Tuesday, March 11, 2008

New Beginning 461

It wasn’t crowded in The Regulator Bookshop. Tricia had finished rereading Sheila Levine is Dead and Living in New York the night before, and she wanted something new, something she hadn’t read, something hot off the press. She was in the front of the store, across from the cash registers, where the newer books were shelved. She chose four paperbacks, based on the titles on their spines, not even a peek at the cover art, and took them to the café downstairs. She ordered café au lait.

Seated in the café was a ruggedly handsome man wearing jeans and a black shirt, reading a book. Tricia took the seat across from him and set her mug and books on the table next to her. He looked up. "Four books?" he said. "You must be a fast reader; the place closes in a few hours."

Tricia smiled and said, "I’m just taking them for a test drive. I read the first ten pages. If I want to read more, I buy it." Handsome guy, she thought. And he knows how to read. Wish I could see the title on that book. Probably some book on how to build a deer blind. Then again, what’s wrong with that? The carpenters on Trading Spaces are hunks.

She glanced at one of her books and looked up again. "I haven't seen you here before."

He smiled. "Here on business," he said.

"What do you do?"

He took a sip of his coffee. "Contract work, mostly. This is my busiest season."

Spring. Of course. He had to be a builder; or a landscape gardener. The rugged, outdoors type. "You must be glad of a break." She tried to make out the spine of his book. Was it Practical Landscaping, or An Encyclopedia of Power Tools? Practical Roof Repairs? She couldn't stand it. "What are you reading?"

He lifted up the book. "Pennsylvania State Tax Code (2007) 2nd Edition."

"I need to run upstairs and exchange these," she said, grabbing up her books and coffee. "Not what I was expecting." Man, you really can't judge a book by its cover.

Opening: Anonymous.....Continuation: Anonymous


writtenwyrdd said...

To be brutally honest, I didn't like this at all. I found the writing difficult to get into because of all the references to current books and television, and because the first paragraph made your character feel shallow and uninteresting. There is no meat here, nothing that arrests the attention.

And the following paragraphs serve to underline this first impression. This may be what you are striving for, but in the opening paragraph it keeps me from feeling interested or involved in teh story. Also, I've never known a cafe/bookstore that allows unpurchased books near the food and drink, and I've spent time in many such places over the years.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Here in L.A. you can take your coffee and browse through the books or take your unpurchased books and sit in the cafe. There are people sitting with coffee and books all over the store including on the floors.

I seem to remember, once upon a time, that you had to purchase your books before going to the cafe. And some stores are probably still set up that way.

As for this: I liked it but I didn't love it. It's a nice relaxed style. Would I read more? A little bit, but not a whole lot unless the pace changes.

It doesn't feel like an opening to me and I have no investment in the characters yet, and no one's getting blown up or blown away, so there's very little attaching me to the pages.

Nice writing though.

Sarah Laurenson said...

I do wonder how much of my interest is my love of bookstores and identifying with the character in that respect.

Anonymous said...

I can't recall ever being in an indy bookstore that didn't allow you to look at a book in the coffee shop. Most bend over backwards to make their places more congenial than the chains. For that matter the chain stores are usually filled with people reading magazines and books in the cafes. And while they MAY be purchased books, I've never seen anyone going around checking to see if they're purchased.

As for the opening, it sounded like a fun way to open a romance, if that's what it is.

Dave Fragments said...

Dear Anonymous (whichever anonymous you are, there's been several on the Blog - the click-cluck, the sniper, the rude [redacted], and the scared as shit I can't write and they'll tell me the truth). But You're just Anonymous, today.

All the scene setting in your opening - the opening paragraph of bookstore, the hackneyed coffee bar inside the bookstore, the cash registers at the checkout, the Cafe' au Lait, the ordinariness of all that is working against you. FIve million bookstores across the country and 2 billion customers to this every day. (Well that might be hyperbolic.)

The fun part is Tricia picks up a hunk.

Tricia took her coffee to the table and looked at the four books she picked at random.
"Four books? Speed reader, huh?" the man at the table next to her said.
"Test drives, (she has to say something else cute and adorable, flirty even.)"

Now she can think - cute guy, nice eyes, tiny mind, great body. It's the dating game!

Either that or he's the latest serial killer and she's doomed to die, painfully. Or he could be gay and looking for a surrogate mother to carry his child.

EB said...

To me, "ruggedly handsome" is tiringly cliche.

Much of the first paragraph sentence structure is "she hadn't....she was....she chose....she ordered."

It's the first few paragraphs, but I'm not terribly drawn into Tricia here. The fact that she chooses her books based simply on titles rather than the cover art (as opposed to, say, the blurbs or summaries) struck me as either very shallow or the habits of somebody who reads so much and so broadly she'll read anything.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

I used to regularly hang out at a bookstore sipping coffee and looking at books I hadn't bought. It was allowed and as far as I know, it still is.

I saw nothing at all wrong with the setting.

My beef is that nothing is happening. If the blurb on the cover was sufficiently catchy, I'd read on a little, but something interesting needs to happen soon. Something more interesting than a nice-looking guy in a public place (easy enough to find) and Tricia's book selection methodology (ho-hum).

none said...

For me, this opening felt a bit flat. There's a lot of redundant detail. Does it matter that the bookshop isn't crowded? Isn't "something new, something she hadn't read, something hot off the press" somewhat repetitive?

All we really get in that first paragraph is that Tricia gets some books to read and orders coffee. That could be done in one or two lines, leaving room to bring out her character or set the scene or something to draw the reader in.

Xiexie said...

This doesn't read as an opening for me. This feels like the scene after the opening. It makes me think the opening would be something as to why Tricia loves to read. Maybe that could be the opening.

The pace is a bit slow, but this sets a nice, believable scene. I think I may be biased for the same reasons that Sarah is. I love bookstores too.

Evil Editor said...

Dear Anonymous (whichever anonymous you are, there's been several on the Blog - the click-cluck, the sniper, the rude [redacted], and the scared as shit I can't write and they'll tell me the truth).

To be fair Dave, I'd need both hands to count the number of times you've asked me to post your openings anonymously.

Wes said...

Your second sentence does not advance your story.

Anonymous said...

I seem to recall having read a part of this before, perhaps as part of a weekend exercise? Anyhow,I liked the setting right away, and I do have a special place in my heart for the phrase, "Hot off the press".(Although later on I did think rugged sounded cliche) I thought this had action. Stuff is happening. She chooses books, orders coffee, she hits on the guy . . .

I also thought it sounded like the beginning of a romance novel (of some sort?) and I would read more.


Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll grant that I'm not the final word as to book shops allowing browsers to sit with unpurchased merchandise in the cafe. But I still haven't ever seen that situation.


Evil Editor said...

Trident booksellers in Boston is almost your neck of the woods. http://tridentbookscafe.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp

I emailed them and asked if it was allowed, and the response:

That is certainly true at the Trident. We think it's great that customers can take a book or magazine into the restaurant to check out (and hopefully purchase!). Even if folks don't end up buying that particular book or magazine that day, we figure that our hospitality is a good reason for them to come back.

-Michael at the Trident

Clair D. said...

I'm not really pulled in by the opening here, but there's clearly a theme about superficial judging-- she picks the books based on title and jumps, hops and leaps to several quick conclusions about the guy she sees.

Which, personally, seeing how quick she is to decide all sorts of things based on exceptionally limited observational data-- I was quickly turned off. I see her as shallow.

And the continuation I think shows that well, but I did like the bit about spring being the tax man's busiest time! A great curve ball!

EB said...

EE, love the mention of Trident. Great little bookstore. The counter is a fun place to write from time to time.

Actually, many of the Boston bookstores allow unpurchased books in the cafe: the Borders on Newbury, the Starbucks inside the Pru B&N, the Harvard Coop.

none said...

If you're calling someone shallow for assessing another person in a few seconds and based on limited data...then you're calling the entire human race shallow!

Ali said...

I'm thinking that the hook here is going to be the title of the book he's reading. Something that sets him apart, or foreshadows the rest of the story.

If that's the case, I'd suggest doing everything you can to get that title in sooner. Assuming it has to be after her first impression of him, that means you need to cut the first paragraphs way back.

Balancing her cafe au lait atop four pristine paperbacks, Tricia scanned the bookstore coffee shop, then made her way to the seat across from a ruggedly handsome man wearing jeans and a black shirt, reading a book. Setting her books on the table, she blushed at the cover of her top book, "For His Eyes Only." She'd pulled it off the shelf without even a peek at the cover art, assuming by the title that it was a spy novel. It wasn't.

She hid the bodice-ripper under the rest of the stack as the man looked up. "Four books?" he said.

And so on. Not perfect, but my version cuts about 30 words out, allowing you to get to the meat quicker.

Anonymous said...

"If you're calling someone shallow..."

Yes but... we all like to THINK we're not shallow. So we don't identify with a character who acts in ways we see as shallow. Generally, readers like to follow along with a hero/-ine they admire and/or care about.

If, on the other hand, the author WANTS us to lack engagement with or sympathy for this character, as Elizabeth George did with Inspector Lynley, then s/he's done a sterling job, the attractions of the bookstore notwithstanding.

The other problem with this opening is that there's nothing the character passionately wants (except, presumably, the cute guy at the next table) or urgently needs.

The only question apparent was 'will she pick up the guy or not?' and I have no reason to care about the answer, thus no reason to turn the hypothetical page.

Evil Editor said...

As I see it, the woman chooses her books without reading the hype on the back cover, without looking at the artwork on the front, but by reading the first ten pages. I would think authors would admire this, not call it shallow.

When your book is on a bookstore shelf, wouldn't you prefer a customer who judges it by your writing rather than the cover?

Also, though the man is quite handsome, she wants to know what he's reading before considering him a potential date. Not so shallow. Wouldn't you rather be judged by what you read than what you wear? Give her a break.

Dave Fragments said...

What's wrong with picking up a hunky guy in a bookstore?

It's an altogether different start because most guys in books stores are fifty-somethings with gray hair and pot bellies like me.

I think she's going for the best shot she might have at a well-mannered, intelligent and well-built guy. He's in a book store, reading no less. What could go wrong? It might be the greatest romance of her life.

Anonymous said...

I didn't find the character shallow, for the reasons EE mentions. There's some action to keep us moving, too. Not life-threatening action, but it doesn't have to be, it kind of depends on the genre. We Minions sometimes state our opinions as fact, author, so keep that in mind as you're cursing people and wiping spit off your monitor. I agree "ruggedly handsome" needs to go.

I think this is a pretty good opening for a romance or something light-hearted. Good luck with it!

none said...

Is true, jeb, is true!

Anonymous said...

Interesting. And I do love a pile-on...

Minor niggles first:

I assume it's significant that she not only read, but re-read "Sheila Levine..."? Guess Tricia is dissatisfied with her own life? And "wants something new ... something hot off the press," isn't just talking about the books, right?

Personally, I found the tense of the second sentence odd. "She was in..." I thought I was being anchored to that location for the action, but that isn't where we were at all.

I've chosen books based on the title before (notably 101 Positions Your Partner Will Thank You For). I thought the newer books by the registers tended to be shelved with the covers showing to attract customers, but I haven't been in a smaller bookshop in years.

I thought the "You must be a fast reader" line would be snippier if the place closed in an hour or something, rather than a few hours. The place is probably only open "a few" hours.

The "And he knows how to read" line niggled me. That notion that us rugged, good looking guys must be illitterrat surely went out years ago.

I get the feeling of being set up for something light and amusing. There's perhaps a little deceptive sleight of hand going on here, too. The writing is pretty tight and scans well, easy to get through, and I would probably read on to get a feel for where this is going in the hope of being entertained. Has the feel of a sparky little light comedy.

talpianna said...

"What do you do?"

He took a sip of his coffee. "Contract work, mostly. This is my busiest season."

I am SO expecting him to turn out to be a hitman.

McKoala said...

Other than the repeated 'she' at the start of sentences this was efficiently written, but to me it wasn't that exciting. However, if it's a romance then this may be in line with the genre; I don't read romance so I wouldn't know that.

I'm assuming that the not-looking beyond the title is telling us something about her character, so I'm OK with that. To be honest, I think most of the first para could go, apart from that, which I found an interesting snippet.

Take us to the hot guy asap! (Can you believe I don't read romance?)

Stacy said...

This sounds like a romance, and even though romance isn't my thing, I'd read on. I think it's well-written, even though it isn't my genre. "Ruggedly handsome" is rather cliche, though. The second paragraph would be a good time to describe him. Is he tall? What color is his hair? Is he muscular? Give me details, honey.

Whirlochre said...

This is an easy enough read in that I'm not stumbling over anything, apart from the number of 'she's in the first para. If there's a reason why you're telling the story this way, I can't see it and it doesn't add anything so I would vary the sentences a little - then it will flow as well as what follows.

I like the italicised thoughts and it's a nice little scene. Tempted to add, '..but I wonder where it's going' but maybe this is unfair. The cut-off for NBs is 150 words and it may be that something more substantial plotwise is on its way in the next couple of paras. Whatever - I'd read on. I don't mind that not a lot seems to be happening and I'm enjoying how its panning out.

none said...

Lol, iago, I think we need proof!

Bernita said...

I found it competent but - dull.
Sorry, Anon!
And the titles of the books she re-read convey nothing to me.