Friday, January 23, 2009

New Beginning 599

I was 41 years old and in the middle of an irresolvable identity crisis when I fell in love for the first time. The object of my affection was a country and western singer who wormed her way into the apple of my heart with belly-to-belly slow dancing and cheatin' type songs that promised moments of passion and rapture-filled joy. I might not have fallen so hard for those false back-alley promises if things had been different at home. If Loretta, my wife of 10 years, hadn't grown so incredibly fat and complained so often about my sexual performance. She took great delight in comparing our seasonal liaisons to the mating rituals of horseshoe crabs and jellyfish. I might not have fallen so madly in love with the voice of a total stranger, if my grandfather hadn’t fallen from a circus wagon and been trampled into Polish sausage by Lippizaner stallions and rogue elephants.

* * *

"It ain't bad, Dwight, and you can sure play guitar, but less'n you can make it rhyme it just ain't gonna sell, boy."

Opening: Thomas Cater.....Continuation: Anon.


Evil Editor said...

Even something wild and crazy needs to have clarity. It's not clear to me why the promises are described as "back-alley." And the last sentence pulls me out of reality just when I was starting to think we were getting somewhere. The grandfather scene will be funnier if you haven't told us it's going to happen, so I'd drop it from the opening. You've already said Loretta was the cause of the "affair," so there's no need to claim the circus mishap was the cause.

Anna Claire said...

I agree with EE. I was totally into this until I got confused by the grandfather/stallion/elephant line.

But the voice is good and I like the sad-funny way the protag describes his life.

Wes said...

The start was good, but the ending unraveled raising more questions than it answered. Did he have a physical love affair with the country and western singer (OK. Choose one. There is country music, and there is western music.), or was it a fantasy induced by "the voice of a total stranger"? The dicussion of relations with Loretta is a bit overdone. I've been told obese women don't have sex, so would she complain about performance? Pick one. Either could be devastating. "Seasonal liaisons" I like, but comparisons to mating rituals of crustations and invertebrates seems a bit far-fetched.

Ditto to the previous comments.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Cheating men who blame it on their wives? Really not my cup of tea. I don't like your character right off and would not read on, but that's more about taste than your writing. I agree with the grandfather reference being out of place.

EB said...

This horse bucked me off at "apple of my heart." I think apples/eyes or cockles/hearts.

Any promise made in a back alley ought to be viewed with significant skepticism. Not to mention that the first word I associated with "back-alley" was NOT "promise."

While male horseshoe crabs are smaller than their mates and they do mate seasonally (may-june in New England), the males have a claw modification that allows them to grab on to the female's shell and hang on for a good long time. It's common to see female horseshoes dragging their mates along the beach. Not sure that Loretta herself would delight in such a comparison.

Did your ennui-filled protagonist fall in love with her voice (as you say in the end) or her slow dancing? The latter suggests he's seen her or even danced with her. Perhaps "songs meant for belly-to-belly dancing."

As for the Lippizaners and polish sausage, well...if that's the story, start there.

Anonymous said...

Would like to be on record as saying it's no great thrill when men get "incredibly fat" after marriage either.

jaz said...

I don't care for this guy either, as in I'm pretty sure we wouldn't be friends, but he is colorfully drawn and at least it is interesting. Obviously, it is possible to pull of a degenerate MC if there is something else there like, in an extreme case, Humbert Humbert in Lolita.

(And btw, I don't know what is more offensive--the fat woman causes cheating reference in the Beginning or the Comment that obese women don't have sex. You thought that through before hitting publish? Really?)

That being said, by the time we got to the grandfather part, it felt rambling to me. He might not have fallen if this and he might not have fallen if that, got it. Let's get on with it. Something. Anything.

Dave Fragments said...

I'm with EE and the other minions on the last sentence. You are gilding the lily with horses and elephants. But don't throw it away. It's its own story.

And let me say one thing about the wife and her weight... The sleeziest guy I ever met, the guy who would make nasty sexual comments about every woman he saw, was married to a stunningly gorgeous lady. He would make an interesting character in any book. He was so insecure about this manhood his actions were pathetic. The problem was that everyone knew it and sort-of-laughed behind his back. Well maybe not laugh, just shrugged - oh what a silly fool he is... I'm not defending this guy just pointing out that he can be a colorful character in a novel.

Anonymous said...

Since when did full-figured women like Queen Latifah become unattractive?

Anonymous said...

If Loretta, my wife of 10 years, hadn't grown so incredibly fat

There goes my sympathy for the protagonist.

none said...

Presumably we're supposed to think the narrator's excuse is about the lamest possible, but I don't think it helps.

And Wes, really, stop listening to ten-year-olds!

Elissa M said...

Yeah, kinda wish the protag had the run-in with the Lippizaners.

It's an interesting voice, but I've got no time to waste reading about another whiner blaming all his problems on someone else.

Robin B. said...

Obese women don't have sex? What a hoot. If there are obese women not having sex, my guess is, they've gained that weight for a reason, to give them an excuse not to have sex with their sorry suckasss of a mate.

Just my two cents.

That aside, and turning to the author's work: I'm fine with a protag who's not precious. I enjoyed his little whiny rant.

Not loving that last sentence though - it's overkill where it sits, at least from my perspective of reading only the beginning.

I get "wormed her way into the apple of my heart". It's different, and I kind of like it.

And I'd read on to find out more about this narrator, whether he's a sad sack, or wry and ironic, or a bit of both, and to find out what happens to him.

And that continuation is fucking sublime.

Anonymous said...

A couple thoughts:

Seeing as your one clause about obesity has dominated the discussion here, it might be worth cutting five words: "grown so incredibly fat and". The paragraph works just fine without it.

Secondly, I'm all in favor of humorous reversals, which is what I assume that last sentence is intended to be. But the surprise gets lost in the wordiness and that unnecessary comma. If I were you, I'd make that last sentence its own paragraph and shorten it to give it more punch, i.e.:

Then again, I suppose none of this would have happened if those Lipizzaner stallions hadn't trampled my grandfather into Polish sausage.

(Oh, and it is Lipizzaner, not Lippizaner. It's the age of Google, my friend. There is no excuse.)

batgirl said...

It's got a distinctive voice. If the author can keep from falling in love with it, this could be pretty good.
Though I get the feeling the character is meant to be in love with his own bent metaphors, so perhaps I should cut it more slack on that account. And I'm willing to read a protagonist who's kind of a jerk, as long as he's entertaining.

I had no idea that horseshoe crabs mated with jellyfish. That's perverse.

Anonymous said...

Love the Lipizzaner stallions and rogue elephants!

If you would lead with that , tighten things a little, show why the circus past is influencing the present, and clear up the crab and jellyfish thing...I'm assuming he is the crab and she is the jellyfish? -- I would read on.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

I liked the voice here - the narrator has an amusing way with words that kept me reading - but I do think this would flow better if a few things were cut.

I agree that you need to pick one "cause" of the affair and not two. As it is, the circus thing is much more interesting than the wife thing, and it feels more relevant to the opening for two reasons: If there isn't much of the wife in the novel, we don't need this info, and if there is a lot of the wife in the novel, we will SEE the marital problems ourselves.

Which brings us, of course, to the controversy of the day.

First of all I think most of us have known or heard of certain men who specifically fetishize fat women, so the whole celibate-obese thing seems pretty ridiculous. Also, fat is relative, so the narrator saying his wife is fat does not in any way mean she is obese. She might have been model-thin when they got married and put on twenty pounds. To some guys, that is "fat".

But anyway. Interestingly enough, my reaction to the "fat wife" sentence was not: that pig!

It was, in fact: oh, jesus, what a cliche.

The part that made me annoyed with a narrator I had, up until that point, liked, was the part where the wife was "to blame" for the affair because she complained the narrator was bad in bed.

Well. I'm no theoretical physicist, but if someone is complaining over a series of ten years that you are bad in bed, GOOD GOD, MAN, GET BETTER IN BED.

Honestly. A guy gives the same crappy performance in bed and makes no effort to improve for TEN YEARS, and I'm supposed to feel sorry for HIM? Maybe Loretta would be better off hooking up with the country western singer. Get her groove back, ya know?

If this story is meant as a satire or comedy, the cliche wife thing will probably work. Otherwise, I would consider making Loretta seem like an ugly person on the inside, because you're going to alienate a lot of readers with the ole, "I married her cuz she was hot/for some reason after popping out seven screaming kids she put on a few/I'm outta here" schtick.

Chelsea Pitcher said...

I once read a personal ad that said:

"Fat ugly bastard with a heart of gold, seeks lumpy, frumpy woman to share his life with. No fatties."

No. Joke.

Anonymous said...

I've gained thirty pounds since my husband and I married... and he LOVES it. Bigger boobs are a plus with most men...

Anonymous said...


Try showing us the identity crisis: give us a scene with some action.

Try Country-western singer, cut apple of my heart. Wormed- did this singer seduce him?

“I might not have fallen so hard” and “I might not have fallen so madly” = the same information twice.

Why is the grandfather’s death profound for the MC?

Watch incomplete sentences.

We’re given three justifications for the cheating: mid-life crisis, fat wife and grandfather’s death. Choose one primary factor. I’d go with midlife crisis with wife and grandfather as secondary factors-motivations for the affair, but for it to work, your going to have to show us.

Try writing a 500 word scene for each sentence (6 scenes total) in this paragraph with these elements: sights, sounds, smell, taste, touch- include dialogue.

Thoughts while reading: All tell, no show. I can’t get a feel for this. Is it a comedy, a love story, bazaar lit or something else?

Anonymous said...

I've gained thirty pounds since my husband and I married... and he LOVES it. Bigger boobs are a plus with most men...

Congratulations. He doesn't sound superficial at all.

Robin B. said...

A couple of thoughts while reading the comments...

I agree with Sarah from H. - the way she moved the last sentence to a new paragraph, and with the addition of a then again, made it work really well.

I don't think this is showing, not telling, as was mentioned, in that the reader is listening in to the rationale of the first person narrator - and that is very telling. I like it that way.

Is it a comedy, a love story, bazaar lit or something else?
What's 'bazaar lit'? Some literary descendant of the Arabian Nights?

jaz said...

I think what the author was getting at with the fat wife thing, and I could be totally wrong here, but-- I read it as she was fat, he wasn't attracted to her so they barely had sex ("seasonal liasons")and that's the poor performance about which she complained. So I don't think he has to pick between either she was fat or he had poor performance. I think he meant that they are related.

Still, it's an uncharitable description and there must be more between them to make him phrase it that way. If you loved your wife and genuinely just were not attracted to her at a heavier weight, you would be almost guilty about the feelings, not crass about them. So I think this sentence really telegraphs much more than "my wife is fat."

Evil Editor said...

If we can believe the first sentence, he was never in love with his wife.

jaz said...

Right, but there is a world of sentiment between "in love" and caustic disdain. One could feel platonically kind toward his spouse and still fall in love with someone else. I was just saying that I think the author is trying to illustrate a mutually spiteful relationship and so the fat wife comment sort of works, offensive as it may be.

writtenwyrdd said...

I really like that first line! The rest doesn't work as neatly for me, but it's not bad, either. I think we need something to follow up the initial like that's a bit more visceral than intellectual, so that we don't get pulled back from ear-pricked curiosity.

How about immediately launching into a description instead of the rather clinical "the object of my affection"? Describe the action itself and not the result. Something like, "She asked me to dance. I didn't know she was the band's singer until later. So it was the belly-to-belly slow dance that did it; or maybe those cheating songs and the torchlit glances she flung my way as she made love to the microphone. Either way, I was in love before my second beer."

I took liberties with your story, made assumptions, but you can see this, while not so polished as your writing, is more visceral.

I'd think it a shame if you didn't maintain the promise of that fab first line!

Beth said...

Why are you telling all of this? Why not show it? Or start with something you can show?

I'm with the others in finding the protagonist a turn-off.

Dave Fragments said...

I'm puzzled by some of this discussion. The character is despicable with his comment about his wife and, in real life, I would rather not deal with anyone like him. But why, as authors, are we self-censoring how low our characters can stoop or behave?

Unfortunately, I have commitments this weekend and I won't be back to comment until Sunday night. So this is just a one-off comment. But it is something to think about:
-- How "bad" is a "bad" character going to get?
-- How terrible can a "flaw" be in a hero?
-- Could the true criminal or moral degenerate be the hero in the end?

Robin B. said...

I think there are lots of married couples that have never loved each other - marriage was an expediency - even if they've never been quite able to bring themselves to admit it. That's one of the reasons I'm with WW, and I love that first line. It's even better when you find out the narrator has been married for years. Rings true.

And I'm with Dave - what we think about the character's decision to call his wife fat, etc.,shouldn't matter as much as what we think of the prose, and where it looks like it could take us if we read on.

none said...

We're not censoring it. We're hardly in a position to even if that were our intent. Which it ain't.

The point of commenting on the openings is (or was, originally) to tell the author whether or not we'd read on. All some of us are doing here is giving a pretty resounding "no, not with that cliche in place."

What might be more interesting is, what makes you so uncomfortable about some of the minions' dislike of a lame cliche that's probably also a big fat lie? Why do you feel the need to define commentary as censorship?

Robin B. said...

Hey buff,

Obviously, I'm not Dave, and I'm also female, and also, in real life would tell some asshole talking about his fat wife what he could do with himself (and it wouldn't be a nice thing, it would be both brutally mean and obscene), but, that said, I think of what Dave was talking about as being not 'thrilled with PC-ness' where fiction is concerned.

writtenwyrdd said...

For what it's worth, I didn't find the pov character off putting. I found him typical of people in unfortunately worn-out, loveless relationships. Having had my own, I can understand. And the fat comment? Being fat myself, I didn't take offense, because it's the character's feelings about his own situation. I personally thought it was not a required comment and could have been left out; but I hadn't even remarked it until you guys started talking about it.

I really don't think anyone is trying to censor, but I suppose what the comments illustrate, Author, is that the fat comment bugs a lot of people. As this is an opening, you could consider just axing it; but it's your call.

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to clarify that yes, what Writtenwyrdd said above is what I meant to say. Not that you should censor your character because he's politically incorrect, but that you might not want to lead with that since it distracts from the rest of the paragraph.

McKoala said...

I love the voice and the intrigue. I didn't like the narrator blaming the wife's weight, but then maybe we're supposed to loathe him.

I'd read on to see how things went, although I'm not a big fan of narrators I'm supposed to loathe.

none said...

But it's not really about censorship or PC; it's about how lame that line is. It's such a cliche that it indicates to me that the rest of the book is probably going to be as unoriginal. That it's also offensive is just a bonus reason to put the book back on the shelf.

The author has full freedom to ignore any and all objections, so how exactly are we censoring them or subjecting them to "PC"? We're stating our opinions. Or is it somehow considered preferable that we self-censor? What's the point in posting here if you're not going to get honest reactions from potential readers?

Chelsea Pitcher said...

Buffy: Yes!

Dave: I think the issue here, at least for those of us bothered more by the cliche than the weight-ism, isn't:

Is this character too "bad"? But rather

Is this character uninteresting?

I liked the first part of the opening, but the narrator's excuse for cheating was so unoriginal that it made me lose interest in him.

Some of the best characters are evil, despicable creatures, but they're all interesting and, at least somewhat, original in their machinations.

Robin B. said...

OK, point taken, buffy and chelsea.
That makes sense.

I have to say, though, I like the guy's prose - I see the fat wife thing as one of the narrator's lame excuses - and I guess I'm hoping he finds that out as well, during the course of the story.

Thomas, are you ever gonna talk and tell us?

EB said...

Goodness, what a kerfuffle. Always fun when an opening creates so many comments.

I think a character can certainly be offensive. But such a character needs to be interesting. I foresee two potential problems here.

First, like the Squirrel says, the problem isn't so much that Mr. Lonelyhearts is not a fan of his wife's avoirdupois -- it's that it's so very cliche. Offensive (which, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder) isn't bad; cliche is.

Second, the protagonist comes across as passive. Even within this short passage there are several instances:

a) An irresovable (unresolvable?) identity crisis. If his crisis is unable to be solved, where's he going to go?

b) The two instances of "I might not have but for..." That says that circumstances outside of the protagonist's control dictate his actions. His falling in love with a stranger are his flattened grandfather's fault. His failings in bed are his wife's fault. Sorry, pal. To echo Chelsea's hilarious comment earlier: "Good god man, get better in bed."

As it stands, the protagonist is very woe-is-me, very passive. And that's not interesting. That, to me, is a far larger story problem than whether or not the guy talks about his wife's weight gain.

Dave Fragments said...

I'm back home and back to my computer, warm bed, fast internet connection...
Interesting discussion. Thanks.