Friday, February 09, 2007

New Beginning 212


Here are the things he loves about this world: The slow disappearance of his brush strokes into paint smoothing and rearranging itself as though it has always been here, on this wall, on this house. The way he feels the rumble of thunder down to his soles, so much that sometimes he thinks it could be his doing. The sudden moment of silence that captures the teeming steam-liners when the vastness of the water gives way to the exquisite beauty and filth of New York. The bitter shreds of tea leaves that stick to his tongue when he swallows the last of the cup.

Finding just the right word in English to describe a color or a smell or a song.

The swell of the tulips that grow in the village garden. The Brooklyn Ferry.

Robert wonders whether he will miss these things, after Jesus comes to take him to Heaven.


Here are the things he hates about this world: The awful color of not-quite-puce that his wife chose and his brush has smoothed onto the wall, and will always be there, until she chooses another nauseating shade. The way the thunder emanates from his wife's nether regions, so often that he thinks she must have swallowed a Gatling gun. The sudden moment of silence that captures his ears when the vastness of his wife gives way to the exquisite silence of her departure. The way the leaves stick between his teeth when his wife forgets to strain the tea yet again.

Finding just the right word in English to describe the color of her scabs, the smell of her armpits, the croak of her voice.

The horror that he lives with. As big as the Brooklyn Ferry.

Robert wonders if his wife will miss these things after Satan comes to take her to Hell.


Opening: Miss Havisham.....Continuation: McKoala

34 comments:

E.S. Tesla said...

Here are the things he loves about this world: [...]

and I'm gone.

Anonymous said...

The sudden moment of silence that captures the teeming steam-liners when the vastness of the water gives way to the exquisite beauty and filth of New York.

WTF does this sentence mean?... What is a steam-liner?

Even so-called "literate" writing must be understandable on its primary level. This isn't.

j.c.

blogless_troll said...

j.c., I think a steam-liner is a big boat, like Titanic.

Anonymous said...

Good job, McKoala, on the continuation. LOL.

I don't know, I kind of liked the original opening, but in this day of "Blow something up, quick!", it reads more like a lazy prologue. Or, as a pal of mine so eloquently puts it: a loading ramp to get you, the author, into the story.

Anonymous said...

blogless...

Maybe so. I guess steam ship was too prosaic.

j.c.

miss havisham said...

j.c.--

Actually, the reader finds out on word 165 that the year is 1925 (when the term "steam-liner" was the prevalent one, and the preferred form of transport for newly arriving immigrants).

anonymous @ 12:22--

In words 166-169, the reader finds out that this dude thinks the world is going to end that night (declared in a rather "blow something up quick" fashion). So a loading, ramp, yeah, but a short one.

Thanks for all the comments so far.

Rei said...

I rather like the style in general, but I think the first sentence is too convoluted. What exactly is happening with the paint here?

kiss-me-at-the-gate said...

I liked the beginning except this sentence:

The sudden moment of silence that captures the teeming steam-liners when the vastness of the water gives way to the exquisite beauty and filth of New York.

Because... uh... what does it mean?

Everything else was good, I thought. It didn't "grab" me the way action might, but I knew exactly what you meant, and I was interested enough in the character to keep going. And that last line is fantastic.

BuffySquirrel said...

Yeah, it's totally the author's fault that a reader doesn't know what a steam liner is. Maybe someone should arrange for us all to be issued with our Newspeak dictionaries as soon as possible.

blogless_troll said...

j.c., I agree with you if it's a modern day setting, but there's really nothing in the opening to suggest that. It could be a historical romance/mystery/whatever. And they were called steam liners at one time, back when people were still enchanted by the advanced technology of steam. But if it's not set in the past, then you're right. And she should use "big boat."

born_liar said...

I agree with the others re: the "steam-liner" sentence. It's not only the steam-liners, which I assumed were ships, it's that the sentence makes no sense. Also, the other things he loves in that paragraph are all very concrete, everyday things -- paint, thunder, tea leaves. "Silence" feels too general and out of place in that list.

Anonymous said...

The problem with the sentence is not the word "steam-liner" (which one can decipher with reasonable accuracy from the context). The problem is phrases such as "sudden moment of silence", "captures the teeming steam-liners", and "vastness of the water gives way ". Put all this together, and I don't have a clue as to what it means. "Steam-liner" was simply an aggravation.

j.c.

blogless_troll said...

The problem with the sentence is there's no context in the first 150 words. After reading the author's 1:04 post, it becomes clear. It's the collective silence of the people on the steamliners once New York is spotted for the first time. I know it's Friday, but c'mon.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

I liked it. I felt a sense of peace, calm after I read it. I think some words could be cut, but the overall tone was quite pleasant.

Anonymous said...

Blogless observes:

"It's the collective silence of the people on the steamliners once New York is spotted for the first time. I know it's Friday, but c'mon."

Exactly. Most of the commentators here and on Miss Snark seem to be Big Mac gluttons gulping down their pre-digested pap with gallons of Pepsi (when they're not spewing it on the screen). Try a rare steak with a decent red wine some time, settle down, relax into it. For a group of self-selected reader/writers, so many of you are apparently without patience, generosity or nuance that it makes me despair of the general reading public who seem to be thicker yet and getting more so with each decade. Evil is a piercingly witty guy who has plainly read more than the latest Da Vinci knockoff. Ril and some others are smart, with excellent ears for tone and voice. The rest of you should settle down and try to grasp the idea that a novel isn't made up necessarily of 500 or 1000 bite-sized jump cuts.

Theo Katz said...

I hated this opening until I got to the Jesus line; then I was intrigued. I'd read on.

Dave said...

I don't think that this works very well at all. It's not a matter of being too long or too many words, I wouldn't say that. It's that the punchline (dramatic revelation) is down a long list "comparisons" that are not clearly stated or are oddly described so as to be obscure.

I think that the author needs to sort the comparisons. Some things are internal, sensual and take a keen eye to see:
brush strokes, thunder, tea leaves, words, smells, songs. These occur in the mind of the character.
Other things are broad and physical - the house, the steamliner, NY harbor and the Passaic swamplands, the crowds that go silent, the Brooklyn ferry, the village garden. These are all items and places that set the scenes and time period around the character.

The author mixes them into a melange of nothing special and everything special.

I think that this needs lots of work. Not fewer words, not a simple rearrangement, but a thoughtful approach to how the author wants to present Robert's belief in (an I don;t know what?) second coming (?)...

This is a discussion of Robert's thoughts on the spiritual and the Earth-bound. It wants to present an agurment that much of the world is beautiful and rivals the love of God. That is the part that will be missed when Jesus takes Robert.

The author doesn't carry that off.
IMHO

Marissa Doyle said...

I liked this, the thoughtful lyricism of his list contrasting with the fact in the last sentence that he's mad as a hatter. I'm curious about where this goes, because it reminded me a bit of Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, which is one of my all-time favorite books.

Anonymous said...

"The bitter shreds of tea leaves that stick to his tongue when he swallows the last of the cup."

Very evocative - I could taste the tea after reading this.
This is beautiful.

I'd read on.

Robin

bonniers said...

I totally love every single word of this exactly the way you wrote it. Well, okay, maybe a bit of editing could make it clearer, but it's great. The mood is wonderful and the writing is beautiful. I love the pace, the way it evokes the mundane reality of his world. It makes the sudden unreality so much more believable.

If I were in a bookstore, this would go on my pile to buy.

Tia Nia said...

Overall, I like this opening. I like the mood and the way details are illustrated that I never thought about but, once they were pointed out, yes, that's the way paint strokes behave on walls. Cool. And thunder. And tea leaves. Telling detail.

And I also had problems with the same sentence everyone else mentions. That is, I had to read it two or three times.

I think the problem with that sentence is infelicitous or imprecise choice of words, but I also suspect it is an important sentence. So I offer the following suggestions (assuming I've understood the intent of the author):

The silence captures? How about floods, or blankets, or some other more smothering verb. Capture feels too violent and sharp to be an action that silence would take.

Also, the steam-liners enter one by one, no? So they wouldn't be teeming. The moment of silence would overcome one liner at a time. Yes, I know you meant they teem with passengers, but that ambiguity is what made me read the sentence more than once, not a good thing.

Also, the liners aren't actually entering New York, are they? Aren't they entering New York harbor? Calling it the exquisite beauty and filth of New York brought images to me of the sidewalks and streets, not the waterways. I like the image of exquisite beauty and filth, and that applies to New York's waterways at least as much as to the streets. Include the word river, or harbor, or something, and then I'm not jerked from silent ship to filthy street.

I go into this level of detail because I suspect introducing a hint of immigrant experience might be a major point, plus I like what the sentence is trying to convey.

Good luck with this, Miss H. I definitely would read further and might buy the book depending on what it's about.

Super continuation.

whitemouse said...

Everyone knows I have the attention span of a chihuahua on crack cocaine, so it probably doesn't surprise anyone that this wasn't my cup of tea.

However, this line did get my attention:

Robert wonders whether he will miss these things, after Jesus comes to take him to Heaven.

That's a knock-out, and it certainly made me curious to read on. I wondered if Robert is crazy, ardently religious, or what.

The writing that came before that line didn't grab me, but I think that's a simple matter of taste.

I would like a comma in the following location, however:

...into paint(,) smoothing and...

Anonymous said...

Anon 5:47, I couldn't agree more. It seems like most people that comment on this blog feel that if you haven't tripped over a dead body by the second paragraph, there's no tension, no conflict. But I disagree about the general reading public.I think most readers are much more forgiving, and don't slam a book closed if the world isn't collapsing by the third paragraph. Most of the people that comment here are wannabe's (like me), and don't really have a clue about how to offer constructive criticism, because they don't have any real insight. There are a few that know how to offer constructive suggestions, and they are easily recognized by their comments. The ones that only offer negative comments are revealing their own frustration. I ignore them, and focus on the ones that offer specifics on what can be done to improve the writing.

In this case, I think the writing is very evocative, the sensory detail is presented well. I was confused by the sentence about the steam liner (not by "steam liner", that was perfectly clear), and I think it could be rewritten to provide more clarity. Specifically, that it's the passengers that fall silent in awe of the sight before them. Other than that, I liked it and would definitely keep reading.

whitemouse said...

The rest of you should settle down and try to grasp the idea that a novel isn't made up necessarily of 500 or 1000 bite-sized jump cuts.

The problem is only that tastes differ. I like novels to have a strong narrative and fast pace. I can't stand literary writing, but I also will admit that the problem is with me, not the writing.

That said, none of us can do anything other than state what sounds good to us. We can't offer any advice other than what we would do, if we were the writer. So of course our tastes are going to affect whether we like a piece or not, as well as what sort of advice we give on it.

So settle down, and try to grasp the idea that there's going to be a range of opinions here on what is "good" writing.

Bad writing is the stuff that's easy to spot, generally. Where there is dissent among the minions, there is hope for the writer.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Anon 9:05 said, "It seems like most people that comment on this blog feel that if you haven't tripped over a dead body by the second paragraph, there's no tension, no conflict."

Perfect. Just today I wrote an email to a brilliant, frightening man telling him the same thing regarding why I turned in a new beginning in all the time I've been here. I write contemporary, and you just don't see a lot of dead bodies in the first 150 words of a romantic comedy, so I'd be chewed up and spit out.

After seeing what they did to this, which I think is well done, I'm even more reluctant than ever.

Evil Editor said...

Send it. You don't seriously think I'd let a critical comment about your opening get through, do you?

blogless_troll said...

I think this demonstrates that while 150 words is a reasonable limit for the purposes of this blog, it doesn't necessarily constitute an "opening." I'd bet that at 300 or 500 words most of you detractors would change your tune. I typically don't comment on the openings for that reason. That and I prefer to comment on the comments. Many of the criticisms here wouldn't even be an issue if you picked this off a bookstore shelf because after looking at the cover and reading the dust jacket you'd already know it had something to do with immigrants on steamliners in 1925.

And how can you seriously call 150 words a ramp? That's just ridiculous. Try typing out the first 150 words of your ten favorite novels and see how many of those would be ramps by that definition. Probably most of them. If this is a ramp, then it's one of the best I've read in while.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure all Brenda's openings are just dandy, but I wish she'd show us one of them here. Don't be shy, ma'am!

Anonymous said...

Brenda wrote:

"Just today I wrote an email to a brilliant, frightening man telling him the same thing regarding why I turned in a new beginning in all the time I've been here."

I'm guessing this means "telling [E.E.]... why I [_haven't_]turned in a new beginning in all the time I've been here." Right?

Brenda Bradshaw said...

Yes, anon, it wasn't supposed to be HAVEN'T. Typos are bad enough (especially around writers) but man oh man, when it changes the entire sentence. Ugh.

blogless: I could not agree with you more.

EE: Now don't get me wrong here! I don't mind constructive criticism at all. I welcome it. How else do we grow and improve, and aside from that, what would be the point?

150 is just sooooooooooo few words. Maybe I'll write something just for this, and not that I'm really working on, but that seems excessively cowardly, and I tend to pride myself on my tenacity.

We'll see.

Word verification hates me today.

Brenda Bradshaw said...

I did it again!!! RAH!

I WAS supposed to say "haven't".

I give up.

McKoala said...

I also got a bit stuck on the steam-liner sentence - I knew what steam-liners were, but had to read it several times, before I figured it out. I think it was the use of 'captures' that confused me; it seemed to active. Overall, not really my style, but was interested in why Robert was going to heaven and would read further to find out. However, the tone of that line was so different from the rest that I did wonder for a moment if this was going to turn out to be YA or a slightly slow-thinking narrator? And if so, if the literary start was appropriate? With only 150 words I can't answer that question.

batgirl said...

Not much to add - I liked the writing, it was smooth and competent (kinda like the paint, huh?) but I also had to re-read the 'silence' sentence. Not because of the ship part, which I got (I read a lot of Edwardian fiction) but because I'd placed the protagonist in a house, painting a wall, and then couldn't figure out how he could hear the silence fall on a ship out on the water. But that's me. I get hung up on stuff.

Spooks said...

I agree - 150 words is nothing - it's the first sip, you barely get to notice what you're drinking/reading...anyway, I must say I generally liked the tone of this bit. Could probably use a bit of clarification/organization as some have suggested - but I think this has potential...I know I'm not commenting on anything specific, which would be more useful but a) I'm at work (never any time) and b) others have already made the comments I would have if I'd read this sooner...

NB