Tommy winced at the mirror. The space above his shirt collar was pocked with zits. They were an ugly red color with yellowish-white centers. He touched the one on the tip of his nose and flinched. Placing a finger on each side of it, he took a deep breath and squished. His eyes squeezed shut, forcing out a few tears. Chunky white liquid squirted out and splashed against the mirror. Tommy sighed with the release of the pressure. One down, too many to go. The aroma of garlic tickled his nose. He took a huge sniff.
Tommy’s hands dropped to his side. “Coming, Mother.”
He dabbed at his tears with his shirt sleeve. Grabbing a wad of toilet paper, he wiped the mirror, leaving behind white streaks. He almost didn’t see the chunks of white on the sink. Wiping those, too, he threw the soggy paper in the toilet.
Tommy’s mother was in the kitchen, making spaghetti. She stood at the stove, stirring the sauce with a wooden spoon in one hand, and with the other she was excavating her nostrils. The right nostril was a no-go, but from the left she produced a beautiful quarter-inch long snot nugget, crunchy and brown on the bottom, a nice gooey green on top. She rolled it between her thumb and index finger until it achieved an even consistency; then she flicked it upward. It stuck to the ceiling above the stove, right between two of her most prized specimens, Mondo Mucus and Thank God I Can Breath Again.
"Ah, you're here." Tommy’s mother turned away from him and hiked her blouse up to her shoulders, revealing her splotchy, waxy skin that always reminded Tommy of headcheese. “Two, five, and seventeen,” she said.
Tommy sighed, but set to work. Two and five were no problem, but No. 17 Blackhead was a real bitch. Luckily, he hadn’t chewed off his thumbnails yet. They left half-moon indentations, but his mother only squeaked once. When he was done, Tommy wiped the goop, which looked like mashed potatoes mixed with dirt and blood, on his mother’s bra strap.
She thanked him and placed a hand on his cheek, smiling. “You’re growing up so fast,” she said. “I remember when you had to stand on the chair to reach seventeen.”
Tommy rolled his eyes. “Motherrrrr. You’re embarrassing me.”
She opened the fridge and removed a crinkled foil tube; the end of it was folded and rolled half way. “Now run along and find your father,” she said, handing the tube to Tommy. “He needs help with his hemorrhoids.”
Opening: Sarah L. .....Continuation: blogless_troll
Opening the door, he hustled down the stairs to where his mother was waiting, a stern look on her face. "You been squeezing your zits again, Tommy? You're going to be late."
The thought of facing the jocks in class made Tommy feel ill. "I don't want to go to school today, Mom. I have a headache."
"Oh dear, Tommy. Is it bad?"
"Real bad, Mom. I feel sick."
Stepping toward him, Mom gently placed her hands on his cheeks. "You do look pale, dear. I don't know, what are we going to do with you?" Then a thoughtful expression crossed her face. She squeezed.
Globs of yellow pus dripped from the ceiling. That was going to take some cleaning.
Not sure why we're opening with a gross-out scene that doesn't seem to tell us where the story is going, but assuming this is where you want to begin, I'd give the last two sentences of the first paragraph a paragraph of their own. But you might consider opening:
Tommy was squirting chunky white zit pus onto the bathroom mirror when the aroma of garlic tickled his nose. He took a huge sniff.
That gets the attention-grabbing gross factor in without going into so much detail the reader is repulsed.
Ick. I'm sure there are lots of 8th graders who are eager to relate, but by the end of the beginning I was hoping this would lead to infection by some kind of flesh-eating antibiotic-resistant bacteria which would quickly transform dude into a helpless waif that has to be quarantined in a sterile environment for the rest of the book. Gross out continuation, too.
I'm sorry, Sarah, but is there a point to this gross detail?
I'm sorry, but gross-out doesn't fly with me. It's an instant turn-off. I wouldn't have liked it in eigth grade, either.
Gross-out or no, you've got some past progressive tense trouble here. There are at least a couple of places, example:
Grabbing a wad of toilet paper, he wiped the mirror, leaving behind white streaks.
He can't be grabbing and wiping at the same time. He grabbed first, then he wiped, the actions can't occur simultaneously.
He grabbed a wad of toilet paper and wiped the mirror...
Solves the "-ing" problem, and also sounds more immediate.
I read this earlier today and then had to eat a late lunch. I left it until well after dinner to comment on.
Effing gross, darlings - reminds me of the DVD titled "The Arisocrats" (no, no, no not "aristo CATS" but "aristo CRATS".
Please Sarah. I feel rotten saying this but it is gross - ungodly gross, amazingly gross, astrounding gross, South-Park-Cartman gross.
But still funny, in its grossness.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone want you.
The writers of Beavis and Butthead adore you.
Sarah Silverman has erected a shrine to you.
Drawn Together thinks that you're Shakespeare.
Borat wants to do strange and weird things to your body (my advice, run like hell is after you).
I laughed all day but only one or two of my close friends know why. . . . This was a rainy day, brightened by an opening concerning a zit.
And Blogless, I'm gettin a court order to keep you away from the entire state of Pennsylvania, if not Ohio and West Virginny tooo...
One last thing - GUESS what movie is coming out for Christmas?
Sweeny Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street with Johnny Depp. FInally, a real Christmas story!
OOO, I'm in!!
I'm grossed out too. And it takes quite a lot, if you know me at all...
OK, so maybe I need to tone it down a bit.
Tommy is half italian and half vampire. He loves garlic, but is allergic to it. The garlic smell comes from the zits. The center is garlic.
I'll consider toning it down, but I think I'll leave it as is - with some minor corrections - for now.
You think you're grossed out. Wait til my critique group reads it.
eeew eeew eeew, but quite well written eeew.
My dad used to joke about using a zit to write his name on the bathroom mirror...
This opening was really, really gross! I don't know if you want it as your opening hook. It didn't make me feel like reading on. It was funny, though. And the continuation was hysterical.
Can I be the first to say I wasn't grossed out?
Well I think I am such person. Yay for me.
As far as the rest, I agree with Anon 3:39. I think the use of non-progressive past (so just past) tense sounds better and more immediate.
He grabbed a wad of toilet paper and wiped the mirror, leaving behind white streaks.
The grossness of this is really what made me want to read more; so, to be the naysayer, Bang on! Gross me out sommore, yeah?
I couldn't read this. I gagged while reading.
This isn't to say there aren't people who'd enjoy it, but the detail made me physically sick.
Are the center of his zits garlic?
And he's a vampire?
If so, - that's a helluva twist, girl!
Everybody pops zits when they're young - it's a weird pleasure-pain thing. But the way you described this episode was (truly) unsettling to my stomach. Then, when I read the garlic thing, I kind of liked the twist- but it's still giving me a queasy feeling - so I don't know about using it as an opening - but it is well-written.
On the other hand, xiexie liked it, so there you go.
The centers are garlic and he's half vampire.
I still will look at maybe toning it down. Maybe.
I keep thinking about the traveling exhibit on grossology that went through here a few years ago. They got to smell different types of farts even. And they loved it. Well, at least my ex's son and his friends did. And they are my target audience.
Thanks for the comments everyone. I'm glad my writing provoked such strong reactions - even negative ones.
Hi again Sarah,
If boys of a certain young age are your target audience - you're probably good to go.
Boys are gross. They don't seem to be able to help themsleves, or even to want to. And maybe if they find something to read that "speaks to their inner grossness", they'll actually break down and read an entire book!
I don't have any sons - but I do have nephews - and they'd have liked the fart/gross out exhibit you mentioned.
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