Friday, April 15, 2011

New Beginning 848

Outside, the sun was just rising over the roofs of the houses. The cobbled streets lay in shadow, their stones barely distinguishable from the grey walls. Deep-set windows and doors broke up the bare facades of the houses, but added no colour. Even the sky looked grey. It was the most delightful scene Jenn had seen in a long time.

He breathed in the chill morning air. The street reeked off horse dung and stale water. He took another breath, deeper this time. Lovely.

Downhill, Rees had said to go. The cobbled street felt strange under Jenn's feet -- firm so it provided good footing, yet irregular so he had to watch where he stepped. He shoved a hand into his coat pocket and felt the coins Rees had given him to buy lunch and shoes. Soft shoes, Rees had insisted, not boots, because boots would rub Jenn's feet raw. But he could put up with that to have boots again, and it would only be until the skin hardened.

The irregular gray cobblestone got the best of Jenn; as he fumbled with the coins, his face slammed hard onto the road. He felt the impact reverberate through his skull as the taste of blood filled his mouth and he spit out chipped teeth. The taste was ambrosia.

He didn’t rise right away and as much as it hurt he was happy the putrid, maggot-filled horse dung had saved his forehead from the stones below. He watched the maggots squirm a beautifully orchestrated dance number in the rancid dung of which he was enraptured by the bouquet.

The coins, he thought. He had heard them jingle out onto the road when he fell. He had to get them back if he wanted his boots. He saw them just a few feet away and as he reached for them the wheel of a stagecoach rolled over his fingers; they snapped and twisted like gorgeous delicious taffy in a taffy pulling machine. He screamed in pain, a scream as melodic as a trained soprano.

He used his good hand to gather the coins and tucked his broken hand into his shirt. Blood, dung, and maggots gloriously covered his face; he never felt more alive. Perhaps I should skip the boots,
he thought, and go down to the Courthouse and use the coins to pay for a name change to something more manly. I’ve always been fond of the name Stacy.

Opening: Xenith.....Continuation: Bill


Evil Editor said...

Presumably Jenn has been somewhere horrible, like prison or Newark, explaining why he finds everything so wonderful.

Of course, if you're just back from the Russian front or Devil's Island, and someone is kind enough to take you in and give you money, stipulating only that you don't spend it on boots, returning with new boots may not go over well.

p2: "off"

I Googled Jenn to see if it was also a man's name in some country on some planet at some time, and clicked on "images." There are hundreds of photos of Jenns, and they're all gorgeous women. Except for the one shot of Brent Musburger, but he appears to be thinking about gorgeous women.

Anonymous said...

The thing about using Jenn is that when you get to the second para, I thought it was a different character-a man that she (Jenn) was with.

The starting with rather bland description isn't my favorite. I get that you want it to be a surprise that Jenn likes it, but the first sentence is sort of weary.

I do like how you've shown and not told here. It's quite nice in that regard.

Dave Fragments said...

Last night on CHOPPED, I saw "Gwen LePape, Executive Chef, Frederick's Restaurant, New York, NY" who is a rather large, broad-shouldered man. He lost and who cares. Neither Leslie -- Caron or Nielsen.

However, if you want to name a guy Jenn then do it. Just establish his sex right after his name.

That brings me to your opening word "outside." It struck me as the scene was inside and then when I read, it was outside. So I wondered when you were going to explain that in the text.

Why don't you switch the first and second paragraphs and drop the "outside." Starting with "Jenn Broadshoulders breathed the chill morning air ... deeper this time. Lovely."

and then going right into "The sun was just rising ... long time."

leaves your opening very nearly intact and gives us character and setting.

Jo-Ann said...

The opening sucked-me in, I would have read on if only to find what horrific place Jenn had returned from to find the aroma of dung pleasant. I'm thinking one of those sensory deprivation tanks or else he was a returned UFO abductee. That would explain the balance issues.

Is Jenn his surname? Or is he from a place where girlie names are acceptable?

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, we had a book of ballads in which it was averred that young Jenny Grove on his deathbed lay for love of Barbara Allen. However, teh google seems to feel that the gentleman's name was Jemmy Grove and/or Jeremy Grove.

My problem with this opening, as with so many openings, is it contains too much description. Too much description, and no stakes.

Dave Fragments said...

When I was young and handsome, so many years ago, I heard Johnny Cash sing "A Boy Named Sue" and it scarred me for life. I've never been able to look ay "mud, blood and booze" the same way since.

I won't even hint at the years of therapy that THE STREAK caused.

Xenith said...

I'm not keen on openings that start with someone walking down a street, but I ended up with this one when I chopped off the preceding scene (which was mostly backstory). It's a problem :)

The name is a derivative of Ieuan/Jevan which is a Welsh form for John, so basically it's a variation on John. I've tried changing it but it's stuck on him. I'll try to establish his masculinity ASAP.

Yes, he has just been released from a prison (so that works). (And I just realised something about the 3 openings I sent in. Oops.)

Evil Editor said...

The name isn't a big deal. Although, have you considered Jonn?

Xenith said...

Jonn looks like a typo :\

Evil Editor said...

Not if it's spelled that way hundreds of times.

Xenith said...

You have a point. I might try some alternative spellings.

Evil Editor said...

Stay away from Joan, Jane, Jean, and June.

ril said...

Stay away from Joan, Jane, Jean, and June.

Good advice. Quadruplets are nowhere near the fun certain movies would have you believe.

batgirl said...

EE has listed his squadron of groupies?

none said...

Girlie names? Ah, yes, of course--it demeans a Man to be associated with anything female.

Welcome to the 1970s.

I never had a problem with the name myself.

Xenith said...

And you've known him so long, dear Squirrel.

(Not laughing. Uh uh.)

Evil Editor said...

1970's or 20teens, if your main characters are named Barbie, Christina and Buffy, and you haven't revealed their genders, and it's chapter 8, they'd better all be women.

none said...

Well, the male pronoun appears on the Very Next Line, so I imagine there's no difficulty there.

Evil Editor said...

Are you saying it wouldn't bother you if the main character of a novel were named Louise or Samantha or Jennifer, and it was a guy? Or are you just saying Jenn doesn't bother you?

Anonymous said...

A disproportionate number of the men on death row have feminine-sounding names. Which would seem to indicate that a guy with a girl's name gets into a lot of trouble.

But that's not the point, of course, the point is clarity. And I'm still much more concerned about all the description.

none said...

Jenn doesn't bother me at all. But then we had a Hilary who was a cabinet minister not long ago, and he was a guy.

Jo-Ann said...

@ Buffy - Sorry if my use of the term girlie offended you, I will use a more formal term such as "infantile-sounding feminine" next time.

In my son's class a boy named Skye copped one heck of a lot of teasing, and he now insists on being called Ky. And, yes, his teachers all took steps to curb the teasing(and as a parent, I insisted that my son treat this boy with respect).

BTW "Hilary" has always been both a masc and fem name - as have Terry, Pat, Bobby, Chris... But as EE pointed out, not Jenn. Nor Skye for that matter.

Adele said...

Can't resist putting my 2 cents in on the name thing:

It's not that Sue, Hilary, Gwen and the rest of the boys don't exist in real life and aren't patterncards of masculinity. It's that a reader of fiction has to understand a world based on the words he is given in the novel, and he has to assume those words are true. Even when the author uses an unreliable narrator, if he gives you to understand a character is female and you find out it's male, as a reader you're irritated.

I don't think it's wise to irritate readers over a simple name that could be just as effective if it were something else that wasn't misleading.

I'd only stick with Jenn if he turned out to be a transvestite, or if for some reason him having a woman's name was important to the plot.

none said...

Somehow I don't think recasting misogyny in different words makes it less what it is. However, if these putative readers really are fixated on the idea that Jenn can only ever be female, and can't wait until The Very Next Line to find out otherwise, then I say, fuck them. Let them go read the cornflakes packet instead.

Jo-Ann said...

The opening orients the reader to the setting and genre of the piece, and introduces us to the characters.

Any discrepancies encountered can act as either teasers or distractions. For example, Orwell’s opening referring to the “clocks striking thirteen” tell us we’re at a place that’s the same-but-different.

Names are often deliberately chosen by the writer to show the reader something about the MC. A reader will make a loose set of conclusions about somebody called “Sir Hiram”, “K’ging Vhl’ng” or “Solange Robilliard” - so that anything that challenges these assumptions (eg, “Nha Nguyen was learning three blatt of Talmud every day in preparation for her Bat Mitzvah”) has the potential to either annoy and alienate, or to tease the reader (eg- Jewish-Vietnamese, hmm, unusual - are her family converts, or is she the offspring of a mixed-marriage?).

The writer needs to ask whether raising such questions is helpful at that point of the narrative.

Gender-discrepant names are no exception: it makes me wonder whether the character has made the decision to change his/her name to one usually associated with the other gender (a choice taken by many including Sigourney Weaver and Lionel Shriver), or whether it’s the writer’s way of hinting a same-but-different location, (eg, an alternate history where the feminine version of the name “Emil” died out, and “Emily” has become the popular Anglicised version of the name for boys).

Jenn (a name that I have mainly come across for small girls) just seems odd for an adult male, and raises questions about the character’s choices/ history or the setting for the story. As I said, I would have read on: this discrepancy is not strong enough to be off-putting.

I would have made similar remarks about a woman called “Brad” (a boy-y name) or “Harold” (an older-blokey name). I don't see girlie or boy-y names on anybody of the opposite sex as demeaning, although it's funny that others interpreted it as such.

Xiexie said...

I must say it's good to be back and I had no problems with Jenn as his name.

The opening sucked me in which is its purpose. Good job.

Stacy said...

My name is more manly?

Xenith said...

Hey thanks Xiexie

(Ponders changing character's name to Stacy.)