Monday, January 21, 2008

New Beginning 434

I had conflicting feelings as my son James rushed up the steps of the hospital. He was three hours late. I had seen only pictures of him for the past ten years. He had taken a train and subway to Brooklyn Heights. His teenage body waved like a stalk of corn in a storm as he moved across the hospital lobby toward me.

"Bart?" he asked.

Not Dad, I thought as I nodded, "Yes, James."

Our eyes met. He extended his right hand. I gasped it and put my left arm on his shoulder. We had lost so much time.

"Sorry I'm late, but Fred procrastinated when it was time to drive me to the station."

"I'm not surprised, your step-father used all his legal skills to interfere with our visitation.

The loudspeaker blared. "Dr Bartolino Ferranti, Dr Ferranti."

I picked up the in-house phone "Yes, Bart Ferranti here."

"Doctor, we've got a bad allergic reaction in the microbiology lab."

"Sorry, son," I said, as I put down the receiver. "Got to run. They need me in the lab."

I could almost feel his eyes watching me as I hustled away.

Nurse Ementhal peered at me over the top of her mask as I carded into the isolation room. She was holding a flask of some reagent and her blonde eyebrows were raised in question above her piercing blue eyes.

"Good work," I reassured her. "Same thing if he shows up again. Maybe not an allergic reaction next time -- he might get wise. If that little shit wants to get to know his father, the first thing he's gonna learn is no one keeps me waiting three hours."

Opening: Larry Chiaramonte, M.D......Continuation: Anon.


Evil Editor said...

Unchosen Continuations:

"OK," I replied. "I'll be right there."

I stared at James -- how his face had changed. He had his mother's eyes, but his nose and jaw were from me. "How've you been, Jim?"

"I've, ah... Don't you have to...?"

"I think I know what I'm doing, son. I'm the doctor."

The Tannoy paged me again. I reached for the phone.

"Doctor Ferranti. The patient's breathing is labored; pulse rate is up."

"I'll be right there." I put the receiver down and stared at it for a second. "So. How's football going?"

"Dad? Don't you...?"

"Don't worry, Jimmy. They didn't miss me the three hours I was waiting for you. Five more minutes isn't going to hurt."

"Well, OK..." He glanced around the bustling foyer. "You know dad, this is really good of you. None of us expected you to want to help out like this after... everything. So, how's mom doing?"

The speaker interrupted: "Doctor Ferranti! Doctor Ferranti! Code blue! Code blue!"

I took my son's arm and led him away from the desk. "Don't worry son. She's getting all the attention she deserves right now."


"Good God! You mean -"

"Yes, Dwayne sneezed all over the Petri dishes again."

I dropped the phone. I had been gripping it under my chin while my left arm was on James' shoulder and he was grasping my right hand. An idea occurred to me.

"Feel like a game of Twister, son?"

Suddenly, I noticed the waving of his teenage body had become more pronounced. He was swaying like a Bollywood dancer dodging tennis balls. People were staring.
"James, what's wrong?"
"Guess that train trip really took it out of me."

"How about me? I've been waiting in this lobby for three hours."

He swayed apologetically. Yes, we had lost so much time, but time can only heal so much. And James' annoying swaying was beyond any human cure.


Evil Editor said...

Outside of "gasped" instead of "grasped" and several punctuation problems, I liked it. I don't actually get a visual of how someone walking across a lobby looks when he's described as waving like a stalk of corn in a storm. If no one else finds that unclear, I guess it's my problem.

Anonymous said...

Your first paragraph was hard to follow, so many topics and time periods in succession: one sentence each. The dialogue that followed was ah... Hmm, maybe you know teenagers who sound that formal, but I don't.

And then that's it? End of scene 1 already? Isn't this the action adventure novel about the sexpot geneticist and the Indiana Jones of undersea microbes?

PJD said...

The entire first paragraph could use a little change of cadence here and there and could be smoothed out. It's a collection of disjointed thoughts, and you never actually say what the conflicting feelings are. Not that you need to, really, but it's your first four words so I kind of expected to see those conflicting feelings. Later we clearly see regret at losing so much time with his son, but what other feeling is conflicting with that? We are left to infer, which does not always work well with the slow children like me.

I'd like to see some other details of James--does he look like his pictures? If he's swaying like corn in a storm, is it a swagger or some sort of strange affliction? Is he wearing a suit, gangsta clothes, or Wrangler jeans and Thom McCanns? I think your loudspeaker page comes a bit too soon unless James comes along with Bart to the lab or Bart ignores the page. If they have to split up at that moment, I think you need to take some time describing James and the conflicting feelings.

Does anyone actually call a paging system a "loudspeaker" any more?

And your MC's name is, of course, a Spoonerism haiting to wappen.

Dave Fragments said...

I think you are trying hard to make a few points to the reader.

The dialog establishes that he is late. I don't think that you need the second sentence - "He was three hours late."
And I'm not sure you need to establish this is Brooklyn Heights this fast.
I watched my son's teenage body wave like a stalk of corn in the wind as he climbed the stairs of the hospital. I hadn't seen him in ten years and today I came face-to-face with my joy and regrets. I'd missed so much in his life.
"Bart," he called me, not Dad.

Do you see how the regret can work for you more than it does right now.
Also, do you want the main character to make the statement about the stepdad? ...your step-father used all his legal skills to interfere... This is a bit accusatory. But it does bring up a point. It implies that Bart has not given up his parental rights and that Fred, his ex-wife's husband resents this. That's where that subtle a point creeps into the text. Bart's answer to Fred's procrastination tells us bushels about relationships. So think this through.

none said...

I can imagine this is a very difficult opening to write, but that first paragraph is all over the place. Nothing follows from what's gone before. There's no connecting thread. And how does the narrator know how James has got there? Does he still have a ticket stub in his hand?

I've seen corn in a flails about or lies down and stays down. That image doesn't gel with this youth walking across a lobby.

I think you seriously need to revisit that first paragraph and decide what it's about. Is it about seeing his son for the first time after so long? Is it about the son being late? Is it about how the son got there? Pick one and stick with it for at least that paragraph.

(there's quote marks missing after "visitation", just fyi)

Anonymous said...

Let's trot out all the gangly young boys cliches.
Scrawny, twig, thin arms, twiggy, Body to thinto support his head.
I thought the corn stalk with the bright yellow straw was descriptive and different.

Ali said...

I liked this. As for the dialogue, I assume James is going to turn out to be the serious, intellectual type and he's speaking formally because he doesn't know this man who is his father. It worked for me.

If this is contemporary, no teen these days travels without a cell phone--if he missed his train, he'd have called. Plus, three hours is enough time to find a pay phone.

"He had taken a train and subway to Brooklyn Heights" has little meaning out of context. Is the point that he'd gone to a lot of trouble to see his father? If so, we need a little more to get us there.

The body waving like corn makes me think of the fluid movement of a relaxed, willowy young man. Is that what you were going for? If so, it worked for me but it was a stretch.

Robin S. said...

Hi Larry,

I like a lot of your opening, but I'm wondering about a few things.

In the first paragraph, in my opinion, it would be good to break it up, and begin:

I had seen only pictures of him for the past ten years, but I knew him when I saw him.

He was three hours late. I had conflicting feelings as I watched my son James rush up the steps of the hospital and through the door.
His lanky teenaged body waved like a stalk of corn in a storm as he walked across the hospital lobby toward me.

And then - I'd hold off on the train/subway sentence until James mentions why he's late. And, for this, I wouldn't have him talking about Fred procrastinating, at least not that easily, with a father he hasn't seen in so long. Because Fred, for all intents and purposes, has been his father, hasn't he? Unless they've been quarreling recently- and that would change things - but even then- when these two aren't close- I'm not sure a teenaged boy would open up and tell the truth without some prying open.

I guess this would depend on how old James is now - if he's 15 or 19 - for example.

Hope you don't mind a few thoughts like these.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

For me, the writing really does need to be smoothed out overall.

I disagree with pjd in that I think the reader does need to be let in on what the conflicting thoughts are. Regret and what? I can't immediately think of anything conflicting for this situation except relief that the kid hasn't been hanging with him for the last 10 years. And if that's it, some of that should come through since we're right there in the narrator's mind.

I agree with everyone else that the first paragraph needs to focus more. And your continuators picked up that it makes it sound like he's been waiting for 3 hours in the lobby.

The use of loudspeaker and in-house phone make me think this is set in the 80s or early 90s. But I don't want to read a science/medical thriller set in the past.

Now, you likely have the explanation in the next couple of pages, but I developed a biased dislike for Bart when I read this:

"I'm not surprised, your step-father used all his legal skills to interfere with our visitation.

First, I couldn't tell if this referred to visitation for the last 10 years, which was not just interfered with, but blocked. Or for just this visit. But to immediately bad-mouth the step-dad does not make me sympathize with Bart. If he really cares about the kid, wouldn't he be saying things like, "Doesn't matter. You're here now. Stupid of me anyway to invite you to meet me here DURING my shift and ask you to wait that ADDITIONAL 3 hours you would have needed to had you not arrived 3 hours late."

Sounds like you have a lot of complex sub-plots to work through. Good luck in keeping the pace moving!

Wonderwood said...

I agree with pretty much all of the comments about the first paragraph and also Phoenix's comment about MC immediately cracking on the step-father. Also, if the "stalk of corn" simile is going to be used, why not call it a corn stalk. Personally, I think it being in a storm is a bit strong. I kind of laughed when I imagined the kid flailing across the lobby, whipping back and forth. Maybe "corn stalk in a breeze" or something. Just my thoughts.

Loved the continuations, especially Tullia's. Still laughing.

Anonymous said...

Piling on, I know, but the three hour thing is troubling for me, also. I don't believe the doctor would wait in the lobby three hours for his son's arrival when he's got work to do, yet he happens to be there at the right time to see James running up the hospital steps.

I'm not to worried about the period setting as you've already described that it took ten years to get to Brooklyn Heights by train and subway.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I suppose we find out soon enough why Bart arranged to meet his son for the first time when he was at work. Seems kind of dumb unless there's some underlying reason - like it's a field trip kind of thing and this was the only way he could get to see him.

Also seems odd that he doesn't have any visitation rights. If he's so hot to see his son, he must've fought for them and lost. Which says a lot about Bart's character.

And with the crack about James' step-dad on top of it, I'm not thinking warm fuzzies about Bart.

I like the situation for the start of the book. Lots of conflict and an interesting place to dive in.

Here's some suggestions for tightening it up a bit.

My son James rushed up the steps of the hospital - three hours late. I had only seen pictures of him for the past ten years, though he lived a train and subway away in Brooklyn Heights. His teenage body waved like a corn stalk in a breeze as he moved across the hospital lobby.

"Bart?" he asked.

Not Dad. I nodded, "Yes, James."

Our eyes met. He extended his right hand. I grasped it and pulled him closer, putting my left arm on his shoulder. We had lost so much time.

"Sorry I'm late, but Fred procrastinated when it was time to drive me to the station."

"I'm not surprised.”

Anonymous said...

What is good is that you don't overdo the emotion. This could easily become a melodramatic scene given the circumstances, but you successfully avoided that pitfall.

There are a few things that I wish to comment on, however.

Like EE, I can't see how someone in the act of walking across a room can be anything like a stalk of corn in a storm, unless they have cerebral palsy or some other ambulation disability. Now, if you said, "The drunk's body waved like a stalk of corn in a storm" THAT I can see. That's the visual image I get from your metaphor, of someone drunk and flailing... but since this is a teenage boy, I assumed he wasn't drunk, so maybe he has a disability. Does he have a disability? If so, you should say so up front. I'm not trying to be funny--writing is always very visual to me, as it is to many people, which is why it is advisable to really visualise the similies and metaphors you use.

I'm not sure, if the son is 3 hours late, how the father can possibly know how he arrived. He might know the original travel plans, but could not assume that they would be correct any longer. Just delete the 'travel' description and you'll be fine.

I don't like the father verbalising the negative opinions of the stepfather. We all know the parenting rhetoric about never badmouthing the child's other caregivers in front of the child, no matter how much we may dislike the other caregivers -- we know such practice only damages the kid. And most readers will therefore think badly of Bart for breaking this tenet; EVEN THOUGH many people, even those with the best of intentions, occasionally break the tenet too -- the point is not what ordinary people do in a moment of anger knowing it is wrong, but how your character will be judged by those people who start a book sceptically, not sure if they want to like your main character or not. Here you've given them a reason to not like your main character. Now, this is fine, if your main character is the bad guy. But I recall your query and believe he was supposed to be the good guy.

Note I have no problem with Bart 'thinking' this thought, just him saying it to the kid. If you have him just think the line instead of saying it -- now Bart comes across as much more sympathetic and we can more easily relate to his frustration in this situation.

Just some opinions from a reader, which you can listen to or disregard.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the one sentence per topic pattern continues from the paragraph 1 into the dialogue. It's like the outline of a scene. Or maybe the outline of a novel about family difficulties. Try reciting the ol' Ram Dass mantra "be here now" a few dozen times and then have another go at it. No need to outline their whole history on page 1.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, annoying grammar nit-picking warning...

I nodded, "Yes, James."

Means he nodded the dialog - semaphore or morse code or something. A period after nodded would clear that up.

End of pick-nitting.