Thursday, September 09, 2010

New Beginning 783

Sometimes, alone in the forest with my bitterness, I told myself that Isabelle must have guessed the real nature of the poor old woman who asked her for water, must have put on her sweetest smile and softest words in hope of a reward. But nothing is that simple, even Isabelle. And I do think she was surprised when she started to tell me the story and the first rose fell from her mouth, followed by a small hail of diamonds. Afterward, of course, she thought she had deserved it; thought, too, that my deserts were otherwise.

And I was fool enough to resent it, so that when the strange lady smiled at me and asked for water in the same breath as she asked after my sweet pretty sister I banged the dipper down on the coping stone and told her to fetch her own water for her own sweet pretty self. She looked at me the way people always looked at me, shocked, but I hadn’t expected the snake that slithered out between my lips as I spoke it.

Isabelle said it was the snakes that drove her from her home; she couldn’t stand their hard eyes and their unexpected appearances underfoot.

One of the larger snakes, a spitting cobra, looked up at me from the grass. "Hey, it's not exactly a party for us either, guy."

"Yeah," said the diamondback rattler beside him. "We can be stuck in your digestive system for hours waiting for you to talk."

"Trust me-- you all got off light," a passing bird told us. "There's a guy who didn't let her have his seat in a coach one day. Poor bastard can't fart without unleashing a swarm of killer bees."

Opening: Joanna Hoyt.....Continuation: Sean


Evil Editor said...

A few things aren't as clear as they could be.

P.1: I would change "told" to "tell" in sentence 1. In the last sentence "had" can go. And "my deserts were otherwise" is circular, as "otherwise" here means undeserved. Plus it doesn't strike me as a phrasing this narrator would use. Something like "I could never be worthy of such a gift gets the point across more clearly.

P.2: The last sentence bothers me for a couple reasons. She looked shocked, but I wasn't expecting the snake doesn't feel right. Perhaps She looked shocked, but not half as shocked as I was when the snake... would be better. Also, it seems the spell or whatever that causes the snakes wouldn't be cast until after the woman hears what the narrator says. Isabelle didn't start getting the rose and diamonds until long after her encounter with the woman, so why does the narrator get the snakes before he/she even finishes talking?

P.3: Wouldn't it be "our" home rather than "her" home?

Evil Editor said...

Unchosen continuations:

But I soon learned the truth, as unpalatable as that was, and lost my own abode as a result of my harsh words and short temper. It was the snakes. Turns out the "No Pets" clause in the lease agreement was broad reaching and enforceable.


But usually when I was alone in the forest with my bitterness I ate mushrooms and told myself Isabelle must have guessed where I kept my stash. Then I'd dash home intending to kill her but usually nobody was home except for one day an old lady came by and asked for a glass of water but she really wanted to feed my sister to the snakes coming out of my mouth so I chopped her up into little pieces. The old lady, not my sister. Anyway the moral of this story is don't eat mushrooms alone in the forest. Take a friend.


Dave Fragments said...

I see two things that mess up this opening. The first is the same problem that we saw in NB 782. You open in one scene and before the first paragraph is complete, you switch the reader to another nearly identical scene. So to cure that, I would move this to later: And I do think she was surprised when she started to tell me the story and the first rose fell from her mouth, followed by a small hail of diamonds. Afterward, of course, she thought she had deserved it; thought, too, that my deserts were otherwise.

However, the second problem is that the opening can't decide if the narrator is the main character or Isabelle is the main character.

I know you want this morality play to spill out but the reader is unprepared for the competing dual images that you thrust into the reader's mind, Find a way to consolidate the fact that the narrator is hiding out in the woods (alone in the forest with my bitterness) and her refusing to get water for the old lady. That's two images. Then bring up the third, the comparison to Isabelle. Or do that in reverse, show Isabelle profiting from being kind and the narrator suffering for being less than kind.

This is all very Matthew 25 with the sheep and goats. That's heavy imagery for an opening. I tend to like openings with more subtle tones.

This is one way to go. I'll probably be surprised at the other comments and how they see the opening.

batgirl said...

Fairy-tale mashup, you've already got me intrigued! I've thought of doing something with the bad sister from Toads & Diamonds / Mother Hulda myself. So I'd read on.
But, for a data point, for some reason I started off reading this as the speaker being the Mother Hulda figure believing that she'd been snookered by Isabelle - that she herself was the 'poor old woman'. I don't know if anyone else will do that, it might just be me in my crone-ness.

Anonymous said...

"Nothing is that simple, even Isabelle." Sounds like Isabelle is a thing.

I, too, wasn't sure whether "the poor old woman" was the narrator. Also, I don't get this conversation:

"May I have some water? And how is your sweet pretty sister?"

"Get the water your own sweet pretty self."

Change of settings was confusing.

1 - present day

2 - earlier day when Isabelle got the gift of flowers and diamonds

3 - some time after 2, when narrator got curse of toads and snakes

4 - time between 2 and 3

5 - some time between 4 and 1

Dave Fragments said...

By the way, A desert is an arid region with sand, rocks and no vegetation. A dessert is that chocolate covered treat with gooey sauces and lots of sugar.
"Getting your just desserts" is usually meant to mean having something less than appetizing after a hearty meal.

I'm allergic to chocolate and nuts, lactose intolerant and don't eat desserts because they make me sick as a dog. I tend to avoid deserts too. Regardless, you might want to fix that little boo boo.

Evil Editor said...

Sorry, Dave, but Just Deserts has nothing to do with cake and ice cream. Deserts (accent on syllable 2) are things deserved.

Evil Editor said...

A common mistake, by the way, probably because the word is out of fashion. A while back RWA's Romance Writers Report did an article titled "Breathing Life into Your Villains" in which a section was devoted to Giving them their just desserts, with the wrong spelling and meaning throughout. I emailed the author and editor to point out the error, but no one ever wrote back to thank me.

Joanna Hoyt said...

Thanks all. I've been messing with this story since posting the opening here, and ton second look caught some of the points you've raised. So here's an alternate opening:

My sister Isabelle looked pleased with herself when she came back from the village well. I don’t think she knew yet how well she had been rewarded for drawing water and speaking kindly to an old peasant-woman; she would have thought it reward enough to look into the old woman’s eyes and admire the reflection of her lovely face, smiling. I think she was surprised when she started to tell me the story and the first rose fell from her mouth, followed by a small hail of diamonds. It was only afterward that she decided she’d deserved the gift—decided, too, that her sharp-tongued older sister deserved less.
I was fool enough to resent that, so when the strange lady smiled at me and asked for water in the same breath as she asked after my sweet pretty sister I banged the dipper down on the coping stone and told her to fetch her own water for her own sweet pretty self. Her anger didn’t surprise me; I answered her coolly enough until the snake slipped out between my lips.
Isabelle said she couldn’t live with the snakes, their hard eyes and their unexpected appearances underfoot. The toads weren’t much better, with their warts and muddy feet. I told her to complain to her benefactress. She told me it was past time I learned to keep my mouth shut. No coins or roses from that little exchange. Isabelle was weeping beautifully when she left. She was probably still weeping beautifully when Prince Felix found her.

Joanna Hoyt said...

I realize that revision doesn't address Arhooley's question about why the narrator should lose her temper because someone asks after her sweet pretty sister. I figured that someone who was used to being seen as the mean, plain sister would come to resent it and flare up even when it might not be called for; I need to think how to make that clearer, briefly.

Dave, I think part of the trouble with this opening is that I don't know whether I can assume some familiarity on the reader's part with the standard version of "Toads and Diamonds". If people do more or less know it, then I hope those opening paragraphs will remind them enough so that I can get on to the new part of the story. If there isn't any such familiarity I can see that this could come across as heavy/confusing. Any advice welcome...

Chicory said...

I don't know about most people. I recognized `Toads and Diamonds' instantly, but my hobby is reading fairy-tales. Bruce Covelle used the story for a foundation in his Magic Shop book, `Jennifer Murdly's Pet Toad' and Gail Carson Levine did a humorous retelling called `The Fairy's Mistake,' so it's not completely archaic, at least among mid-grade novels

Anonymous said...

Actually, Joanna, what I didn't get was why the mean sister should call the ugly old lady "sweet pretty." If someone says to a mean bitch, "Please get me some water -- and how's your sweet pretty sister?" I'd expect the answer to be "Get it your own damn self" or some other use of "sweet pretty," such as "Shove sweet pretty -- here's a dose of eternally being compared to it" or whatever.

Dave Fragments said...

My bad. Desert as in deserter, abandonment, deserves, and all that.

This is the first time I encountered "Toads and Diamonds" which is similar to Cinderella. The Cinderella story dates back to the ancient Greeks. I live and learn.

vkw said...

The second opening is much better and I would read on.

But the first opening was confusing to me

150 said...

The revision still doesn't fix the "sweet pretty self" because the "sweet pretty self" is neither the person asked to fetch water or the person the water is going to, making "self" confusing. Her flare-up is understandable; what she says during it is not.

I too was confused why the diamonds started later and the snakes started right away.

Diamonds and Toads isn't that obscure; besides, your opening lays out enough of the situation to clue in anyone to what's going on.

Marissa Doyle said...

Heather Tomlinson's Toads and Diamonds just came out from Henry Holt BYR and is getting some good (and well-derserved) attention.

batgirl said...

There's also a nicely dark take on Toads & Diamonds at Drollerie Press ( - Every Word I Speak, by Cindy Lynn Speer.

Marissa, thanks for the reminder about Heather Tomlinson's book - I read about it on Scalzi's Big Idea and wanted it.

writtenwyrdd said...

'just deserts' eh? Learn something new every day here.

I also thought the old woman was the pov person at first. I think I would have liked it better if it were her pov, as I didn't feel particularly warm and fuzzy about your snake-spitting gal, but it made sense if we were seeing in the old woman's perspective.

While I like rehashings of fairy tales, they need to be clever or different. This opening is not grabbing me yet.

I would considered adding some action instead of the character telling the audience of the past. It's not immediate as written, and nothing is occuring in the moment.

Where does your actual story being? With the moment the girl is cursed, or some other point?

_*rachel*_ said...

I like this fairy tale and am glad to see a new adaptation, but there's something here that confused me enough I had to reread a few times to understand. Maybe you could cut down on what's going on, or phrase it more simply.

I'm sorry I can't be of more help; I can't pinpoint anything specific.

Hannah said...

I actually prefer the first beginning to the second one here, but I was familiar with the fairy tale already, so I didn't find it confusing. I like the snarkiness of the main character's voice, but would worry that voice would be hard to keep up through an entire book. I would love to see more of the character's reaction to the snake sliding out of her mouth: that thought really, really disgusts me, and I'd like for that reaction to come through more. It's a good start!

Anonymous said...

Dave, for the record, I thought the phrase called for "desserts," too.