Tuesday, December 04, 2007

New Beginning 414

She told me he’d been heavenly, back before the war.

“He was almost too pretty for a man,” my friend said. “Almost beautiful.”

The first time I found him, Joe was not too pretty, curled up in a flannel-shirted fetal position, lying on a thick plank of a lacquered wooden table, with his mouth hanging wide open, as though he’d invited all the neighborhood flies in for a landing party. His eyes were closed. His feet were naked. Under the low-watt yellow light bulbs, he looked just about dead.

And he didn’t look too tasty either, unless you happened to like the taste of those bloated, pickled eggs that sit in large jars in corner bars in run-down urban pioneer parts of town, like this place was. The kind of bar that seems really cool when you’re young and you like to listen to the people on the barstools in the bar talking, solving the world’s problems by the seats of their pants. ‘Cause what they have to say seems so refreshingly candid. So real. Then you go back years later, and the same people are still sitting there solving the latest world problems with the same shtick solutions. And the eggs in the jars look like they may be the same ones as well, except maybe they’re a tad greener. And those eggs are distinctive in taste, all right, but who really wants to eat one?

Well, I couldn’t imagine anyone really wanting to take a bite out of this guy either. Not anymore; pretty boy’d been buried under a pile of drunk. So this flannel, fetal, pickled egg of a man and I were alone there in this bar, in the middle of the day, and she’d said Joe’d be there, tending bar, said it was for certain, so I guessed this was Joe, and I looked down at him and I mean I really looked him over, the way you can only look someone over when you’re sure they’re asleep. But he wasn’t asleep.

He wasn't asleep like my father was never asleep when I snuck back into the house after curfew at the ripe age of sixteen. That was the age when driving around for hours, bashing mailboxes with baseball bats while drinking cheap domestic beer made us men, men like my father.

He made sure I didn't still think that, when I got home and crept past his faux-stupor only to see him rise like a zombie in those movies that were popular before the war. His belt lashed against me like a granite statue of Thomas Jefferson, one that somehow managed to wrap around my father's waist after he was done with me. He whupped me good, just like he whupped the Germans during the war. That is, until he whupped a land mine, and for the first time in his life, someone whupped back with an explosion that made it possible for them to carry him back to us in a shoebox.

They'd be able to do the same to us, me and this pickled Joe, if I didn't tell him about the bomb and get us out within two minutes. As I idly wondered how long I'd been here staring at his yellowed, not-too-tasty skin, I heard an eruption of flames behind me. It erupted like the stove after--

Opening: Robin Sinnott.....Continuation: Chro


Xiexie said...

Great continuation!

Author, it's just too wordy -- much like the continuation. I like the imagery; however, only but so much internal musing works. I do like the voice. Just cut away some of the words.

none said...

This stretches the meaning of "approximately" a bit far, doesn't it?

Xenith said...

I've seen this before somewhere?

I like this. It doesn't seem like something I'd read, but I'd keep going for a few more paragraphs to make sure ;) Distinctive voice, with good word pictures.

Except the fourth paragraph, where all I thought was "get on with it". I don't think it adds anything either.

It might work later, but not right at the beginning where we want to know what the story is.

Anonymous said...

I loved this beginning. More! More!

Anonymous said...

Try this:

1. Go get your 10 favorite books in your genre that were written in the past 10 years and did well.
2. Open them all to page 1.
3. Read those first pages, only.
4. Consider the proportion of action and description in those first pages.
5. Notice the pace.
6. Notice how authors orient readers to the world in which the story happens.
7. Notice how authors orient readers to the main plot of the story.
8. This would be the standard for pace, action, etc. in your genre. If your manuscript matches it, great. If not, you need to have an easily discerned reason why, right there on page 1, or slush readers might not understand what you're doing and move on to the next query.

Anonymous said...

I smell NaNo!

Anonymous said...

Ooh. Buffy wants her five minutes back. Is there a refund counter anywhere?

I remember the picked eggs stuff. It was in one of the Q&A's, about writing voice.

I do like the voice and the style -- it's different, and I'm sure it's not for everyone, but it's kind of like taking a long, hot bath. No pressure.

A couple of the run-on sentences do run on a little too long, I think - makes it tough to assemble all the pieces in one go. It's maybe just a tad overwritten.

Amanda said...

Looks like somebody is in love with the sound of her own voice!!! This reminds me of the way my four year old tells a story except he's four and your not so get to the point already!!!!!! Its called editing!!! Look it up LOL!!


PS. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning so take everything I say with a shaker or two of salt!!!!

Dave Fragments said...

When I first read this, I couldn't understand what the author was trying to do or say. Then CHRO comes along and writes a continuation and puts some logic to the opening.

It does need editing. (like I don't have 20 versions of everything I write?)... However, it is an interesting opening. The biggest problem is that it's over 220 words and it hasn't reached a point or attempted a hook.

It would only take a few words after the third paragraph. Something like:
Now, he wasn't the man (fireman, detective, astronaut, father, pirate, etc...) he was before. I think you want to close the imagery and move onto the situation in the story.

One of my openings is #406. It has an interesting image of people being teleported to a planet and suffering the pain of disintegration and reintegration. It's a dramatic part of the story BUT as much as I wanted it in those opening paragraphs, it just didn't work.
I moved it. I rewrote that sentence. It's now a very meaningful and dramatic 1000 word incident that occurs 10,000 words into the story. It relates an act of revenge and murder and makes the villain more of a villain.

My point it, the entire "bloated pickled egg" segment might be better used later in the story. You've already introduced "Joe" in the first three paragraphs. Now introduce the speaker, who I presume is the hero or heroine of your story..

none said...

Lol, no, I just think that if it's okay to submit over 300 words, then maybe the guidelines should be changed to reflect that. My beginnings would be a lot more comprehensible at that length! Er...well, maybe?

Anonymous said...

dave f. - Heh, I was wondering if anyone would notice that I did the continuation. I figured if anyone could imitate and tease a long-winded writer that didn't get to the point, it would be me. ;)

Evil Editor said...

I usually cut the long ones down to size, trying not to cut in the middle of a paragraph, but here we had little more than the bar description, and I thought it might be easier for continuers if something had happened.

Evil Editor said...

If I were told Joe would be tending bar somewhere, and I walked into the bar and found a drunk curled into the fetal position lying on a table, I would probably assume Joe had stepped into the back room, not that this was Joe.

p.4: Are you implying that this guy would look tasty to someone who does like the taste of pickled eggs?

What do you mean by "tasty"? He'd been tasty before the war? And what war? I think I'd dump the first sentence and start:

“He was almost too pretty for a man,” my friend had said. “Almost beautiful.” But when I found him, Joe was not so pretty, curled up in a flannel-shirted fetal position . . .

I wouldn't use the mouth/flytrap analogy and the egg analogy so close together. It makes it sound like you're an over-the-top analogizer. Excellent addition to Novel Deviations 3, however, with its many space-filling analogies.

Unknown said...

This is itself "refreshingly candid," and not merely at first blush. Wordy, yes, but I think that aspect of your opening is more frequently essential than not. You've created a strong stream-of-conscious narrative, and I love its idiosyncratic immediacy. Even if the physical action of your opening could be contained in two lines, the mental leaps your narrator makes are key to establishing character. The disillusionment, the familiarity with his/her current surroundings, the frank, almost sordid, fascination.

What I do worry about (and perhaps this is the concern behind other comments as well) is whether or not your narrative voice is sustainable. I like that "war" appears in your first line and just hangs there (what I suspect is a subtle promise of backstory). I also like the hook inherent in approaching a sleeping person (harshly observed) who is not actually dormant. But, as the continuation points out, you tred a fine line between accurately conveying a person's thought processes (recycled imagery, tangential asides, flying metaphors, off-the-cuff descriptions) and turning away readers who have no patience to go through, on paper, what they go through in their own heads.

Although Anon. 6:55's list is somewhat brusque, I do think genre considerations are of utmost importance in deciding whether or not (and if yes, how much) to prune your narrative style. If this is literary fiction, you'll be dealing with a far more patient (if notoriously picky) audience who will often wend through quirky prose in exchange for characters and a plot that are thoroughly innovative. If you're aiming for certain kinds of genre fiction, on the other hand, you'll want to keep the action up front.

There are also a number of basic writing considerations that should be addressed, regardless of genre:

1) "flannel-shirted fetal position" is nonsensical because a position can't be shirted, flannel or otherwise. Also, "curled up" implies "fetal position" and vice versa. You can have one of those observations, but not both.

2) A plank, no matter how thick, is not wide enough for a man lying down in fetal position. Skip the plank and just have him lying on the table.

3) Yellow light implies low wattage. I would pick either "yellow light" or "low-watt bulbs," but it's also the "middle of the day" in a "run-down urban pioneer" corner bar, so (assuming there are windows) you might want to rethink your source of lighting in general.

The whole paragraph might revise as follows...

"Well, the first time I found him, curled up on the lacquered wood of an old table, flannel-shirted and mouth hanging open like an invite for all the neighborhood's flies, Joe wasn't too pretty. He wasn't pretty at all. Eyes closed, feet naked and yellow under low-watt bulbs, he looked just about dead."

Also, I agree with EE about "tasty" and its ambiguities. I appreciate the pickled egg tie-in, but I also couldn't help wondering if you were slyly suggesting cannibalism or some fantastical creature who had actually been interested in eating pre-war Joe.

All right. Good luck with this. You've got a fascinating character in hand, and I do think it's worth the effort of sensitive and targeted revision.

Robin S. said...

Hey chro, good smack down, sweetie!
You really do have a classic continuation here. I bow to your skill. And I laughed, too, so that's even better.

Amanda, my dear, when you're having a big time talking about editing, you might want to remember that there is "your" and there is "you're", and one of those two choices is a contraction of "you are", and that's the one you needed to use in "your" sentence.

Anyway, guys, the consensus is that this is too much for an opening. (Whoever the early morning anon is, thanks for your nice words.)

Anon 6:55, good idea, thanks for taking the time to mention that, and I will do that.

Looking at it, and reading chro's incredibly on-target continuation, I think you're right. I thnk if I took out the 4th paragraph and reworked the rest, adding some other detail ro action, it would work. The problem is, my favorite part was the 4th paragraph- which I wrote first when I was first thinking about this work as a whole, and kind of sketching out the bar scene. This is the first page of a second novel, however, so if everyone thinks it's too much, it probably is just that.

So Dave, I think you're right on that - and I should use it later on, not here.

EE- yeah, too many analogies, too close. I'll keep the fly, leave out the eggs for now.

Blogless Troll said...

I gotta flip the Too-Wordy-Where's-My-Nuclear-Explosion Bandwagon the bird on this one. There's a difference between wordy that sucks, and wordy that's good. And this is good. Sure, it needs some editing, but I don't mind taking an extra three seconds to get to the hook if the writing is interesting.

Chris Eldin said...

What Regina said....

I love the voice here. Period. It does need editing, but not so much (IMO).

Robin S. said...

Thanks very much for taking the time to make your comments, regina.

This is literary fiction with a sense of humor (or that's certainly the goal, anyway), and this is the voice of the narrator -the voice does hold up throughout, I believe.

The war is Vietnam, but many, many years afterward. And thanks for noticing the war left hanging there - I'm glad someone saw it placed the way I placed it, and for that purpose.

And thanks, blogless and CL. I know you're both exceptionally honest with your comments - and they are appreciated.

Anonymous said...

This is literary fiction with a sense of humor...

I probably don't need to be saying this but... Literary Fiction and Sense of Humour are not ordinarily mutually exclusive. Irving, Russo, Eugenides, etc. all have a sense of humor, a sense of the absurd, in their writing.

Anonymous said...

Robin - I do agree that this voice, while a bit wordy, is interesting and amusing to read. It reminds me of film noir, where a woman walks into the room and the narrator spends three paragraphs describing her and making analogies about her legs, lips, and lusty look.

It just needs a trim, and the analogies should be spread out a bit more. If nothing else, they can be inserted later while action is taking place, as opposed to spending 4 paragraphs describing the scene.

Evil Editor said...

I'm glad someone saw it placed the way I placed it, and for that purpose.

We all saw it, it's just not clear. Who is "she," what is meant by "tasty," and what war? I can't get grounded with so much up in the air. If it's WWII Joe could be 85. If it's the current war he could be 25.

Does she/my friend have a name?

Does "tasty" mean "too pretty for a man"?

I wouldn't be bothered if my questions were answered up front, but they aren't answered in this lengthy excerpt.

"Before Vietnam, he was almost too pretty for a man," Amy had told me. "Almost beautiful."

That answers all three of my questions, and I'm ready to find out who you're talking about, instead of wondering what you're talking about.

Just my opinion, of course.

Dave Fragments said...

Certain sweaty men are "tasty" when you lick their bodies. Somehow, I don't think that is what you meant by "tasty."

Xenith said...

Does "tasty" mean "too pretty for a man"?

You really don't know what it means?

I thought the first two lines were paticularly, um, tasty :)

Chris Eldin said...

Yummy and delicish also work, if people are having problems with tasty.

Robin S. said...

Oh, a tasty dicusssion. Good...

Yeah, well, EE, for instance, I might have told someone YOU were really tasty in one of the recent writing exercises. Of course, it would have to have been fiction. As Xenith mentions, it has nothing(directly) to do with being too pretty, (or with sweat, Dave - good one!)

No - the friend doesn't have a name.

There's a sentence coming quite shortly that mentions "which war", what year, etc, if that helps.

I agree, later-on-in-the-afternoon anon, that "Literary Fiction and Sense of Humour are not ordinarily mutually exclusive." Irving is one of my favorite authors. I simply mentioned what goal I was shooting for, as I'm not a fan of "angst" without some ironic humor attached to it, maybe at the hip or something. And that lit fic is certainly out there as well.

But anyway guys, I agree this needs a careful trimming.

Anonymous said...

How did I miss this?!!
Dave, who? who? where?
And are they appetizers or the main dish?
(I'll stop now)

cloaked in anon-hood

Evil Editor said...

It's amazing how many people claim to know the meaning of "tasty" here, and how few are willing to prove it.

none said...

Oh dear me, "tasty" means fanciable. Okay?!?!?!?!?

Evil Editor said...

Not okay. "Fanciable" isn't on dictionary.com, my source.

"Tasty" is, so go there and choose the meaning that best works here.

Robin S. said...

Tasty - as old as jazz age slang, emphasis on slang. A slang term older than YOU are, mister. And to think, all this time I thought we were about the same age. I didn't realie you were such a young whipper-snapper.


Evil Editor said...

Fine, call him tasty. I assume your character is old enough to be familiar with jazz-age slang, as you assume whoever you send this to is familiar with jazz-age slang and won't assume that because the character is using jazz-age slang the war she's talking about must be World War I. (As I recall, "gay" meant something entirely different during the jazz age, so using slang from 80 or 90 years ago won't always work.

I note that Dictionary.com has definitions for "yummy" and "delicious" that are not only what you mean, but also current.

none said...

Maybe find a better source then! lol

Chris Eldin said...

It's the competition of the dictionaries!

Hold on to your hats, folks! Get out your wine and your adjust your glasses. This could get bloody.

Anonymous said...

I remember the pickled egg Q&A and when I read it here again (8 mos later) I still liked it, BUT not as the 4th para. Please use it, wisely, at a later point -- it's good stuff, even if I do happen to be partial to pickled eggs and corner bars. I think that the para tells alot about the bar and Joe, but, so early in the story, I just need info about one or the other. \

I agree with those who say the voice is strong, and from what I know of your abilities, I am sure it endures the whole length of the story.

Para 3 lets me know that "he looked just about dead" so I am ready for more info at this point. And (as I previously mentioned) while I did enjoy the eggs analogy, I expected some concrete info (dead, coma, zombie-state of inertness) by para 5. I (as the reader)was disappointed,(or maybe just impatient) to have read that much about Joe and still not know where the story was going. But, I would read more to find out. If there's an action scene afoot,(or definitive character interaction) perhaps you could bring it forward a bit?!

Sarah Laurenson said...

Coming from a vampire story perspective, I had other ideas about what tasty meant.

I love the voice, Robin. And you have enough ideas here for editing.

I'd read on.

Robin S. said...

Thanks, me! And I agree with you that I need to move that paragraph.

As for you, Sparky, I mean EE, yeah, I know the word "gay" has changed in innuendo/meaning since the Jazz Age. You wouldn't be, by any chance, intentionally being...well...if it was anyone but you, I'd say, OBTUSE, would you?

Are you telling me you've never looked someone over and thought, hmmmm, tasty... or some variation thereof?

Anonymous said...

Tasty - a phrase used by chicks who swallow to describe a good-looking guy.

Evil Editor said...

If I did look someone over and think, Mmmmm, tasty, it would not be a man almost too pretty to be a man, or a woman almost too handsome to be a woman. I'd be thinking, Ewwww.

If you want me thinking he's a good-looking guy, tasty, pretty and beautiful are giving me a different impression, but if I'm the only one, ignore it.

McKoala said...

I like the style, I like the voice, I just think there is a little too much of it. I was happy right up until the end of the pickled egg sentence (great image- I say keep the eggs!) I've got to admit I drifted off somewhere in the next line. I was ready for something to happen! Well written, though, and you are always good at creating distinctive voices.

There are so many 'I's starting sentences in the paragraph that EE would run out of ink in his red pen slashing them all out. However, it does show that it's only my opinion, so I'm leaving 'em all in!

Tasty made me think vampire story.

Robin S. said...


Check out #7, please, YRH, and this is not Jazz Age stuff.

Anon - swallow? You've got to be kidding me. But if it did happen, "she" did it. If I want any protein in my diet, I'll check my other options.

Evil Editor said...

As I said at 6:26, Fine, call him tasty. Tasty before the war.

Editor: He was tasty before the war?

You: Yeah, tasty, it means a very attractive person.

Editor: Says who?

You: Someone named Jaymee who sent it in to the Urban Dictionary website. It's definition 7.

Editor: Did you happen to look at definition 15?

You: No, what is it?

Editor: Completely slathered in mayonnaise.

You: Yeah, that works too.

By the way, I've submitted a new definition for tasty to the urban dictionary. Not sure how long it takes to get past the editors, but considering some of the stuff that gets by, I find it hard to believe there even are editors.

Robin S. said...

Evil-Minion-in-Training: Are you absolutely sure EE's a man and not a woman?

Robin: Absolutely certain, honey. You can take it to the bank.

Evil-Minion-in-Training: Well, Robin, how can you be so certain?

Robin: Because, Evil-Minion-in-Training, men have to be right, and they have to get the last word in. Especially if they are, ya know, Evil Men.

Evil-Minion-in-Training: Got an example?

Robin: Why, yes I do, E-M-I-T. Take EE's own example, for example.
He fusses about the Jazz Age definition of 'tasty' at 6:26 pm, and says it's out of date. So I go to find him a more up-to-date definition, and he doesn't like that one either. And then he has the audacity to say he was fine with 'tasty' at 6:26 pm. Oh, yeah. Men. They're insidious all right.
It's a damn good thing they happen to have body parts we love.

Evil-Minion-In-Training: Uh. Robin.
I'm, uh, I'm a man.

Robin: Oh. I'm going to bed now.

none said...

I'd rather cut out the middleman and eat the celery myself.

Blogless Troll said...

Just wanted to get the last word in.

Blogless Troll said...

Good one, buffy.

Robin S. said...

OK, blogless, had to get the last word in, didn't ya? I know you can't want another 'guy' story, but I have one, and it's about pigs, actual pigs in tutus, if you're interested.

And OK, I have a question.

Buffy, what the hell is the celery thing about?

Disclaimer: I'm not trying to get the last word in, but I want to talk. At least on here I do.

none said...

Loll, eating celery is supposed to make a guy's semen taste nicer. Or so I've heard.


Blogless Troll said...

Just seeing if the comments are working again.

none said...

Have to check those pesky comments at least twice a day!

Blogless Troll said...

Sometimes three.

none said...

Only if there's an "r" in the month.

Blogless Troll said...

Or if the moon is waning.

none said...

Where's my spyglass?

Blogless Troll said...

A rhetorical question?

Robin S. said...

Oh my God, this is hysterical.
You two, bantering. Love it.

And buffy, I'll leave the celery
chewing all to you, sweetie.

Robin S. said...

By the way, EE, it would be fun to have these analogies in ND#3 - but you're not gonna call them bad ones, are you?

Evil Editor said...

I'm calling the space-filler analogies bad, but I won't be commenting on the actual new beginnings, of which this is one.

Evil Editor said...

I'm calling the space-filler analogies bad, but I won't be commenting on the actual new beginnings, of which this is one.

none said...

My husband puts salt on his celery.

Blogless Troll said...

I put butter on mine.

none said...

Makes going down easier?

Blogless Troll said...

A rhetorical question?

Chris Eldin said...

To think all these years I've been feeding the celery to the rabbit.

Robin S. said...

Yeah, CL. I bet the rabbit's, uh, rabbit spouse is really happy. Either way.

How about it, dynamic celery duo? What do you two think? Does celery eating count in rabbits in quite the same way? Just checking on who will have... the last word.

none said...

I'm thinking that rabbits don't need any help.

Chris Eldin said...

Squirrels already eat nuts out in the wild.

There should be a joke in there somewhere.

I just want last wordies.

Robin S. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Eldin said...

Carry 'em in strollers.

Yeah baby.


Blogless Troll said...

Sorry I'm late. Hadda park da strollaz.

none said...

Nuts, whole hazelnuts...yeah!

Blogless Troll said...

Okay, we've covered nuts, stalks, and bunnies. What's next ladies?

Robin S. said...

How about cooked stalks?

Do cooked stalks work as well as raw stalks, for the tasty effect you need?

And, if so, what would 'taste best' to enhance the tastiness- seared, baked in a casserole, broiled with oil...I could go on.

Just checking.

Evil Editor said...

Why don't you just dip it in dark chocolate and forget the diet?

Robin S. said...

Which 'it' are you talking about chocolate-dipping here, EE? The stalk?

And what kind of chocolate?
The kind that hardens on impact like with ice cream, or the kind that stays soft?

Maybe buffy will know which is best. She's up on celery lore.

Chris Eldin said...

I'm hungry and I have nothing to dip.

Robin S. said...

We could talk about dips, that either work, or don't work, with celery.

And I'm still wondering who is gonna have the last word.

Blogless Troll said...

I doubt anyone will have the last word as long as we're debating dietary innuendo. So, in a hyper-masculine maneuver designed to bore the crap out of you and thus clinch certain victory for myself, here's the new topic: Will the Magic fade again this season, as they historically have since the Shaq-a-Jinx was put into effect? Or will the New Big 3, marshaled by the wily SVG, cast off the shackles of mediocrity and seize the glory that those posers in Boston don't deserve? Discuss.

Chris Eldin said...


none said...

Sorry, no speaka da...whatever that is.

The celery has to be raw, but the dip is of your choice :D.

Robin S. said...

OK, blogless.

I just did something I don't think I ever did before. I visited sports website thingies. (Did you know those discussion-thread guys don't spell all that well? Just thought I'd mention it.
I guess they could've been typos. En-masse-typos, you know.)

I found out Orlando's team is the Magic. I thought you were talking about Magic Johnson. But no.

Who's the wily SVG? Is it a person or a team? Is it a what or a who?

What's wrong with Boston? I like that city, although I think that Big Dig thing is/was overrated - and really messy.

What does any of this have to do with being tasty?

I think football players are much, much tastier. Quite frankly, their outfits are nicer. Especially the padding.

And how's buffy supposed to discuss American basketball?

As you said, let's discuss.

Blogless Troll said...

On the sports website thingies it's much more engaging if you approach it like a foreign language rather than plain old illiteracy.

And I didn't really think changing the topic would work, though I am impressed by your dedication. Blogger may run out of server space before this is over.

none said...

Schwoop, schwoop.