifier" is the Aussie word for machine-gun.

Heheh. Nicely done.

I love this opening. Whether the imagery is from experience or not, it grabs from the first line and doesn't let go. It had to be difficult to write -- not word choice wise, but emotionally.

I got "dummy" on the second try, but only because I got to thinking about a cousin who referred to his pacifier as Woobie. Don't ask me why.

Anonymous said... reads like, um,um, pretentious literary drivel of the worst sort...

Whoa. I guess I skipped class on the day they covered that gem of constructive criticism.

I think this type of story is tough to pull off -- we all live through enough tragedies of our own; what really matters is where this story is taking us, which of course we don't know in just 150 words.

I think this piece is a little over-cooked and wobbles precariously on the line between drama and melodrama. I know all writing is about manipulating the audience in some way, but I prefer not to fell manipulated.

The first two lines of the first paragraph work pretty well. The third sentence is too much -- overcooked -- and distances me from the subject without telling me anything useful.

Nothing offered freshness and perfume feels irrelevant and interrupts the flow - taking that clause out would feel better balanced to me. I would also take out the "blended with":

Nothing in this room smelt of life; only the sharp, nose-biting scent of intervention: bleach, vomit and old food.

and perhaps expand on the smells, as I don't know what intervention smells like.

On the bed Ethan was barely a wrinkle under the crisp-cornered sheets.

I'm guessing we're not talking about an infant, inferring from the sheets and the suggestion that Ethan is too old for a dummy.

...pumping in his mouth under his closed eyes.

Feels a tad awkward to my ear; I wonder if you need this clause at all? The effect of "pumping" here is really repeated in "pulsed rhythmically" in the next sentence.

I think this:

The suck-sucking sound of him working at the little rubber teat pulsed rhythmically against the humming of the machines that propelled the medicine into his system, the machines that were keeping him alive.

Is too long and doesn't flow quite right, and the last clause comes close to tipping us into melodrama -- I don't think it needs to be said.

I'm wondering if the punctuation is off here:

Abby should have got rid of his dummy. Told him that if he’d give it to the poor kids Santa would bring him a special present.

Perhaps a semi-colon? As it stands, the second segment is a fragment: they're if used right, but not sure about this one.

Of course, I know nothing and could be all wet about all of this, so take what you can use and ignore the rest. I like literary writing done well (it's not all pretentious drivel despite the bad rep.) I think there's talent showing in this writing.

I hate cheap manipulation with sick kids and tortured animals -- it's tough to write on this type of subject and stay on the right side of the line.

Good luck with the revisions!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful writing, Mckoala. But we're here to pick nits and these are my few, the ones that didn't quite work for me.

While the "Rivers in winter" sentence in the first 'graph is great description, it feels like too much and too much off where it comes. I would delete it.

I think "the machines that were keeping him alive" is a little melodramatic. It would be implied if you left it at "...against the machines that surrounded him."

I also left out the "propelled the medicine into his system" because, in general, it's a pretty quiet IV drip that delivers medication. "Propels" is too much here because it sounds like the medicine (a very vague, antique-sounding word as used here) is being slammed into the boy.

And I would like to see a time frame after "Abby should have got[ten] rid of his dummy." When I first read it, I thought, "How mean!" Then I realized as I read on that the narrator didn't mean in current circumstances. Maybe add "years ago" or "when he turned three" or whatever.

But these are style quibbles, and what bothers me may not bother anyone else. The "Told him" frag is fine, but I would delete the superfluous "that." If you're like me, though, you'll stick them in there, then go on a "that" hunt during one of your final edits.

Will you be posting more of the story on the crapometer? I look forward to seeing it there, if so!

Ril, between you and me, I liked your unchosen continuation better. Is that your secret to getting so many chosen: Bludgeon EE with quantity? :o)

Evil Editor said...

Actually, I'd already prepared to use ril's first submission when the second arrived, and while the first was a bit funnier, the opening does have the name Ethan in it, which seems a bit specific for a greeting card. A minor flaw I was willing to overlook if the second continuation hadn't also been funny.

Bonnie said...

I could not explain the mechanics of why this happened, but I took a very deep dislike to the narrator. I feel like she(?)'s going to use this sick child to manipulate me as the reader and probably everybody else around her. I mean, after telling us how sick and pathetic this kid is, her reaction is to blame the mother for not taking his pacifier away? Geez, how judgemental and hard-hearted can you get?

Anonymous said...

...then go on a "that" hunt during one of your final edits.

Ah the old "that" hunt -- but "that" sounds perfectly fine to those of us brought up on British English where it's still used rather a lot, even though it's going the way of the dodo east of the Atlantic...

McKoala said...

More thanks from me to all of you. Phoenix, it should make it on to the crapometer one day, but it might not be for a while. I'm still fidgeting with it. And I haven't hunted down the 'that's and slain them yet...

Bonnie - only person to say that, but not 100% wrong.