Friday, March 11, 2011

New Beginning 841

A cool breeze rustled the crepe myrtles’ leaves in the dying light. The greasy scent of hotdog cart food permeated the air. My stomach rumbled.

“I told him to stop texting while I was at work,” Mary From Accounting droned on as we took the escalator down to the Metro station. That was how Mare introduced herself – “Mary From Accounting.”

The bigger tragedy was she could get a date and I couldn’t.

Right before the turnstiles was a bank of phone booths. The Metro was one of the few places you could still find them in the District of Columbia. A blur of dark hair seized my attention as we got off the escalator. A burly shape crouched in the second booth. The glass walls bowed around him. Thick fingers clutched the receiver. The other hand hovered just above the floor.

“You see that?” I asked.

“What?” Mare peered into the crowd as if hopeful for fight.

“No, that.” I pointed.

“I thought they’d gotten rid of all the phone booths.”

“Doesn’t that look like a gorilla?”

"Looks like a Bulgarian," Mare said. "Gorillas don't make phone calls. For one thing they don't have pockets, so where would they keep the coins? Also, they can't talk. On the other hand, I don't think Bulgarians make phone calls either. Maybe it's an Armenian."

"Maybe it's a guy in a gorilla suit," I said. "Do gorilla suits have pockets?"

"I would think if you're going out dressed as an animal, and you need a pocket, you'd go as a kangaroo."

"Actually, it
does look like a kangaroo. Or a guy in a kangaroo suit. There's the train, come on."

Opening: King's Falcon.....Continuation: Evil Editor


Evil Editor said...

P1. Is it the scent or the hot dog cart food that's greasy? I guess a scent can inspire thoughts of greasiness. Although some stomachs would be more likely to lurch than rumble at the scent of grease.

P3: This has little to do with anything. What's the smaller tragedy? I'd dump this or come up with a smooth transition into it.

P4: Might go with DC instead of District of Columbia. I kind of feel like there've been enough sentences since they were riding down the escalator that they should have been off it already.

P6: "a" fight?

none said...

Presumably the smaller tragedy is that Mary introduces herself as Mary From Accounting.

Too many adjectives in the opening sentences. Pick the noun in each sentence that you most want to accentuate and give that one the adjective.

This opening feels bitty and lacks focus. What's important--the fact that the narrator's hungry, her friend Mary, or the gorilla? Focus.

Dave Fragments said...

This is parts and not one unified piece of storytelling.

The pieces aren't helping each other. When I read the first sentence, I thought of Milton's Lycidas. When I read the second sentence, I thought of being at a ball park or on a picnic. Then I found out where going down an escalator to the DC subway and "Mary From Accounting" is a bit of a ditz.

I have a feeling that Mary's boyfriend who keeps texting is simply color for the story. He intrudes on your two characters. Also, I'm not sure how Mary is important to the story so I won't comment about her.

The leaves of the myrtle bushes surrounding the escalator opening disappeared as Mary and I road down to the DC Subway. The smell of the hot dog cart didn't disappear. My stomach rumbled. Mary stood next to me, trying to ignore the text message from her boyfriend (date, pickup, drug dealer, pimp, whatever).

This was one of the few subways stations that still had pay phones. Pay phones were ugly things for creepy people. Speaking of creepy, a burly shape crouched in the second booth.

Now I can paint more color into that scene but this will do. the subway entrance is logical and the two women are moving from the surface down into the subway in a logical manner. That gets the reader to the pay phones and to Chester the Molester or a gorilla or a Cousin Guido of the Sicilian Mafia.

You might move Mary's texting and strange naming habit after the distasteful man at the phones. That's the reason that sentence is in bold. You could contrast him and her by starting the sentence "Mary didn't notice him she was..." after your character gets past the phones.

That makes Mary distracted and not noticing the odd person. It all holds together rather than fights itself.

If you want a story to sound literary and all that implies, then work imagery into it. If summer then heat and sun, obviously. If you have quotes from something peotic that will absolutely complete the story, then use it in the opening sentence and the closing sentence. this is why I was so excited about the myrtles. Winding something like that through a story makes if so much better. What if your story ended:
"They found Mary's body next to the myrtles yesterday with the strange man kneeling next to her and crying so softly you could hear the leaves rustling in the cool breeze."

You would have to start the story:
"A cool breeze rustled the crepe myrtles’ leaves hiding the subway entrance... the breeze carried the scent of greasy hotdogs cooking on a cart nearby."

Those two sentences bookend a rather sad story about Mary and her boyfriend. That's what I'm asking you to think about in this opening. Focus it down on your story and make it lift the story.

Anonymous said...

I first thought this was a joke -- "writing in the style of an American New Yoiker, circa 1986", but then, around... "... burly shape"... you dragged me into the obvious style, and it started working...

but after "Armenian", I would've edited and made the characters/the story move forwards/onwards/elsewhere...

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure exactly how to put this but-- I think it has to do with reducing psychological distance. Don't tell us about the DC Metro. Assume that we know it as well as the narrator does. (Does it matter if we don't?)

And yeah, it's DC. From sea to shining sea it's called DC. To whom would you be speaking if you called it "the District of Columbia"? This also has to do with psychological distance.

Basically, the more psychological distance you create, by describing your surroundings, using overly-formal language, mulling about language, etc, the farther you take the reader from the story and from the immediacy of your situation: there's a gorilla in the phone booth.

(Btw, it's been over 20 years since I was a regular Metro rider, but there were no phone booths at that time. Maybe there are now.)

Ink and Pixel Club said...

I'm thinking you should dump the first sentence. It's a nice bit of description, but it doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the paragraph. I feel like the narrator would be too busy breathing in the scent of hot dogs and thinking about how long it will be before she (I think?) can deal with her hunger to take note of these scene setting details. Plus there's the possibility that your readers won't know that a crepe myrtle is a kind of plant and get confused when they read the word "crepe" and briefly start envisioning a thin stuffed pancake.

If the burly shape at the phone booth is in fact a gorilla or something similar to a gorilla, then what you have is fine. However, if the shape is a person and the narrator can tell or reasonably guess that it's a man and not a gorilla, then I'd change it to "Doesn't he look like a gorilla?"

Anonymous said...

I don't actually remember seeing crepe myrtles when I lived in DC. Not to say they weren't there; they are hardy to zone 7 and DC is probably zone 7. DC is big on the magnolias. You got magnolias all over the place. Down on the Mall of course you got your cherry blossoms, a gift from the govt of Japan in 1912. (I always thought it was kind of wonderful that no knucklehead had felt the need to cut 'em down during WWII.) But all over town you got your magnolias.

Maybe there are crepe myrtles now.

Mm, I'd lose all such scene-setting details. Remember Vonnegut's Rule that every sentence must show character or advance the plot.

Unknown said...

Thanks all. Sorry for the delay in responding. And yes - he's a gorilla - sort of - more like a land based selkie.

Clearly the scene setting is more of a distraction than a help. As always, EE's minions are wonderful.

Unknown said...


The Gorilla in the Phonebooth has been accepted by the Woman Writing the Weird Anthology. It will be published by Doghorn Books with a tenative date of Halloween. Of course, EE and all the minions are thanked in the intro.

Thanks EE and all the minions. Your comments were on point and helped take this story to publishable level.

Anonymous said...

Hey, congrats, Kings Falcon. That's great.