Spanish Territory of Nuevo Mexico
Kincaid sat with the slave in a dry crick bed. The lad tucked his head and shoulders beneath the bank and hid from the withering sun. He cheated the burning rays, but he couldn’t escape the heat or his maddening thirst. A stiff breeze blew across the land gathering heat and drove the hot breath of the desert against his skin. It drew moisture from him and tormented his thirst. A man could loose his mind for want of water. Any would do. Cool sips from the spring behind the cabin back home or even slurps from a mud hole on the prairie.
Kincaid slowly looked over at Joe. They say slaves’ black skin and kinky hair made them suited for working in the heat and sun. That could be. Maybe Joe was having an easier time of it. But people say a heap of things about niggers that ain’t necessarily true.
"This piece you wrote on New Mexico. You can't use that word. We're a respectable academic site. How can you think of writing something like this?"
"It's historically accurate. That's how people talked. Do you want me to whitewash -- ah, cosmetically dress -- the way . . . Fuck political correctness. It's bloody crazy!"
"I'm sorry, but we can't compromise on this, Johnson. You use the word "kinky" and we'll have every hairy-palmed pervert on the Internet visiting our site."
Opening: Wes Redfield.....Continuation: Anonymous
The "N" word? Is there enough sun, heat, time...PC?
Kincaid's skin and hair didn't do him a bit of good. What done him good was pulling Miss Raleigh out of the way of a half-dozen spooked horses, and Col. Raleigh plainly eyeballing what had been done for his precious daughter. Kincaid was almost human in Col. Raleigh's eyes, then. Yeah, until he took off with two of his best slaves to Nuevo Mexico.
Like that whole size thing.
p1. "Lose," not "loose."
Cool sips from the spring behind the cabin back home or
Clearly that's not an option.
And if they aren't on the prairie, delete "on the prairie."
p2. Change "They say" to "He'd heard," or "Someone once told him." I think that goes better with "made."
[rofl @ cont.]
(Word ver = jdfraw. I dare somebody to name a character JD Fraw. Double-dog dare you.)
This is kind of a blunt introduction to your they-were-racist-pigs! theme. I, personally, would not choose to read hundreds of pages of narrative voice like this. Maybe numerous others will. I don't know. Is it an accurate portrayal of the historical thinking and dialect? I am skeptical, especially about that Darwinian "fitness" logic, which did not exist in 1821.
Reminds me of the Sons of the Pioneers:
All day I face the barren waste
Without a taste of water
Old dan and i
Our throats slate dry
Our spirits cry out for water...
Cool, clear, water...
You are trying too hard to tell us about the desert.
"couldn't escape the heat"
You need fewer words in the first paragraph. Mirror the starkness of the desert and the heat with your words. There aren't a lot of adjectives in the desert, there is nothing but heat, stark barren heat. Hot rocks, hot wind, etc...
Everything was heat, the rocks, the wind. Kindcaid sat beneath the bank of a dry creek bed hiding from the sun. But, nothing escapes the heat. Heat tormented his thirst. Any water would do, even slurps from a mud hole.
Then go on to talk about Joe the slave.
You are perilously close to the style of writing I read in Cormac McCarthy's BLOOD MERIDIAN. It's a very sparse with closely-drawn images, almost cinematic. My caution is that if you want to use as many adjectives as you have, you might have to open that style up to make it work.
I'm not sure I explained this last point properly.
Hm. This doesn't pull me in, but it doesn't bore me either.
I have trouble with 'The lad' in the second sentence. It's not clear to me at first that it's Kincaid. It could be the slave.
I also didn't know there were cricks outside of Pennsylvania. Was that the more universal historical name for them? Or is Kincaid from PA?
I think there's a balance between writing something historically accurate and keeping in mind the reader of today. But I also don't read much historical fiction.
You're fairly redundant about the heat and the sun.
I think you'll find that thinking God had created each person for a particular social position and/or role goes back a lot further than 1821.
The river that flows through our town is still referred to by the locals as the "crick/crik."
And I live way north of Pennsylvania.
Well, I liked it. Yes, it was a lot of adjectives describing the heat and the thirst, and if the whole book is written that way I'd suggest cutting a lot of them. But in this case it makes the point that Kinkaid is fairly obsessed with his physical discomfort at the moment. "The lad" in the second sentence confused me, though.
"They say slaves' black skin..." and "people say a heap of things about niggers" don't work because they're written in the present tense. It sounds like the author popping in to share a few racist remarks he's heard. If the words were in dialogue they'd work well, though. What if Kinkaid states this theory to Joe, and Joe responds that people say a whole heap of things that ain't true? That'd give some immediate depth to both characters and their relationship to one another. That's my kind of story.
I struggled with the voice here. The first sentence and last paragraph have a similar authentic sound, but the stuff in between sounds too literary to be the same voice.
At first I thought it was because we were moving from an omniscient pov to close third, and only "crick" seemed out of place. Then I came to the "cabin back home," and got thoroughly confused.
I agree with EE regarding the spring and mud hole references. I'm thinking the "any" should be something plausibly found in the desert. Something more like, "A cup of rainwater, a handful of cactus juice, even a slurp from a mud hole."
I disagree with EE about changing "They say;" I'd keep it and change "made" to "make" instead. Or go with Ali's suggestion to turn it into dialog.
But I'm not sure why Kincaid is "slowly" looking over at Joe. A long, slow look means something different than having to slowly raise your head to look at something because the heat's beating the life out of you. Which meaning are you going for here?
I really wanted to like this a lot. Taken individually, your sentences are well paced, structurally different and quite well groomed. But this is an instance, I'm afraid, where I think the sum of the whole isn't greater than the sum of its parts. At least, not yet.
Believing that God created every person for a particular role in society [which is yes, basically the kind of thinking that prevailed in slave culture] is very very different from thinking that a person's "black skin and kinky hair" make him "suitable for working in the sun" [which is a modern form of thought that uses Darwinian logic, which really did not exist prior to publication of the Origin of Species in 1859, and which was initially an immensely disturbing, strange, and counter-intuitive way of viewing life and fate, especially to the people who thought of God creating individuals and classes of people for particular roles in society etc].
I considered "make" instead of "made" as another option, but I'm mnot sure it goes with "was" two sentences later. If the "They say..." sentence is Kincaid's POV, and it's in present tense, does that go with Kincaid's POV Maybe Joe was having... ? Or are we switching from what Kincaid thought as it happened to what he thought after the fact? I'm not sure it's clear.
That darwinian argument is a load of bull. From the beginnings of the slave trade that stereotype existed that the black race could withstand the heat.
Keep the spring behind the cabin -- shows longing.
What ali said.
I like this, and I don't see it as the opening shot in a they-were-racists diatribe, as was mentioned.
I like most of your prose - but I do think a few clarifications would make it flow.
Here's my shot at the opening paragraph:
Kincaid tucked his head and shoulders beneath the bank of a dry creek bed, hiding from the withering sun. He sat like this for a while, with the slave, Joe.
A stiff breeze blew across the land, gathering heat, and drove the hot breath of the desert against his skin. It drew moisture from him and tormented his thirst. A man could lose his mind for want of water. Any would do.
I broke it into two paragraphs (I don't know why I feel compelled to mention what you can so obviously see for yourself...sorry), and took out a few sentences.
I find if I take some things out of my own writing, it tightens up, in a good way. I don't always make it - but it's worth the effort to play with the sentences, rearrange, etc., until it sounds right to your brain a few days later when you read it through.
Anyway, this is my take.
Hope you don't mind.
Thank you for the useful feedback, and forgive me for the unforgivable "loose".
EE and Phoenix, I'm striving for a very close third person limited POV. The section starting with "They say" is an attempt to be in Kincaid's head using a common colloquialism. Any advise on showing Kincaid's thoughts will be appreciated.
And yes, Dave F., the next paragraphs focus on Joe to show Kincaid's admiration and affection for Joe.
Ooh, another fun "gray area." I guess I look at "they say" as an implied expression of fact.
1. The purple cat strolled down the sidewalk. They say a purple cat is a rare sight, so of course I stared.
2. The purple cat strolled down the sidewalk. I'd heard a purple cat was a rare sight, so of course I stared.
3. The purple cat strolled down the sidewalk. Someone once told me a purple cat was a rare sight, so of course I stared.
4. The purple cat strolled down the sidewalk. Someone once told me a purple cat is a rare sight, so of course I stared.
I'd go with 1 and 4 as being the more correct. But if you disagreed, it's not a battle I'd fight very hard :o)
Oh no, Dave. The Frankie Laine version of "Cool Water" is the definitive one. Why? Because that's the one I grew up with! I blow a raspberry at your Sons of the Pioneers.
As it happens, you're both wrong. It's Eddy Arnold.
"They say slaves’ black skin and kinky hair made them suited for working in the heat and sun. That could be. Maybe Joe was having an easier time of it. But people say a heap of things about niggers that ain’t necessarily true."
He'd heard it said slaves’ black skin and kinky hair made them suited for working in the heat and sun. That could be. Maybe Joe was having an easier time of it. But people said a heap of things about niggers that wasn't necessarily true.
Couldn't this fix the "uneasiness" of the tense change, and keep the POV in Kincaid's perspective?
It isn't Darwininian thinking; "black skin is suited to working in the sun" is no different from "this plant has leaves shaped like the kidney, therefore it's suited to treating diseases of the kidney". Medieval.
Wes, you could do a very close third person p.o.v. in the present tense throughout the book, which might work well in this case, but you generally can't switch back and forth from present to past tense in the third person without sounding a little off.
Phoenix, that's a veritable procession of purple cats. Obviously they are fairly common.
As for skin color, that's not a myth. See the following excerpts from the Wikipedia article on melanin:
People whose ancestors lived for long periods in the regions of the globe near the equator generally have larger quantities of eumelanin in their skins. This makes their skins brown or black and protects them against high levels of exposure to the sun, which more frequently results in melanomas in lighter skinned people.
The most recent scientific evidence indicates that all humanity originated in Africa. It is most likely that the first people had relatively large numbers of eumelanin producing melanocytes and, accordingly, darker skin (as displayed by the indigenous people of Africa, today). As some of these original peoples migrated and settled in areas of Asia and Europe, the selective pressure for eumelanin production decreased in climates where radiation from the sun was less intense. Thus variations in genes involved in melanin production began to appear in the population, resulting in lighter hair and skin in humans residing at northern latitudes.
This means, of course (Mole again) that dark skin is a natural adaptation that helps people endure strong sunlight; but it says nothing about their ability to work hard in the heat. That probably comes from the notion that the black races are descended from Noah's son Ham, who was punished for having viewed his father naked by having his descendants condemned to be "hewers of wood and drawers of water."
What kinky hair has to do with anything, I have no idea.
I like this opening, and think it can be improved by some of the suggestions already made.
I was also confused by "the lad" in the second sentence. I'd change that, as I don't think you want the reader to have to immediately stop and re-read the first sentence of your book to see if they missed something. Others have given you some ideas on revision to reduce the redundancy of the heat description, so I won't drag that out. This reminds me of my own writing, when I think I've just about tightened it up, then continue to weed out another 30% of the words. "Revision is the discipline in the art of writing." I wish I could remember who said that, but I can't, so I'll go ahead and claim it. This is good stuff, keep polishing and good luck.
Kincaid slowly looked over at Joe. They say slaves’ black skin and kinky hair made them suited for working in the heat and sun.
My suggestion would be:
Kincaid slowly looked over at Joe. He'd heard it said their black skin and kinky hair made them suited for working in the heat and sun.
Which is basically what others have already said; just I don't think you need to repeat "slaves" because line 1 already established Joe was a slave and, I think, using "their" keeps the POV tighter in the scene.
The original tense change also created a POV change putting the reader into the writer's POV. This can be fixed with the advice from everyone here.
I liked reading this. I thought the writing and the voice were solid, though on a second read through the dry and heat did feel a bit over-labored (repetition of "heat" and "thirst").
I just picked out anyone who sang Cool, Clear Water.
I like what you did with that sentence. I think your taking the second slave reference out does make for a smoother line there.
Young Kincaid hunkered with the slave in a narrow band of shade in a dry creek bed. A stiff breeze drove the hot breath of the desert against the lad’s skin drawing moisture from his body and torturing his thirst. A man could lose his mind for want of water, he thought. Any would do. Cool sips from the spring back home or even slurps from a buffalo wallow.
Kincaid looked over at Joe. Some folks said slaves’ black skin and kinky hair made ‘em suited for work in the heat and sun. That could be. Maybe Joe was having an easier time of it. But people say a heap of things about niggers that ain’t necessarily true.
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way,” Kincaid said. “I never figured to go under on my first tradin’ trip.”
He waited for Joe’s response. It never came. He felt his stomach sink.
Definitely better! I daresay it seems almost hotter now that the repetitive heat descriptions are gone. Too hot to say much, y'know?
Call me stubborn, but I still sense a disconcerting voice change between the first and second paragraph. Can you describe the hot breath of the desert in a way Kincaid might? (I'd give you a suggestion, but everything I'm coming up with is a simile; and reading Nathan Bransford's blog today has me skittish about those.)
Also, I agree with Phoenix that the water options listed don't seem to belong with "any." Aren't "cool sips from the spring back home" what Kincaid really wants, as opposed to something that "will do"? How about, "A body could lose his mind for want of water, he thought. It wouldn't have to be cool sips like from the spring back home; slurps from a muddy buffalo wallow would do."
(I think "a body" works better than "a man," not only for dialect, but because it's less confusing after having just referred to Kincaid as a "lad.")
Oh, and one more suggestion: I wouldn't mention Joe until the end of the first paragraph. Let Kincaid hunker away from the heat first, then turn his attention to the fact that someone is with him...which motivates him to look at and think about Joe.
It is much better. I think removing the slave from the first sentence would be good.
The issue with the POV, is the first paragraph is more third out of Kincaid's head and the rest is third in Kincaid's head. I think a lot depends on the rest of the book. Is it out or in?
Third in here has more jargon than third out.
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